I’m sitting here at the end of two weeks of Sustainable Community Development watching Avatar with several of my classmates. My apologies for the inconsistent reporting, but the timing of Internet access is much trickier here than at home. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I won’t be able to include everything that travel week and these past two weeks of class in one post, so you’ll get the shortened version. For the full story, talk to me when I return! Also, I’ve posted some pictures of the highlights.
Travel week began with a school trip to Tikal in Guatemala, one of the biggest Mayan ruins in all of Central America. We toured the site for about five hours, not even close to enough time to see it all. Some mischievous spider monkeys followed us for a good while, and there were incredible birds everywhere we looked (I’ve gotten pretty excited about birding these past few months). The ruins were absolutely astounding. I’ve never really had the desire to time travel until being at a Mayan ruin site. To have seen how such an advanced society lived would be an insane opportunity. Anyway, Tikal was just the beginning of week of adventure, so I’ll skip to the exciting stuff.
From Tikal our group was dropped off in Flores, Guatemala to begin our travels. Several of us took an overnight bus from Flores to Antigua, which was once the capital of all of Central America. Its European influences are obvious in the architecture of buildings, especially the churches. Now it is a tourist destination, with tour agencies on every block, as well as a high-end shopping center for the wealthier Guatemalans in the area. Anyway, a few of us camped at the tourism police station for free. I forgot to get a picture of the campsite, but it looked like it had been some sort of estate. The police barracks were right next to us so we felt pretty safe, and there was a dormant volcano towering over us right outside of town.
Our Antigua adventures consisted of navigating the enormous market and exploring the city itself. I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but the coffee in Antigua was the best I’ve ever had. I guess it’s true that Guatemalans grow the best coffee. Monday of that week, we hiked Volcan Pacaya , which is still active (it erupted two years ago). The hike took about an hour each way, but we didn’t get to the top. Our destination was a thermal vent that was spitting out hot air about 200° F that we roasted marshmallows in. Once we passed the tree line, the ground was just loose volcanic rock that resembled fine gravel. The best way to get down the slopes without slipping was to run. I must say that sprinting up and down hills at the top of a volcano was probably one of the best opportunities I’ve had this semester. Oh, and the clouds! We were right on the same level as most of the clouds in the area. Backlit by the setting sun, they were bursting with oranges, reds, pinks, and purples. What a sight!
On Tuesday, Connie and I started our travels back to Belize through the Guatemalan port city of Puerto Barrios. We arrived to late to get a water taxi to Punta Gorda, Belize, so we stayed overnight and caught the boat Wednesday morning. After we arrived in PG, we sought out a place to stay, and things got pretty interesting. We asked the owner of a hostel if she let people camp, and she said she didn’t. As we were leaving, a man who had overheard our conversation approached us on his bicycle and offered to show us a few places we could camp. His name is Mitch, and he is an expatriate American who moved to Belize several years ago. I’ll say he was a little “out there”. He talked a good bit about the One Spirit and was generally cryptic in conversation. He showed us a few patches of grass in between the road and the Sea that we could pitch a tent, but finally led us to his house and welcomed us to stay there. We were a bit skeptical, but he seemed pretty harmless (and it was super cheap).
Our time in Punta Gorda was very relaxing, and we didn’t do much more than exploring the town and eating at local restaurants. On Friday, we met an older woman, Zenovia, at the market who made a little extra money by taking people to her farm in a neighboring village. We decided to pack up and join her for a dory (canoe) ride up the Columbia River in a town called San Pedro Columbia. She and her husband Ignacio lived on and operated a small cacao farm in the hills right next to the river. We enjoyed a small tour of their garden and a delicious meal of fried red snapper, fresh picked greens from the garden, and the best corn tortillas I’ve ever had, which we helped to make. I wish we had had more time to see the rest of the farm, but Saturday morning marked the start of our return journey to campus.
Sustainable Community Development has been a pretty good opportunity to understand how Belize fits into the global picture economically, socially, and politically. I won’t bore you with the details, but you’ll get stories from me when I return. On Monday, I’m leaving for Punta Gorda again, but this time to start my two week internship at a place called Sustainable Harvest. I’ll check in again after I return from there!
P.S., the week before travel week, our Forest Ecology class took a night hike on campus, and I almost tripped over a 6 foot Fer-de-Lance (the most aggressive and poisonous snake in Belize). Our teacher and program director promptly killed it and it is now curled up in a jar in our library. Cool, right?