Monday, December 5, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I love December and Christmastime! While it doesn’t feel like Christmas with the warmth here, there are still little reminders in the various Christmas trees scattered throughout town, the December fairs in two of the local towns, and our staff Christmas party coming up! I can’t believe I will be home in a week; time has absolutely flown by. We had a great trip throughout Guatemala last week (and successfully renewed our visas!)…a double whammy! Guatemala is a beautiful country and there are still so many parts of it I want to see, but thankfully we already have plans to make it back there in the spring.
First, we went to Pulhapanzak Falls in Honduras. This entailed having a guide lead us to the waterfall by means of jumping over cliffs in the river until we went under the waterfall and up through a cave. It was definitely a little scary at times as you couldn’t see or breathe but worth every minute!
Amy, Amy and I about to go into the waterfall
             Thanksgiving Day took us to a small little town in Honduras where my travel buddy Peter and I enjoyed a Central American style Thanksgiving dinner of empanadas and horchata at a little stand right off the highway.
Our next stop was Antigua, the language school capital of Guatemala. Antigua was beautiful, clean, and the most touristy town I have been to in Central America so far.  The cobble stone streets and colonial architecture made me feel like I was in Europe and we met a lot of Europeans and heard more English than Spanish…something I’m not used to! The Mayan culture is also very apparent in Antigua and there were many women with brightly colored garb selling their textiles on the streets and in the markets.
A street of Antigua with the volcano in the background
 From Antigua, Peter and I took a night bus up north to Flores and the Mayan ruins of Tikal. The night bus was first class, complete with leather reclining seats, and a little snack pack of juice and crackers. It was definitely the nicest bus I’ve been on here!
We arrived in Flores, a small little island on Lake Peten Itza, at 6 am. You can walk all around the island in about 10 minutes and I loved the small town feel and the architectural style of the tin roofs and wood houses.
From there, we took a bus to the Mayan ruins of Tikal.  Tikal was a Mayan metropolis and was once home to 10,000 people. We wandered around the temples and the sacrificial altars under a jungle canopy of monkeys swinging through the trees. It was beautiful with all the lush vegetation and the moss growing on the temples and was definitely worth the ten-hour trip!
The view of Tikal pushing through the jungle canopy from the highest temple
One of the many temples in Tikal
 Our last stop was to a little town on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala. Only accessible by small boat or “lancha”, we took the two-hour ride on a river, passing many natives in their wooden canoes, an old castle, wooden houses on stilts, and many yachts. Livingston is a town different from the rest of Guatemala, as it is known for its Garifuna culture. The Garifuna are descendents of African slaves who were deported to the northern coast of Honduras and to the Caribbean coast of Guatemala when the British defeated them. Livingston was a quirky little place and definitely has more African influence than I have seen anywhere else in Central America.
My travel buddy Peter and I
 Overall, our trip to Guatemala was a perfect mix of outdoor adventure, beautiful scenery, relaxing, and experiencing a new culture. I hope we make it back there in the spring!
This week I am wrapping up stuff around the clinic here and preparing for our “Día de Juegos” aka “Field Day” and staff Christmas party!  It should be a good way to wrap up the first half of my time here and while I am a little sad to leave for a few weeks, I am so excited to see family and friends and be home for the most wonderful time of the year! I hope this finds you all well during the holiday season and if anyone is around Colorado in the next few weeks, I would love to see you!

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