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Guatemala: June 27

Tikal, where we were, and Palenque, where we were heading, were contemporaries of each other sometime around 700 AD. The river that divides these ancient kingdoms now marks the border between Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. The excavation of both ancient sites began in the Fifties, and the archeologist who led much of that early work at Palenque is, oddly enough, buried directly in front of one of the pyramids. Palenque is marked by an incredible forest and, unlike Tikal, a park-like atmosphere. Much to her surprise, Heather has been captivated by Mayan history and consequently fed our tourguide a rich buffet of questions: Why does this tower lean? How did the Mayans poop? How extensive were their aquaducts? What are the spots on these buildings? How did such little Mayans climb such large steps? Because the buildings here are in relatively close proximity, we saw everything we wanted to see in an afternoon. [Photos: 1 2 3 4 5 6] Next we spent a quick day-and-a-half in the attractive tourist trap known as San Cristóbal de las Casas (a prominant site of the Zapatista's bloody 1994 uprising) before heading back to Guatemala and the comfort of our temporary home, Xela. We've been here a week now, taking more Spanish lessons and trying to avoid eating out too much. A housekeeper at our hostal invited us to a fiesta this past Saturday in nearby Olintepeque for the celebration of their patron saint San Juan Bautista. Among the hightlights were me on a mechanical bull (and off), the dance of the white conquistadors, and being a foot taller than everyone. The day ended, as they all do lately, in a flurry of umbrellas and rain. The following day, thanks to a recommendation from a Guatemalteco in Tucson, we hopped a bus for Momostenango not knowing exactly what we'd find. What we found was a beautiful mountain town little seen by tourists, a big outdoor market, and more rain. We then crammed onto another "chicken bus" for the ride home. My time here is growing short and, frankly, I dread coming home to teach Research Methods for five grueling weeks. I can't yet speak Spanish as well as I'd like (of course), and I'm overwhelmed by how much I don't know about Guatemala. However, being a relatively rich white guy stuck on the "tourist trail" in this impoverished country feels to me both humbling and absurd. I'm so out of place here, and yet I fit right into the tourist economy that the Guatemalans are working so hard to cultivate. The feeling is difficult to convey. Suffice it to say, this trip is doing exactly what I'd hope for: giving me a new and challenging perspective on myself and the world in which I live. It's an amazing, sad, exciting, and infuriating place.

“Guatemala: June 27”