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!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


This past Friday, I had the opportunity to attend a world cup futbol qualifying match between Guatemala and Jamaica!  I was so excited to be able to partake in this event with my time down here in Guatemala.  Not only did I experience a unique culture, but I found it amazing how much spirit one country can have for a sport.
Before the game, I went and bought a Guatemalan jersey to show my support (and because I knew I would get killed if I wore Jamaican colors).  There were about 20 of us that went, and the spirit was alive in the bus.  We were talking, singing, and dancing to the music while blowing the bus horn and yelling "Guate!" out the windows at passing cars.  Once we got into the city, the spirit was everywhere!  People were driving with flags out their windows and people screaming their support for Guatemala!  I just wanted to join in even though I had no idea what they were saying!  I loved the atmosphere!

Once we got to the stadium and parked, we were  ambushed by people all around simply because we were American.  The news reporters wanted to take our pictures and we were interviewed on live tv for the pre-game show.  Although we only knew the answer to one question, we just cheered really loudly for Guatemala when we had no idea what she asked!  I was able to get my face painted before the game and people were handing out free headbands in support of Guatemala.  I couldn't get enough of the experience; there was just so much to soak in.
As soon as we made our way into the stands (after being pat down at least 3 times) we found our seats and the celebrating had already begun!  Fans were everywhere yelling chants and encouraging their team.  The people around us all wanted a picture with us simply because we were American.  All I could do was look around and simply stare at the fans waiting in anticipation for the game.  There cheering didn't stop once the game started.  There was constant yelling and chants from the fans and of course "booing" when the Jamaican team scored.  With only 5 minutes left in the game and a tied score, Guatemala made a goal to win 2-1!  The fans went crazy and I couldn't stop smiling!  Not only did I go to my first futbol game, but Guatemala won!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

One Month Down

I have been in Antigua, Guatemala for just about one month!  I couldn't believe it the other day when I was writing in my journal and wrote October 1st on the top of the page.  I have had three and a half weeks of classes and already I feel so much more comfortable in the language here.  My days are packed with four hours of classes, group trips, and homework that I have finally reached the point where I have a routine in my life down here in Guatemala.  Oddly enough, I enjoy that feeling.  I feel like the days are just now starting to go by quicker. I only have two more months until I return the the states and I feel like there is so much more that I need to learn and experience!  I want to climb a volcano and go horse back riding through the mountains.  I want to buy a bunch of gifts for people, and zip line through the rain forest.  I want to dream in Spanish and be able to hold multiple conversations with people without looking confused or lost.  It's a bittersweet feeling just knowing that I have one of my three months done, but it will be sad to leave in the end.

Two weekends ago I spent the night in Guatemala City, and boy is it a different atmosphere than Antigua.  People are always in a hurry and they don't have time to be as polite as they would be where I'm staying.  For example, we had to walk to dinner in the pouring rain, and most people would assume that if you're in a car and someone was walking, you would let the person cross the road to get out of the rain faster...well in Guatemala City that doesn't happen.  We had to cross the road and as I was doing so, a person in a car kept inching forward on a red light and actually touched my legs with their car.  They were so impatient that they didn't even want me to cross the road in front of them!  It was definitely a different atmosphere than what I am finding in Antigua where everyone says hello and cars wave you across the road when they have the right away.  The other major experience in Guatemala City was the continuous need to divide our large group into three small groups so we wouldn't draw more attention than necessary.  I wasn't afraid to be in the city, but it definitely took me out of my comfort zone even more than before.

With my stay here, I am learning so many cultural differences that I never imagined existed.  Daily things that occur in Guatemala are opening my eyes to the lack of education that I have received in the United States about other cultures.  Yes, some is taught in school, but our selfish attitudes in the states prevent us from opening up and experiencing new things that may even help us in the long run.  Luckily I haven't had any negative experiences with my stays besides the occasional cockroach (which my host mom kills for me) but it makes me wonder how I will start to think when I return to the United States in December.