Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Lake Atitlan

This past weekend, I spent 4 nights along the outskirts of Lake Atitlan, visiting different towns that surround the lake.  I am still unsure about the development and creation of this lake (along with many other people) but from what I have heard, a volcano collapsed in this large spot creating a beautiful lake unlike any other.  There are three large volcanoes that surround the lake along with mountains that contain 12 little villages hidden in forests and jungles.  Some people claim that this lake is the lost city of Atlantis based on the description and how it looks, but as recently as 6 or 7 years ago, both the lake and the air were too polluted for people to swim or even breathe.  I was lucky enough to be able to experience it and it's full beauty.

For the first night, we traveled across the lake to a little town called San Juan where we stayed in an eco friendly hotel right along the water's edge.  The hotel was pretty rustic, but it fit with the town.  It was built into the side of a mountain and to get to San Juan, we had to walk through the forest before reaching houses.    San Juan is known for their coffee and textiles, so while we were there, we visited a coffee cooperative and hand wove scarves with the help of local Mayan women.  It was quite the experience, but I really enjoyed making a scarf and spending the 3 hours doing so.

For the other 3 nights, we stayed in a hotel in Panajachel and spent the days traveling around and relaxing.  For the first night, we ate at Sunset Cafe and had the most beautiful view of the sunset over the volcanoes reflected in the water.  I fell in love with it!

During another day, we drove to Xela and later to the natural hot springs that are located at an altitude of 8,000 feet.  The drive up was terrifying because we were winding through the mountains with no guardrails against the edges of the cliffs, but the trip was worth it.  The natural hot springs were heated by the volcanoes and it was like sitting in a giant hot tub.  When we looked out over the edge, we could see clouds below us we were so high!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

This week an earthquake with a 7.4 magnitude on the richter scale rocked Guatemala and many parts of Mexico and Central America. The earthquake occurred about 25 miles under the water along the coast of Guatemala but could be felt in multiple places, including Antigua.
At 10:35 am while I was in my Spanish class, our tables started to rock and we were all moved into the garden to wait out the tremors. As this was the second earthquake since being here, I tried to stay calm, but the rocking was much stronger and lasted much longer. Even some of the locals became nervous but tried to stay calm for our sake. Finally after what seemed like forever, the shaking stopped and classes were resumed.
Around Antigua, damage was minimal with only a few power cords down and the phone lines tied up. Down where the epicenter of the earthquake was, was another story. Buildings crumbled and around 50 people died with some injured and missing. This news was devastating to hear, but the government has reacted quickly and efficiently, sending in resources and paying for the burials of each person. After reading the news, it was said that this earthquake was the worst one that occurred in Guatemala since 1976 when about 23,000 people died. For 2 days after, there were still aftershocks that were felt by some people, but definitely not as strong. I'm just glad that all is well and we are all safe and sound

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dia De Los Muertos

Today is November 1, and if I was living in the United States right now, it would be just a normal autumn day for people to recuperate after Halloween, but in Latin America, something new is celebrated.  Di De Los Muertos translates to Day of the Dead.  Sounds a little morbid right?  Actually, after experiencing the celebrations today, I found it to be very beautiful and interesting.
Day of the dead is a time when business close, families spend the day together, and the lives of those who passed away are celebrated.  This morning during my class, my teacher took me to the cemetery in Antigua to see the festivities and learn about the culture.  Normally a cemetery is a solemn place where people go to mourn their loss.  Today I thought there was a festival going on with the amount of people, noise, and activity.  Walking up to the entrance of the cemetery, there were vendors selling carnival food, snacks, and drinks.  People were walking in with handfuls and bouquets of flowers to place on the grave sites, and music was playing in all areas of the cemetery.
A cemetery in Guatemala is different from those in the United States.  Instead of having the graves under the ground, people buy small buildings to use as their grave site and are placed inside like a tomb.  The decoration is very elaborate and the buildings are large and tall.  Today, families came with crowns and bouquets of flowers to place on the grave sites where they then ate their lunch, sang songs, listened to music, and celebrated the lives of those who were gone.  I imagined this day to be filled with sadness and despair, but from what I could see, that was not the case at all.
Additionally, giant kites are often flown in the cemetery in order to signify the connection from Heaven to Earth to allow those who died a day of passage to visit their loved ones.  These giant kites are made in advance with specific colors to signify different meanings.
I was excited to be able to take part in this experience and I think that it is a great way to celebrate the lives of those who are gone.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

December 21, 2012...Tikal

This past Sunday, I had the amazing opportunity to visit an original Mayan village located in the northern city of Tikal.  For a lot of people this trip was exhilarating  exciting, and incredible, but for me, it was like a giant heart attack that lasted all day!  During my stay in Guatemala, I have learned what the actual meaning of the dreaded date 12/21/2012 actually means.  To the Mayans, every calendar year they created signified the transition from one era to the next.  So literally, Decemember 21, 2012 will be a transition time, not the end of the world.  It takes on a whole new meaning.   
On Sunday, I woke up at 3:30am to start the long journey to Tikal.  I was picked up from my house at 4:00am and rode in a bus for an hour to Guatemala City to catch the plane ride.  I am not a big fan of planes to start with, but knowing that I was getting into a small, 30 passenger plane really freaked me out!  I was shaking before getting onto the plane so I told the people around me they had to distract me enough to forget I was flying.  Luckily the plane ride only lasted 45 minutes and was a lot smoother than I expected.  When we landed, we had to catch another bus for the hour and a half ride to the jungles of Tikal where our tour would begin.

As we were driving into the Tikal national park, we kept passing yellow animal crossing signs with outlines of the animals that could be found in the jungle.  Some pictures weren't too bad like the coati, monkeys, turkeys, and deer, but then one sign stood out from them all...a jaguar.  Yes, there are jaguars in the jungle that I walked through for 4 hours!!  As if that didn't freak me out enough, we started our tour by getting up close and personal with a tarantula and being told that there are 13 venomous snakes in the jungle with one in particular that can kill you in 3 seconds.  Let's just say that I was ALWAYS on the lookout!  I didn't want to come into contact with anything!  We were lucky for most of the tour though and saw very few animals.  I did get pictures of a silver fox, a family of coati, and two spider monkeys.  We also had the thrill of running over a colony of ants to avoid getting bit.

Walking through the ruins of Tikal and the temples that are still intact was a blast into the past.  It was amazing to see and climb the temples that were build hundreds of years ago and are still standing to this day.  The architecture is amazing and I can't believe that so many of the buildings are still standing.  I think it goes to show how intelligent and sophisticated the Mayan civilization was.  While on our 4 hour, 6 mile tour, I had the opportunity to climb 3 temples and enter the main trading plaza and the house where the nobles lived.  The park is very well kept and the buildings are all preserved.

For our final temple, we climbed the highest one at 70 meters and the view at the top was breathtaking!  The actual climb was tiring (I think I counted 150 stairs more or less) but it was well worth it at the top.  I could see the expanse of Tikal with the jungle and the temples in the distance from this view.  I loved it up there, although I again was terrified because of the height and lack of protective railings.

To end our time in Tikal, we ate lunch at one of the hotels and then started our long trek back with the bus ride, plane ride, and another bus ride to end in Antigua at 10:00 pm.  It was a long day, but I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Today in class, my teacher said the simplest of sentences, but the impact was huge.  While we were discussing what we did yesterday afternoon, my teacher mentioned that her whole family got together during the evening to spend time together.  I found it amazing how a mom, and 5 of her children with families of their own make time to get together at someone's house every Tuesday for the evening.  They will cook dinner for each other, spend time worshiping, read the bible and then pray.  Instead of spending time with friends or with their own families, this family unit will share that time in the company of each other.  I found this absolutely amazing, especially since distance doesn't keep these people apart.  I live 5 to 30 minutes from some family members and we are lucky to see each other every other week, whereas my teacher and her family only walk to each other's houses and that walk could last up to an hour.  Just imagine walking an hour to your families house only to spend an hour with each other and then return!  That is dedication.  As my teacher was telling me all of this, she said something that really impacted me.  She said that while she was praying, she made sure to thank God for allowing me to be her student and to give my safety and health while I am here in Guatemala.  I am so lucky to have that kind of relationship with my teacher that she will pray for me on a daily basis!  I felt so blessed after hearing that and knowing that I am taken care of even in a different country.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Walking With A Smile On My Face

One of the biggest differences I have found here are the manners Guatemalan's possess.  I think that it was a major change that I noticed from day one, but continued to encounter from every day thereafter.  For example, every day I walk 10 minutes to and from school, and I think I say buenos dias or hola at least 10 times on this trip to complete strangers!  I was talking to some of my friends about this and we decided that if we were to say good morning to a stranger on the side of the road in our town we would get a strange look and either get ignored or laughed at.  I've come to really enjoy starting my morning off with smiles and hola's from strangers on the side of the road who truly mean what they say.
In America, we are in such a hurry to get on with our busy schedule, that we forget to slow down and take the time to offer a smile or a friendly wave.  I've found here in Antigua that to be on time means you are at least 30 minutes late if not more and that is because time isn't an issue here.  If someone gets caught up talking to a friend on the side of the road when they are on the way to an appointment, the appointment can wait, but the friend can't.  What if we adapted this attitude in the United States?  What if we decided to stop being so uptight about meetings and appointments that we stopped to enjoy the company of someone else and possibly end up making their day a little brighter?  I would love this!
I went to the store today and asked the sales person to look for a specific item for me.  Not only was the item all in English, but it's a prescription that I have to get in the United States.  Instead of the worker searching for 30 seconds and turning me down (like I have had happen in multiple American stores), I waited 10 minutes while the worker searched through every drawer, searched the computer system, and asked 3 other people.  This kind of service made me feel really grateful for the work these people do!  Even when the person could not find the prescription, he showed sincere regret and found 3 other similar products for me to look at and offered me a discount on each.  What awesome customer service!  With this service, I never once got upset for waiting, but rather offered a big smile and told the guy that it was no problem and I appreciated all his help.  This is the kind of service that makes an impact and difference.  Time wasn't an issue and the worker completed his job rather than giving up without multiple tries.
I have found myself being more polite down here because I receive politeness in return.  It's a win win situation.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


This past Monday during my Spanish lesson at about 10:40 my desk started shaking back and forth and I could see buildings swaying in the road.  For about 10 seconds I experienced my very first earthquake and I don't think I want to repeat that.  After class I later found out that the epicenter was 60 miles away from Antigua and it measured a 5.5 on the Richter Scale.  Although the locals called this a tremor rather than an earthquake, my heart was beating 100 miles a minute and my eyes were wide with fright!  During school, they had us move to the garden area so nothing from the roof would have the chance to fall on us.  Luckily there was no reported damage.  After the fact, I was excited that I was able to experience this, but I secretly hope it doesn't happen again!