Santiago Atitlan to San Cristobal de las Casas, San Cris to Oaxaca, Oaxaca to Mazunte, Mazunte to Tapachula to Ciudad Hidalgo to Tecun Unam to Cocales to Santiago Atitlan. I’ve been on a beautiful whirlwind of a trip that included astonishing surprises every day. I couldn’t possibly capture it all in words or images, but here are some highlights.
The trip included many, many bus rides, which actually provided some of my favorite memories. My traveling companion, Neal and I, had a rule that we could only speak Spanish until 6pm every day. We were fairly good about abiding by this rule. The first leg of the trip, some of our other Santiago friends were with us, including Siara from Spain, and for the rest of the trip, we got a lot of good Spanish practice in by watching at least 6 terrible movies (dubbed in Spanish) played on Mexico’s highly luxurious (and I truly mean that, compared to Guatemala) second-class tourist bus system. We also did a lot of sleeping and messily eating our pre-prepared bus meals.
In San Cristobal, I met with my inspiringly creative boss (Natik’s executive director) and her partner and we visited the indigenous village of Zinacantan for Dia de los Muertos. At the top of the cemetery adorned in flowers and fruit offerings, we chatted with some of the locals (one of them invited my friend Neal to try on his beautiful traje), then went down to the pueblo to drink some hot atol and eat some freshly made blue corn tortillas with one of the families we work with.
The next day, we walked over an hour across the city, seeing the stark contrast the further we got from the tourist center, to arrive at a little piece of utopia – La Universidad de la Tierra, a stunning 200 hectare campus located on the outskirts of San Cris. We were invited into the director’s office – a magical space, immacuately decorated and full of color, kind of like Frida Kahlo’s aesthetic imported into a Tim Burton film. There, we talked for a bit with Dr. Raymundo Sanchez Barraza and then one of the students gave us a tour of the campus and answered our questions as we wandered around. What this autonomous indigenous-led project is doing is astoundingly remarkable – they provide free courses, usually about 2 years in length, to the surrounding indigenous communities, allowing them to live and eat on campus during their studies and giving them opportunity to learn a valuable skill they can take back to their communities. Courses include auto-mechanics, carpentry/construction, sewing, baking/cooking, art, communication systems and repair, farming, music, and probably many more I’m forgetting. One of the things I loved most is the inclusion of music and the arts, with state of the art tools, supplies, and instruments, placing just as high a value on these skills and talents as on more traditional trades.
Onward to Oaxaca, a city full of visual stimulation. It was a beautiful blend of big city atmosphere, with a Latin American pace, a colonial charm, and a tangible feeling of resistance, rebellion, revolution. I was eager to explore as soon as we arrived and climbed up the Escaleras de Fortín for an amazing view of the city beneath. We ate delicious street food – tlayunas are especially tasty – enjoyed Oaxacan craft beers and locally made Mezcal, Oaxacan nieves (ice cream) and coffee, and meandered through the city streets. Our time in Oaxaca included a two-hour interview with Gustavo Esteva – an amazingly profound, insightful, articulate, and inspiring man, and I had the privilege of recording the whole thing! Much more on that to come. Neal posed some excellent and critical questions and Gustavo’s responses did not disappoint. I asked a few questions of my own at the end, on a more personal note, and Gustavo’s answers are a true source of inspiration for me – things that I needed to hear, that reassured me of my path in life and assuaged my doubts and fears.
We also had the chance to visit the Arbol del Tule – one of the oldest and largest trees in the world, and a sight I’ve always wanted to see. The girth of this tree was truly incredible, and its history and its own story of resistance and survival amaze me. What a beautiful part of nature that in its 2,000 – 6,000 years has seen and experienced so much and shared with so many. There was a gorgeous almost full moon that night over the church in Santa Maria del Tule, and all of it was such a sight to behold.
We went on to a lazy beach town on the Oaxacan coast called Mazunte where we slept in hanging beds with mosquito nets that, in their simplicity seemed like they’d be bare and uncomfortable, but were actually like sleeping in a cloud. We went for frequent swims, soaked in the bright, bright sun, walked through the hot sand, napped, read, relaxed, and went to a full moon party. We hiked up to an ancient Mayan look out point called Punto Cometa and saw the most breathtaking sunset I’ve ever in my life witnessed (the photos don’t do it justice). We visited a tiny completed uninhabited and closed off stretch of beach where we were the only people in sight and swam in the crashing waves and climbed on the rocks and watched blue crabs scatter as the waves crashed up and the ocean stretched before us and the fregata birds circled overhead and the sun shone down on us like a divine light.
Anita, Manuel, Neal, and I with one of the local Zinacantecas
Dia de los Muertos in Zinacantan, Chiapas
Neal sporting borrowed traje
Dia de los Muertos in Zinacantan
Universidad de la Tierra, San Cristobal
Universidad de la Tierra, San Cristobal
Street art in Oaxaca
On the way up to the top of El Fortin in Oaxaca
View from El Fortin in Oaxaca
Oaxaca church on the Andador
Neal outside of Unitierra Oaxaca
Gustavo Esteva and Neal
Arbol del Tule
The story of the tree
Arbol del Tule
View from our Posada deck in Mazunte
The secluded beach we hiked to in Mazunte
Punto Cometa just before sunset
Sunset at Punto Cometa
Rafting across the border
A sign advertising the “coyote” border crossing – rafts across the river
After nearly 24 hours of non-stop travel (which, of course, included an intriguing border-crossing experience and many, many bus transfers), I arrived back home to Santiago Atitlan, full of inspiration and joy, but glad to be home and back to work. I slept quite heavily the first night back, a peaceful night in my own bed. And now I’ve resumed some semblance of daily routine.
First thing Monday morning was a meeting/brainstorming/planning session over breakfast with Neal about a project we plan to collaborate on…keeping it mostly under wraps for now until things are a bit more solidified, but it is something I’m very, very excited about and will throw myself into whole-heartedly.
Then, a long walk to the Hospitalito to buy a water refill, where, while waiting, I chatted with a friendly older man. After getting his water refills, he left in his car, but circled back around 5 minutes later to offer me a ride home with my heavy garrafone. These small acts of kindness touch me daily here, constantly reminding me of the goodness in everyone.
Following that, a skype conversation with one of my bosses, Donna (founder and creator of Unlocking Silent Histories, which I still need to write an update about eventually, I’m just so excited about it, it is hard to find the words), which sent me into a flurry of work for our upcoming fundraiser video and other future projects, some conversations with the youth leaders I work with, and a plan for the week.
After a quick lunch, off to my co-worker Dolores’ house, where we knocked out our accounting for the month of October, planned out our activities for the next month, and generally just chatted and got caught up on each other’s lives.
Back home to send off a few work emails and then out for a long bike ride (oh yes, I have a bike!) Glorious bike ride around the lake as the sun went down. On my return journey, I ran into three of my friends going for a run, cycled alongside them and chatted for an hour or so, since it had been a while since we’d last seen each other. Exciting things are going on in the lives of everyone I know and I’m so, so happy for them.
After the cycling, a quick yoga session with two friends at my neighbor’s house – a much needed stretch and time to focus on my breathing and my inner world. More catching up, taking advantage of the time I have with these beautiful people.
And finally, home to make dinner, some time to just be alone and enjoy that feeling, a bit of tidying up, a cup of tea while I stayed up audio-correcting and editing the Gustavo Esteva videos until midnight, some church marimba music blasting down the street, a late-night conversation with my best friends in New York that provided a lot of laughs. And then sleep, which came quickly and heavily – as (supposedly) one might say in Ireland, I slept like a donkey.
Today is mostly a work from home day – wrapping up administrative tasks, doing some online research and preparation, probably more editing if I ever finish this post, and also a shower if my water decides to come back on. I woke up, ate a delicious bowl of pineapple, papaya, and banana with lime juice, read some world news in La Jornada while drinking coffee from Chiapas. I will mostly likely take the opportunity to spend as much time as possible in my little apartment today being productive from behind the scenes.
Tomorrow, I meet with the director of the school we support, La Puerta Abierta, to work on grant writing, fund raising, and donor relations. Then I jet across the lake to Panajachel to collect the video equipment for Unlocking Silent Histories, meet with the director of our partner there, Maya Traditions Foundation, and then get together with two of our youth leaders to do a little filming and assign/explain their next project. From there, I’ll go to my co-worker Jim’s beautiful lakeside house in Tzununa for the night, have a Skype chat with a client interested in working with Just Apparel, and do some weekend planning with Jim. He and I will head to Guatemala City on Thursday for the Icaro Film festival – a showcase of Central American cinema, where we hope to be discover what’s going on in the Guatemalan film industry and make connections to be more involved.
Not your average routine, but for me, this is living the dream.