Extracurricular Activities: Guatemala

Our trip to Guatemala wasn’t all vocabulary and verb conjugation; the school organized different activities for their students, and we jumped into most of them.DSC_2779

First off, a tour of the historic downtown. I’m sure you will be astonished to learn that our children did not enjoy this particular experience, especially as the entire commentary was in Spanish. Much whining was exhibited.

More to their taste was a trip up one of the ten mountains surrounding Xela. Really, it was a large hill; we took a collectivo to the path at the base, and still made it to the top in under two hours. Expanding on the theme at orientation, we were met by two members of the “tourist police,” armed guards who accompanied us the whole way.

Michu attempts to express something in grammatically correct Spanish to an armed man

Michu attempts to express something in grammatically correct Spanish to an armed man

They were nice enough guys, and gave us a chance to work on our Spanish a bit more, but it was still disconcerting to understand that we might not be safe taking a hike in a park.

Kids running up from the bottom of huge concrete slides at the top of Mt. Beul

Kids running up from the bottom of huge concrete slides at the top of Mt. Beul

Monument to Tecun Uman, a Mayan leader killed in Xela at the time of Spanish conquest and reportedly buried here. Many myths surround his death, and some claim he appears on the mountain on misty days.

Monument to Tecun Uman, a Mayan leader killed in Xela at the time of Spanish conquest and reportedly buried here. Many myths surround his death, and some claim he appears on the mountain on misty days.

The good stuff.

The good stuff.

The kids were even more enthusiastic about a trip to a cafe where chocolate was taken from bean to beverage. The owner demonstrated both ancient and modern ways of processing chocolate, from roasting and shelling the dried seeds to grinding them up. There was a lot of sampling. Making chocolate from scratch is still an everyday occupation for many people in Guatemala; there are communal mills, and you can buy the beans at the market. My teacher, Veronica, used the phrase, “When I make my chocolate…” in the same way I might say, “When I make bread…” as if it’s a routine part of the week.

Peeling the roasted chocolate beans

Peeling the roasted chocolate beans

F grinds some beans, old-school

F grinds some beans, old-school

T works on a modern hand-grinder, still used in Guatemala. These days, most people take their chocolate to the local electric mill.

T works on a modern hand-grinder, still used in Guatemala. Most people take their chocolate to the local electric chocolate mill.

Three phases of chocolate with sugar: hand-ground on the right; electric milled in the center; cooled and hardened on the left. The heat from the electric mill makes the chocolate soft enough to shape.

Three phases of chocolate with sugar: hand-ground on the right; electric milled in the center; cooled and hardened on the left. The heat from the electric mill makes the chocolate soft enough to shape.

Finished product! Cooled bars of chocolate mixed with hot water and milk.

Finished product! Cooled bars of chocolate mixed with hot water and milk.

Not all of the cultural info was outside of school. On Wednesday and Friday, we got a half-hour break to learn about local culture, including the beautiful Mayan clothing worn daily by at least 30% of the women in Xela.

F models some local garb. The skirt was made of a huge amount of fabric, and weighed more than my wedding dress.

F models some local garb. The skirt was made of a huge amount of fabric, and weighed more than my wedding dress.

Our final field trip was to an ancient archeological site that straddled the Olmec and Mayan cultures. It was a bit of a bus trip to get there, so we paid upfront to help arrange transportation; but when Saturday rolled around, F’s sniffles had advanced to Not Getting Out of Bed status, so T and I went on a mom-and-son adventure.

Alter and stele in front of a temple in

Alter and stele in front of a temple in Takalik Abaj

Stone commemorating another cycle of the Mayan calendar

Stone commemorating another cycle of the Mayan calendar

We’d hoped to visit some of the more spectacular examples of Mayan architecture, maybe at Tikal or Palenque, but as our trip advanced, that became less of a possibility. We were too anxious to get back to the boat after a week away, and many of those sites are pretty challenging to access. Takalik Abaj was a good compromise—not too far away, but giving a good idea of how Mayan cities were built and a way to better understand their culture. Our guide was excellent, explaining the different structures and carvings. I wouldn’t say T found the whole thing fascinating, but at least he appreciated the aspects of mythology presented by the steles of various jaguars, toads and crocodiles.

Takalik Abaj is still used as a holy site for modern Mayan people; this family was heading to an alter for a ceremony.

Takalik Abaj is still used as a holy site for modern Mayan people; this family was heading to an alter for a ceremony.

By Sunday, we were all ready to head back. The boat needed attention, F’s cold was advancing through the whole family, and we were completely topped up with Spanish language and Guatemalan culture. We said our good-byes to Maria, and took the long, winding bus back to our comfortable home.

2 Comments on “Extracurricular Activities: Guatemala

  1. WOW that sounds like quite an adventure . I’ve told the Guatemala has an incredible Mayan history. We just got back from Galapagos that was quite an adventure too. Hugs Hector

  2. The skirt that Francesca tried on is very similar to one your Uncle George brought home from a six week intensive language school in Guatemala City about 30 years ago. I still have it somewhere at home along with a wonderful woolen poncho that we hang on our walls.

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