This post has four parts: whiplash, Tikal, Mario, and Finca Ixobel
I woke up yesterday morning on a hard wood board in the village of Maya Itza and went to bed in a luxurious hotel on a Lake in Flores. This socio-economic whiplash was difficult to process. As we drove out of the village I found myself being progressively thankful for the technological advantages that I take for granted every day. First it was the paved roads. I was laying down in the bus when we reached it and I knew instantly. The peaceful, even hum of wheels on asphalt welcomed me back. Next it was the power washer that allowed us to spray the mud off of the bus at the truck stop. We finally pulled into the entrance of the hotel and the glow of the immaculately tiled lobby lured me back into the life of privilege.
A group of Eastern Europeans sat in the lobby, sipping their complimentary pineapple juice. I rode the elevator to the third floor and walked along the open hallway, looking down over the swimming pool and out across the lake. My climate controlled hotel room waited for me, perfectly manicured and supplied with all my needs: fresh bottled water, soap, shampoo, three types of towels, and…hot water. The shower washed away the mud from the village and reminded me that I am a child of privilege.
We gathered at the shore and were escorted on a small boat across the lake to the island. It is lined with restaurants and dance clubs. Pastor Karen told me that this is one of the few places where you can walk in the streets and feel safe at night. We ate at the Raices Ristorante where we had a full menu of opulent choices from fondu to wood fired pizza to steak. I had grilled shrimp.
What do we do with this whiplash? I called the Raices opulent, but the truth is that it was like going to any number of restaurants that surround my suburban home, like Applebees, Old Chicago, or Outback. Trips like this thrust the reality of our privileged position and the disproportionate distribution of wealth in our faces. I don’t know what to do with it, except to be incredibly grateful for the creature comforts that I consider normal.
Today was tourist time. I wore shorts (first day for that). We only drove one hour to get to Tikal National Park. The north east corner of Guatemala is a large park designed to preserve both the rain forest and the treasure of Mayan ruins. We had a guide named Samuel who spoke excellent English and studied for two years to be a certified guide for the Park. I enjoyed my time with him and riddled him with as many questions as I could. He graciously and enthusiastically entertained them all. We talked history, theology, economics, and personal life. I learned that he spent ten years in Pennsylvania on a work permit. He spent four of those years studying theology at night with the Assemblies of God while he worked in the factories during the day. He was also very funny. I really, really enjoyed spending time with him.
The highlight of the Tikal experience was sitting at the top of Temple IV. It stands 200 feet above the forest floor and requires a significant climb to get to the top. The view is breath-taking and worth every step. Temples I and II sit in the distance, poking their stony heads up through jungle canopy. 1,000 years ago this entire area was a bustling metropolis of temples and marketplaces and residential sections. Now, it is little more than a few stone ruins, encased in trees and monkeys.
It was a strange experience to sit in that place, contemplating the vast recesses of forgotten civilizations, the complexity of religious and political systems, and the recent visit to the village of Maya Itza where descendants of these great people barely scratch out an existence. I can only know life through my own lived experience, and I have experienced so little of it. Moments like these simultaneous make me feel tiny in the scope of the universe and at peace in the vastness of God.
I know, I’m a hopeless romantic. But, these kind of moments are truly a mystical, existential crisis/euphoria for me. It just is.
I end this post with a reflection on a significant conversation I had with our host, Mario, in Maya Itza yesterday. The conversation began as Pastor Karen and I were sitting in his living room waiting for others to arrive. His house is comprised of two rooms. One room is the kitchen and sleeping room, the other is the living room. The tin roof is held up by wooden posts in the corners. The walls are made of wooden planks roughly 18” wide. The floor is dirt. There entire structure is probably 20’ x 40’. There are only two chairs in the living room and a couple hammocks hanging from the wall. That’s it.
Here’s the curious thing. This wooden structure stands immediately behind a block and stucco structure of the same size. That is the building that housed our delegation’s sleeping quarters. I thanked Mario for giving up his house for us. Then we learned something fascinating. He doesn’t use the block house. In fact, he doesn’t like it. That house was built by the European Union when the people were settled in that place 23 years ago. The people in this village don’t want to live in the block houses because the houses feel too permanent. These are a displaced people. They were run out of their country during the civil war and lived in internment camps in Mexico. 23 years ago they were allowed to return. The government made many promises that they have never kept. The United Nations had to send troops to protect them from other Guatemalans while they resettled in the forest preserve. They don’t trust easily and they don’t want to live in a house that feels permanent.
This conversation has haunted me all day. This group of people live at the end of the road. War uprooted and displaced them. Government has short-changed them. The land is cruel to them. How can they keep going? They do. Their young people are full of hope. They are hungry to learn. They want to move forward.
I have a deep respect for Mario. I hope that our partnership will lead to an ability for me to communicate more deeply with him and learn the wisdom he has to teach.
I’m writing this post at our final stop for the day. It’s a place called Finca Ixobel in Poptun. We arrived after dark and we will leave before sunrise. That is too bad, because I can tell it is beautiful here. It is an ecological hotel that is connected to farming and ecological stewardship. My room is a casita with a tin roof that is open to the outside around the top of the wall. A mosquito net hangs over my bed. A hammock hangs on the front porch. The facilities are clean and modern and simple. The food was excellent. Someday I hope to return and enjoy it in the daylight.
We have a 10-12 hour drive tomorrow, so I need to call it a night. Until my next post.