Angela Miller

The anticipation with which I embarked on my trip to Guatemala in March of 1995 was heightened by my discussions with my students and my love of history. As a teacher of students who, at best, have sometimes limited excitement about the subject of history, I was really looking forward to explorations into Mayan sites. This would give me first hand impressions and data to share with my students. My other goal, to improve my semi-literate Spanish, was also a major one.

Nothing I studied, however, prepared me for the sense of wonder, awe, excitement, and appreciation with which I returned. I at times felt like a true pioneer.... striking off into unfamiliar and uncharted waters. What follows are a series of impressions and feelings that have been part of my reflections upon returning to Houston.

The ruins at Tikal were astounding in their massiveness and their detail....this was no small feat of workmanship or carve such wonders out of the tangle of 'selva' or jungle hundreds of years ago is overpowering in its impressiveness. It made me want to learn more about this people who built such monuments and structures.

As I struggled to climb to the top of Templo Cuatro (one of the largest pyramids on site at Tikal) I was overwhelmed with the way man had 'borrowed' space from the tangle of undergrowth surrounding it. How did these early people manage this monumental task without the aid of modern technology? How exciting it must have been to have been in that first party of explorers and archaeologists that 'uncovered' these (and other) ruins! How exactly did the Maya use this city' in the jungle? The questions that were posed in my mind as I wandered the 'streets' of Tikal were endless.

The beauty of the surroundings in the rain forest were incredible. Even in the dry season, the plant, animal, and insect life was fascinating. Ant colonies larger than beach balls; wonderful, colorful birds; “cutter” ants that can strip the leaves off of entire plants in a day; wild Petén turkeys, radiant in their iridescent feathers; flowers everywhere, their blooms bringing color to the greenery; the night sounds of the jungle....the howler monkeys making the most impressive (and scary) sound I've ever heard!!!..the list of visual and auditory impressions is almost endless. I found myself feeling like a sponge soaking up all of the differences surrounding me.

Our 'nature walk' that turned into the hike of the century. I not only discovered the heat, the difficult terrain, the dense vegetation and the vistas to view from a mirador (a high lookout)....I discovered how very out of shape this Houston woman was!!!! The physical hardships of this trip were more than I expected.....and I survived well, which was affirming also. lMy first sight of San Andrés as we approached on the lancha (small boat taxi) impressed me with the angle of the streets.....straight up!!!!.....the crowded landscape of houses....the pigs running in the streets....and the lack of any transportation other than our feet!!!! I don't know when I have been so physically tired or when a place looked both so inviting and so frightening.

The hospitality of the family I stayed with couldn't have been more gracious. 'My family' lived near the school (La Eco-Escuela) and their small house overlooked Lake Petén Itza. My hostess, Caándida Cano, was wonderful. She made me feel so at home. I spent many hours in conversations with her, limited by my halting Spanish, about a wide range of topics.....religion, the government, schools, education, work, questions about my life in the United States, stories of her family....the list is endless. I spent time sitting with Villabas (Caándida's older sister) while she watched her 'Telenovela' on the tiny television in the one room house. She was about 70 and spent her day in her hammaca holding her pet parrot, Jos&ecute;. We had wonderful food (except maybe for the “mush” or corn flakes with hot milk I was served for breakfast!). My hours in Caándida's home were enjoyable, relaxing, and educational. My Spanish improved 100%....and I hope to go back sometime to visit someone I now consider a friend.

School, Spanish lessons, Esdras (my teacher), struggling to make myself understood, listening to lectures on the ecology and problems of preserving the rain forest, experiencing the simplicity of life without indoor plumbing, running water that is always available, electricity that goes on and off (from the power plant) at irregular times, people that walk rather than drive, no air conditioning, pigs and chickens running in the streets, school children that seem to want to be in school and who function with very limited resources, local religious festivals to honor patron saints, waking each morning to the parrot sitting in my window saying, 'Buenas Dias!' memories go on and on..........

In summary, I can truly say that my experience of ten days in San Andrés, Petén did much to change my perspective on my own life. Never again will I take for granted the conveniences (like my hot baths, air-conditioning, cars, reliable electricity) and wealth of life in Houston. I have a renewed appreciation for my students with limited I struggled to make myself understood and to understand. Perhaps most striking, though, was my sense of commonality with these people who are geographically so far away.....our lives and our interests were more similar than they were different.....and that is something to celebrate!!!

look forward to returning....I wish this experience is one my students and more of my friends here in Houston could have.....As I left Caándida's house with sad farewells, I could truly say 'Hasta luego' rather than good-bye.

Edited by Carlos R. Solís