January 24, 2017: A Reflection on San Cristobal by Evan Van Metre – (View the full photo gallery here) My time in San Cristobal has been significantly impactful on a cultural level. It was a wonderful experience from the very first day. The route to San Cristobal was interesting. It consisted of bumpy back roads, gas station children salesmen the most diverse and extensive music playlist that I’ve ever heard (it was over eight hours long). We arrived fairly late at night. After a quick tour of the house and explanation of the hot water situation, our heads hit the pillows.
The next morning we got up at a reasonable time and started our trek to the school. Our time here was spent volunteering at a local elementary school with an international community service organization called Voluntario Internacional Voluntad en Acción (VIVA). On our way, we hit up a cafe for breakfast, that for me, consisted of yogurt, granola, fruit, coffee, and baked goodies.
After our morning fill, we made our way down the cobbled streets to the school. We were shown around the campus and were greeted by hundreds of smiling student faces as we walked past the classrooms. We were then asked if we wanted to spend time in the classrooms with the kids. I was the first to volunteer. This level of motivation and academic curiosity for school activities is not normal for me. The teacher had me sit at the front of the class facing the fist-grade students. The were very curious about me. For the most part I observed the class silently, but whenever they were allowed to stand, I was bombarded with “¿Como se dice en inglés?” (How do say in English?) questions. At the end of class I was invited by the students to join them at soccer. It was very fun.
January 24, 2017: Crossing into Mexico and visiting Palenque – (View the full photo gallery here) Yesterday we said goodbye to Guatemala and began our two-week visit to Mexico. The border crossing was smoothly carried out at a
low-key, rural border crossing station (other than instructor having to convince the authorities that he had not been in the country for the last nine years). The rest of the day was spent driving through the Mexican state of Chiapas and establishing ourselves in a hostel next to Palenque National Park. This morning we explored Palenque. This beautifully decorated city was home to the famous Maya King Pakal. While the buildings are not spectacular in height they are magnificently decorated with bas-relief stucco images of kings and gods. It is also the densest of Mayan cities, with one temple practically flowing into the next. In addition, there are walls that retain some of the original painted murals. We are now on our way to San Cristobal de las Casas for several days of community service volunteer work at a local elementary school.
January 24, 2017: Vignette from Ally – (View the full photo gallery here) The last few days we have resided in Flores, Guatemala. Flores is a beautiful island, in the middle of lake Peten Itza. The best part of the island is the food. Every night we go to the street market set up on the waterfront for authentic street food. The whole scene is amazing, with crowds gathering to order from stall to stall, all while the sun sets over the water.
We each get 20 quetzales (a little less than $3) to order our meals. Each night I have ordered a different entree, juice, and dessert, and each item has been a new vocabulary word. It was very exciting to try mysterious foods that we had never seen before. Nearly all these experiments were successful…
Of course, the juices here are amazing, as all the fruit is fresh, and the heat makes anything cold extra delicious. On the whole, life is simply wonderful here, and we appreciate everything even more after the arduous Mirador trek. Tomorrow, we depart for Mexico. We have had an incredible time in Guatemala, and I cannot wait for the second half of our adventure.
January 24, 2017: Thoughts from Hannah Weinrich– (View the full photo gallery here) The first thing I noticed upon entering the lab of Richard Hansen were the Idaho Potatoes boxes. There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of them stacked from floor to ceiling. Each one was labeled and filled with countless Mayan artifacts. The lab was in an unremarkable residential stucco house in a gated community on the outskirts of Guatemala City.
Artifacts are collected from various Pre-Classic Mayan sites such as Nakbe and El Mirador and brought back to the lab for study. First, they are cleaned, sorted and labeled. Next, a small sample of the ceramic material is drilled out of the artifact and pulverized into a fine powder.
This ceramic sample is then taken to a federal lab in the US where it is subjected to isotope analysis. This allows the scientists to know the composition of trace metals in the sample and therefore where the raw materials used to make the artifact originated. This allows the archeologists to determine the various trade routes that may have existed between the different Mayan city-states. The more aesthetic and artistically significant pieces are restored and sent to museums. Being able to view this process in all of its stages and speak with the scientists carrying out the work was both humbling and inspiring.
January 24, 2017 – (View the full photo gallery here) We have emerged from the jungle, covered in bug bites, sweat, and the funk of the jungle. We have seen monkeys, snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, coatis, agoutis, and signs of even larger creatures, like jaguars and tapirs. Our feet are blistered, but the size of the blisters cannot compete with size of our smiles knowing that we have hiked over fifty miles, slogging through the woods each day to arrive at another ancient city, where we climb a pyramid, watch the sunset over an endless sea of trees, and contemplate the distance to the next hill on the horizon that we know is actually another unexcavated pyramid. We are still processing the full magnitude of what we have accomplished, but for now showers and clean beds are calling our names.
January 16, 2017 – (View the full photo gallery here) He we are at 5 AM departing for El Mirador. We will be in the jungle for the next 6 days. Last night we saw a parade through Flores celebrating the festival of the Black Christ. Floats, marching band, firecrackers, massive fireworks display and street food. Now at 5AM we can hear fireworks still going off. These Latin American fiestas last for days, non-stop. This is the last of 9 days for this particular party. Today we will help Archeologist Richard Hansen build a new rainy season trail for improved access to El Mirador. We will camp at La Florida. Tomorrow, we go deeper into the jungle into the roadless portion of the Department of the Peten.
January 15, 2017 – (View the full photo gallery here) We spent last night in a bus from Guatemala City and woke up near Tikal. The day was filled with pyramid climbing and ruin exploring.
January 12, 2017 – (View the full photo gallery here)
Hannah helps to prepare the traditional Guatemalan Pepian, the dish served at our fundraising dinner.
We were invited to the house of the caretaker of Earth Lodge to participate in the making of this nationally celebrated meal of carefully roasted peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, squash seeds, cinnamon and other spices. The process starts in the morning, several hours before the meal is to be served. We all crowded into Catalina’s small kitchen equipped with an open fire stove top and clay roasting skillet. As a group, we took in the aromas and flavors of her intimate and smoky kitchen. Students took turns cutting the peppers, roasting the tomatoes and garlic, browning the flour and roasting the peppers. The final product is about to be served!
January 11, 2017 – (View the full photo gallery here)
Today was our first day in town. We began our journey by chicken bus, rolling down cobbled stone streets, listening to Latin pop blaring from the speakers. By the time we arrived outside the market, we were all ready to explore.
Our first stop was the cemetery. Students wandered through the freshly painted tombs and mausoleums and compared them to the more modest burials of the poor. After an hour amidst the dead, students were beginning to get hungry, so we returned to the market. We learned the names of fruit that we had never seen before and practiced our haggling. After assembling copious quantities of fruit, we headed to central park to put together burritos made from freshly cooked tortillas, avocados ripened to perfection, and little bags of piping hot beans. That was then topped off with plenty of tropical fruit until everyone’s face was covered with mango, papaya, and an assortment of other fruit.
After lunch, and an unsuccessful attempt to find the fabled chocobanano, we turned our focus toward the religious. We visited two old churches destroyed by the frequent earthquakes that rock this region.
Students climbed amidst the ruins and learned about the local saints. After bussing back up the hill, we were rewarded by our first view of lava blowing out of the volcano, providing a study glow on the top of the aptly named Fuego. Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a cooking class with Catalina, preparing pepian, the dish loved by everyone at our fundraising dinner. We can’t wait.
– Bacchus Taylor, Faculty Leader
January 9, 2017 – (View the full photo gallery here)
The students are now huddled around a fire, playing cards, laughing, and celebrating the fact that we are in such a beautiful place. We all watched the sunset from hammocks with the volcano Fuego erupting at least once an hour in the background. The smells of a wonderful dinner are wafting through the building, and we’re hoping for some lava sightings now that it is dark. Tomorrow we head into Antigua, for a full day of exploring the city with former EA student Ian Carroll, who is proving the ideal contact: full of local knowledge, well-versed in Explorations tradition and culture, and able to articulate how his education led him to where he is today. Life is good. – Bacchus Taylor, Faculty Leader