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Published: September 13th 2006
The main temple of Tikal. The Mayan ruins in Peten
Hay guys it has been while since I have written and I have had many adventures over the last month or so…..
From Mayan ruins in the steaming hot rainforest to coral reefs of Belize and the fiery volcanoes of the chilly western highlands, of course without forgetting volunteering in a small town in northern Guatemala.
The majority of my time has been spent in San Andres a small town in the Peten region of Guatemala doing voluntary work. The town is situated on the edge of the lake Peten-Itza with a population of around 4000 and is typical of the region. The first thing that you notice is that there are children everywhere as I was soon to learn was because the average size of a family is 12. Also there are animals everywhere; It isn’t a rare experience to just be walking to the local shop and have to negotiate pigs, horses, chickens, ducks and howling dogs.
The project involves working in the ecological park in the town in the morning, which aims to educate community about the values of their surrounding landscape and also aims to protect the land the park covers which would have
Tikal, El Peten
otherwise have been deforested. In the evenings I also worked in the local library, many of the local children use this library and it has been very effective in encouraging the local children with their education and providing activities for them in a town where there are very few facilities. I have also worked with other projects which helped to improve the quality of the local schools by painting and building new facilities such as stages. During this time I was living with a local family. Initially communication was very hard and involved a lot of acting my hands but slowly improved to just a bit hard after the month! Despite this my family never ceased to be patient, friendly and very welcoming to me. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity of living with a Guatemalan family as I feel that this was the best way of experiencing Guatemalan life and learning Spanish.
I have now left San Andreas and hit the road again. The huge variation in landscape and the changes in the attitudes and cultures of the people of Guatemala make the country a very interesting and diverse place to visit.
El Remate, Lago Peten Itza near where i was volunteering
made my way to the Caribbean coastline, via Rio Dulce (the sweet river) with its steep limestone cliffs covered in thick rainforest vegetation to the small isolated town of Livingston at the mouth of the river. The town is inhabited by the largest Garifuna population in Guatemala, who are descendants African slaves who were shipwrecked in 1795. The town had a much more laid back, Caribbean feel than the rest of Guatemala, however the beach was very dirty and the sea was certainly not safe to swim in. Whilst in Livingston we walked along the beach to Siete Altares a series of water falls in pristine rainforest. A great (and clean!) place to swim and watch the giant blue butterflies flutter past …. well worth a visit despite the walk along the filthy beach.
I am currently in the western highlands region which has the largest indigenous Mayan population and most spectacular scenery. First I visited the old colonial city of Antigua (formally the capital of Guatemala until destroyed by an earthquake in the 17th century) surrounded very scenically by three volcanoes. During this visit I went to Volcan Pacaya which is currently very active with rivers of molten
red lava running down the sides from which you can stand only two meters away. I was amazed by the amount of change that had occurred to the landscape in such a short period of time. There were huge tongues of rock emerging through the forest far down the volcanoes side; I had been informed that these had only appeared 20 days previously.
Next I found myself in Lago de Atitlan, an area of exceptional natural beauty with a large Mayan population. The lake is surrounded by steep mountain sides and volcanoes which are covered in pristine forest or coffee plantations. The local Mayan people still wear the bright and colourful traditional dress called the traje and speak in the Mayan languages. The people who live in this region are exceptionally friendly, never fail to greet you kindly and are always willing to help you out when you are in need. During my time there I visited some of the small villages where the local woman make and sell their traditional crafts and the larger town of Santiago de Atitlan to visit a shrine to a cigarette smoking and alcohol swigging saint that the Mayans worship called Maximon, this
Marina and Albero
Members of my host family
proved to be a very unusual experience.
Also whilst still in the Peten region I visited Belize, the culture here changes almost instantaneously as you cross the border and the influenced of British colonial rule are still very clear. The country has a very Caribbean feel and the music you always here is no longer latino salsa or Marimba but Reggae. I spent the weekend in Caye Caulker whilst there I went sailing to the barrier reef and spent the day snorkeling, listening to music and drinking rum! This is the life!
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