By Steven Stilianos
Splash! I woke up to the sound of Mr. Alter jumping into Lake Atitlan and looked off of my balcony to see him swimming in the clear beautiful lake. I put on my bathing suit and made the trek down the stone steps to the lake. I climbed to the top of a small abandoned building, about 10 feet high, and cannonballed to the cool blue surface below. The lake sent a cool sensation throughout my body that instantly made me feel ready for the day. I repeated this jump several times and I was ready to conquer any challenges ahead of me. What a way to start my day!
The rest of the day proved to be even better than the way that it started, as we were able to see and feel the true experience of living around Lake Atitlan. Some of the things that we focused on throughout the day were the numerous challenges that these individuals faced in their daily lives. We spent the morning in Cerro de Oro and were given a lens to see what it was like to be a member of this community. Cerro de Oro, a small town right on Lake Atitlan, does not get much attention from tourists and is in a pretty remote area surrounded by volcanoes. I thought that Mr.Viser described the town perfectly when he said to the group, “Chichos, this places is pretty Guate.” There were many street dogs roaming, general stores selling anything imaginable around each corner, men doing manual labor, women weaving the colorful Mayan patterns, and so many other things that make the developing world so unique to foreigners.
As I walked though the streets of this predominantly Mayan town, I stood out like a sore thumb. Imagine a 6’6 white dude, dressed in a tank top and shorts, walking down the street of a poor rural Guatemalan town. The people looked at me as if I had ten heads but it was just because this was new to them and something that many of the citizens had never experienced before. Being in Cerro de Oro and interacting with the community was one of the first times of my life that I have truly felt like a minority. This experience really made me think. My first thought was, “Is this how some of my best friends at Christchurch feel in our own country? “ This was a new feeling to me and I wondered if some of the people that I am closest with have felt this feeling before. From my experience traveling around the world, it has been obvious that racism is everywhere and that looking different from the majority automatically puts you at a slight disadvantage. Guatemala gave me a taste of this and I am glad that I could be pushed outside of my comfort zone so I was able to better understand the place that I was spending time in.
One thing that we noticed in our time at Lake Atitlan was the infectious smiles of all of the people that we interacted with. Although we stood out in the community and were outsiders, the people greeted us with smiles and treated us like we were part of their community. It was amazing to be embraced into this community so that we could learn more about the people. We ate some crazy good street tacos, played basketball in the center of town, and played with the children. These are the memories that I will never forget when reminiscing on this trip.
Although were staying in a luxurious house right on Lake Atitlan, I think that the group took more out of the experience interacting with the people in the town. It is the pure relationships that will stick with you in the long run rather than the materialistic centered parts of the trip. I am so happy that I came back to Guatemala this year because it opened my eyes to different parts of the country that I did not see before. It’s been a real and unique experience and I am not ready for it to be over.