Guatemala & US/Mexico border
spring 08

Moving on from CASAS

March 11, 2008

Hola amigos,

So our time here at CASAS is coming to a close.  Today was our final day of classes and our free travel starts on Friday.  Between then and now all we have are exams and Spanish presentations.  This is our finals week!

At the end of February we had our final weekend trip.  We flew from Guatemala City to Flores in the far north of the country known as the Petén.  The Petén is mostly dense jungle and is home to many ancient Mayan ruins as well as some amazing wildlife.  The moment our plane landed our group was whisked off to Tikal National Park which contains some of the most stunning Mayan ruins in existence and is also the site where the rebel base in Star Wars IV was filmed.   We headed into the park with our guide Rolando who led us through some lesser ruins called twin pyramid complexes and further into the jungle.  After a bit of a hike we emerged from the jungle into a clearing and had to stop to take in the scene as an enormous Mayan temple rose above the treetops before us.  From the top of this temple we marveled as the jungle spread out before us in all directions, a sea of green seemingly without end.  Four other temples rose above the treetops too and we sat there, taking in the scene and listening to the calls of birds and monkeys rising up around us.

We continued this tour of Tikal for four hours with our guide Rolando, who knew absolutely everything about everything in the jungle whether it was a Mayan temple or a plant.  We walked numerous jungle paths, ascended more temples, listened to the deep growls of the howler monkeys and watched as spider monkeys swung through the trees above us.  All kinds of camouflaged insects lay around us wherever we went, invisible to all but Rolando who pointed out many.  The experience was amazing and enthusiasm radiated from the group constantly during the tour.

After four remarkable hours we departed Tikal for our hotel which was ironically called 'Gringo Perdido.'  This hotel lay in the jungle, on the banks of the second biggest lake in Guatemala (Lago Petén Itzá).  Picture yourself swaying gently in a hammock on a warm day in front of your thatched roof hut, listening to the sounds of nature while enjoying an amazing view of the lake.  That was pretty much the rest of our weekend along with jungle hikes in the rain, horseback riding, and kayaking trips across the lake in the still of the morning.  We also spent a good deal of time swimming in the lake which was clean and warm.  You could call it a weekend in paradise.  After such an experience we were all disappointed to have to come back to CASAS and study for another week and a half, the same way as one is disappointed when woken up from a good dream.

This last weekend our group had the privilege of taking part in a demonstration in Zone one called "Via Crucis."  The purpose of this demonstration was to protest social injustices throughout the world.  "Who is being crucified today?" was the theme.  Different schools and organizations showcased different cases of injustice.  For our part we showcased, together with CASAS staff, the inhumane treatment of migrants as they travel north.  We showed pictures of migrants being crucified and explained them in Spanish to our audience before stapling them to a bamboo cross behind us.  One of the CASAS staff then led the crowd in a short meditation and a song.  It seemed fitting that our presentation was right in front of the National Palace.  It was a privilege to be able to lend our voices to those who are suffering and we all relished the experience.

We all have throughly enjoyed our time here at CASAS.  For the past 7 weeks we have been living with families in Guatemala City and studying.  It seems unreal that this phase of our semester is coming to a close already.  Leaving CASAS also means that we must say goodbye to our host families who have carefully looked after our every need since we've arrived.  Most of us have become very attached to our families and are all extremely sad to be leaving them.  This sadness however is coupled with excitement about our future activities.  Both free travel and our service assignments promise to be amazing experiences and will leave us with as many stories to share as the first phase of our trip.

Blessings to you all,

-Chris H