Sweet Escape

This past Friday, the 12th, I took a trip to San Ignacio after a successful work meeting in Belmopan (the capital city) with my new placement partner. I arrived into town by 4pm and took some time to wander around and collect information for my desired trip to the Mayan archeological site of Xunantunich (the name means Stone Woman). The hostel, Bella’s backpackers,  I stayed at was a groovy spot which  was recommended by a friend because of its unconventional atmosphere. The design of the place is very artistic with a mix of nature and a vintage look along with a vibrant patio for guests to chill.

I tossed down my bag down, grabbed my wallet and head back out for a lovely dinner to Fuego, sort of my pre-birthday dinner! Across in the town center, families were out for the local Christmas celebration that had musicians performing and the mayor staging the annual lighting of the Christmas tree. Afterwards, I dashed back to the hostel and thought I would get in on an early sleep, but that totally did not happen. Instead, my night consisted of retreating with strangers sitting around and talking about their travels and epiphanies.

I must say, some guests went into deep philosophies on what makes a person sane or insane (I can admit that alcohol and hemp was being passed around). There were  a pair of musicians playing the guitar and harmonica, singing soulful music, that brought a cool and hip camping ambience. I met two fellow female Canadian travelers and one of them was a previous Cuso volunteer. Even more surprising, she now lives in Belize City – what are the odds right? Definitely a SMALL world. The night ended with somebody buying the entire group a few pounds of garnaches (round tortilla chip topped with beans, cheese and salsa) which I couldn’t resist.

I was too anxious to sleep so I was up by 5am packing and getting ready to start the day – may have woken someone up on my way out (oooopppss). I walked over to the farmer’s market, grabbed breakfast and a sizeable cup of coffee and caught my bus ride out to Xunantanich. I thought it would have been difficult to get there, but the bus dropped me off at a big fat sign with the words “Xunantunich 1 mile” by the river ferry. After crossing the river, I continued my hike and reached the entrance around 8am.  Basically, my day consisted of picnicking at a beautiful Mayan city site – built between the years of 600-670 AD – and enjoying my snacks I bought from the market (my garbage properly disposed, duh). I frequently listened in on tours as the guides shared historical, cultural and political facts on Mayan civilization.

Standing on top of  El Castillo pyramid, I had a 360 degree view of the surrounding jungle and villages. It was a spectacular panorama! On the East side was the landscape of Belize while on the West, just a kilometer away was the border of Guatemala with its’ villages stretching out into the horizon.  Gazing from the top of El Castillo, there was a sense of wonder and astonishment that could make anyone feel like “the king or queen of the world”.

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You can see how massive the grounds of Xunantunich really are. I asked a few random tourists to take photos of me to compare human size versus structure size.

After 3 hours just hanging around, I was enjoying my solo getaway it was hard to leave. Truly a peaceful experience  to wander around the remains of an ancient civilization.

Facts and history of Xunantunich:

  • The first modern explorations of the site were conducted by Thomas Gann in the mid-1890s.
  • “Stone Woman” refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, beginning in 1892.
  • The core of the city Xunantunich occupies about one square mile (2.6 km²), consisting of a series of six plazas surrounded by more than 26 temples and palaces.
  • A time period when most of Mayan civilizations were crumbling, Xunantunich was managing to expand its city and its power over other areas within the valley.
  • It lasted a century longer than most of the sites within the region.
  • El Castillo is the second tallest structure in Belize (after the temple at Caracol), at some 130 feet (40 m) tall. El Castillo is the “axis mundi” of the site, or the intersection of the two cardinal lines.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xunantunich

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1 step back and 2 steps forward

It’s almost the middle of December and my placement has taken a turn. Currently I am waiting for a change in work with the Ministry of Education in Belize. It didn’t work out with my previous placement, so now I am staying hopeful and patient for a better experience. The past month was challenging and leaving that placement was a necessary decision. I finally understand international development at work.

Nothing is ever certain with placements (especially for students) and we can try our hardest to stay positive and goal oriented, but I have also learned that some projects weren’t meant to continue. Not that the objectives of a project were bad or flawed, but there are so many small things that need to come into place for it to be successful. And if it means to end with a project from my part, it’s not a failure – it’s a new understanding of social, cultural and economic barriers.

It came to a point that I was mentally and physically exhausted with the job and so many obstacles at work were preventing me to push forward – in fact it was going backwards. I was in an environment that a volunteer could not continue. However, I have made few good Belizean friends during my time there.

From now until Christmas, I will be assisting other Cuso volunteers with their projects as well as volunteering my own time for a Catholic youth group. This month may go fast and with Christmas coming up, I am looking forward to reunite with my parents in Mexico!

To my family, friends, Cuso volunteers and wonderful people I had gone for support, I am thanking you with all my heart! These types of experiences are lessons with transitions that are all part of a greater and more important course in life.