Up, down, and around Guatemala


After a lengthy hiatus from any form of blog communication, we finally found enough energy and time to put together a smattered reflection of some of what has kept us on our toes and out of the blog world for the past 6 weeks.  During this time we experienced two significant events that we had either known about or dreamed of…..interestingly both occurred in Guatemala! I (Rick) rang in the New Year with my good friend Rogelio by hiking up Volcan Tacanà, a non-technical climb that reaches just over 4000 m.  While we left the trailhead in Mexico, our route (surprise!) took us over the border into Guatemala  for the remainder of the ascent…an enjoyable border crossing without a single request for documentation!  Then, about 10 days later, along with Kelly and Miriam (MCCers here in San Cristobal), our family travelled to Santiago Atitlàn (central Guatemala) to participate in a week-long MCC regional retreat (Mexico and central American countries). Whether it was travelling, hiking, retreating, or a host of other activities in which we were engaged, it gave us an opportunity to learn more about our southern nieghbours and similar culture (Maya) with distinct regional characteristics.

Visiting Guatemala for the first time left me with a couple of impressions……………………….. 1) while I only experienced limited geography of the entire country, the region around Tacanà as well as the route through the highlands to Lago Atitlàn could be described as either a mountain bikers dream, or a road-builders nightmare.  The ruggedness of the terrain was impressive, yet not as much as the local folks who navigate the trails and roads daily on foot, by donkey, bicycle or truck.  As Rogelio and I often struggled to catch our breath due to the altitude and the ascent, we would meet local folks (who live on the mountain) going up and down with the same ease that one walks to the nearest tortilleria on a Sunday afternoon.  Our trip to  Santiago Atitlàn also impressed upon me the resourcefulness and resilience of the Guatemalan people, many for whom life on rugged, only somewhat arable land was not their choice, having been forced off their fertile homelands due to civil war, and government and big business interests.

2) colour colour everywhere!  The persistence of Indigenous highland culture was very evident, as much perhaps if not more common than here in Chiapas.  Whether it was the finely woven dress of both the women and men in town, or the tarps that offered a night`s shelter in the crater of Tacanà, vivid colours were commonplace.  In terms of language, certainly the local Mayan dialect (sorry I forget how its spelled) was more commonly spoken, with fewer Spanish-speaking folks.  And while the food was very good at our retreat location, I did miss the variety of salsas and range of flavours that I have become accustomed to here in Mexico.  We also noted that we are a tad spoiled in San Cristobal, with convenience stores on nearly every block that carry a wide range of food and, well, conveniences! – this was not the case in Santiago Atitlàn.   But not to complain…..because I can say without a doubt that the beans (with a bit of onion too) and tortillas that was served on a small plateau on Tacanà at 13,000 ft  was some of the best and most needed nourishment I can recall. 

Rugged terrain of the Guatemalan highlands seen from mid-way up TacanÃ

Local textiles on display in Santiago Atitlà n








Fresh tortillas and beans at 13,000 ft? Buen provecho!

Not the type of volcanic crater I was expecting....      Â

Our MCC retreat was focused on exploring the topic of Life and Work in a context of violence.  Perhaps like many areas of the world, Latin America has its spectrum of friendly, hospitable people and communities, and also individuals and regions where peace and security are hard to come by.  There are lots of stats, there are lots of stories, both positive and negative, but to share these is not my purpose for this post.  However, for really enlightening and stimulating reading on the latin american context, I encourage you to bookmark and regulary read the official MCC Latin America Advocacy blog, at lacaadvocacy.wordpress.com – recently one of the MCC workers from Guatemala posted a well-written summary of much of the content of our retreat.I want to share a more personal (family) perspective.  It was very good to connect with MCCers who are working in similar contexts (including service workers that have small children).  It was good to connect with MCCers who are from Canada, the USA, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Costa Rica….MCC has a truly global family of workers, congregations and constituents.  We were reminded of our work that has taught us that those who are often called “poor” have an immense resiliency to live in the midst of conflict.  We visited an MCC project that provided much needed relief and support for infrastructure development after Hurricane Stan devasted parts of the Santiago Atitlàn area in 2005 – and continues to support a group of families focused on community development initiatives. We were richly challenged by Latin America Director Daryl Yoder-Bontrager to be very conscious of the power dynamics that exist in the work MCC does (do we still call it “development”?), and to strive to minimize these dynamics by identifying with others in solidarity first and foremost as God`s children.  Daryl left us a short poem written by Jorge Luis Borges that speaks to the delicate nature of constructing just relationships……..
Y Uno Aprende                                                                                                                     
Despues de un tiempo, uno aprende la sutil diferencia entre sostener una mano, y encadenar un alma….
And One Learns                                                                                                                          
After a time, one learns the subtle difference between supporting a hand, and enchaining a soul….      

Team MCC Mexico - January 2012

Ricardo and David (Nicaragua), nervously joking about going cliff diving







While on a project tour, Ez and Hils couldn`t help but add to their collection of volcanic rocks that float!

Jacquie with one of the daughters of a family who is part of the MCC-supported cooperative in Santiago Atitlà n










Nuff said….may we share His peace within our communities……..

Lago Atitlà n, from Panajachel looking south



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