By JP Stitt
During my day as leader of the day, the group visited two towns by boat. We jumped off a 12-meter-tall jump into the lake, explored the towns on foot, ate food, took Spanish lessons, and hung out. It was probably my favorite day so far, but not just because it was fun.
I saw many different kinds of people in San Marcos – French speakers, Americans, and Spanish speakers not from around here. Why would all of those people be in that town? It felt so different from the places we’ve been visiting and where we’re staying, in Cerro de Oro.
I wasn’t used to it at all. It felt much less Mayan, very different from where we’ve spent most of our time during this trip.
What were the things attracting so many different people to this particular town? What was the attraction? If this place felt less authentic, why was it the biggest destination? I think it was because the cliffs were so fun and because the shops and restaurants were so familiar and Westernized. It felt like the place had been made specifically for these foreign people.
In some ways, this felt good. It felt like the economy was really active in San Marcos. You could see a lot of things being sold and purchased. You could smell all the different foods. It felt like a place that was succeeding.
In some ways, this felt bad. It felt like people weren’t embracing their heritage and traditional culture. I was missing the small vehicles and motorcycles. I was missing the music that we hear in the streets of small towns and villages. I was missing the smell of tortillas and the shops full of Tortrix and Guatemalan snacks. I was missing seeing the women making their own clothes and the hardware stores that support the farmers of this country. It felt like a place for tourists rather than for Guatemalans.
The lives we’ve seen in Guatemala have surprised me. The things I have been trained to look for – the quality of the houses and the conditions of day-to-day life – seem very different here. At first, I felt like I was seeing people struggling. I saw houses made of pieces of metal with a tarp as a door. I saw small places to live above shops. But as I have settled in, things have shown themselves differently.
The people I’ve spent time with here are optimistic. They felt like they’re happy. On the outside, the signs of success that I am used to aren’t there but the inside of the communities show me happiness. I see lots of smiles in the small communities and I wonder why? In some ways, the answer seems obvious – fun things to do and lots of friends. In others, they confuse me.
Spending a day in more touristy cities helped me understand normal life, even though it wasn’t there. It helped me remember and think about myself and the people of Guatemala.
I had to stop and think for a little while because it would have been easy to just enjoy. But, when I did, I liked it even more.