I went to a magical place this weekend in the Coban region of Guatemala called Semuc Champey. Semuc Champey means “where the river hides” in the Mayan Q’eqchi’ language because the Cahabon River, which is a pretty greenish color due to the nearby limestone, hides under a natural bridge of sorts. And atop the bridge are the most beautiful cascading pools of crystal green waters that you can swim and relax in while little fish nip at your toes. There’s a spectacular view from above at the mirador (or overlook) that you hike up to through a verdant forest and to the sounds of howler monkeys…or velociraptors…hard to tell the difference.
To get to this Semuc Champey, one must traverse a long, harrowing course. It was supposed to be an 8 hour van ride, which ended up being about 10…because the driver wanted to stop and make a couple deliveries in some pueblos on the way (efficient, no?). Then the brakes had an issue requiring him to disassemble the brake pads on one side and fix them on the spot in about 20 minutes (either really impressive or really terrifying). The last 30 minutes or more consisted of an incredibly bumpy unpaved road full of potholes, with mere cliffs off to one side. At one point we impossibly passed a huge lumber truck on the narrow road with certain death only inches away. The next morning we all hopped into the back of a pick up truck with a nice set up of railings around the edges and in the center, and proceeded to hold on for dear life while standing as the truck lumbered up and down bumpy and hole-y hills, making a couple stops along the way to pick up more people at a nearby hotel as well as drop off a delivery of goods from the nearby town where we were staying (efficiency strikes again!). Later we acquired some inner tubes and some stragglers from the road. But how many people AND inner tubes can you fit in the back of a big pick up truck you ask? Well, the answer is 21 people and 10 inner tubes. I have come up with a whole new barometer for what constitutes a “full” bus/van/car here in Guatemala. It’s really quite amazing how efficient they are at cramming people and things into their vehicles here.
When we arrived in Semuc Champey area, but before climbing to the mirador and swimming in the pools, our guides took us to the nearby caves where they proceeded to lead us on a cave tour…with only candles to light our way. These candles were not super drippy and lasted a long time. But when you are swimming up to your neck, ducking under waterfalls, and sliding down rocks in a cave whilst holding a candle, it’s bound to go out at some point, though they relit them for us. The guides would climb up crazily to some of the notches way high up and place candles to help light the area and they were really great about making it fun and feel safe even when you’re climbing a ladder tied to a giant boulder or using a rope (next to a candle no less) to pull yourself along a slippery part. We kept joking about how if we were to do that same tour in the U.S. or Canada or the like, how much equipment and lights and safety harnesses they would make you wear. In Guatemala? Guatever! One of the last parts of the cave the guides have you place your hands just so while one of them is on the other end of this rather narrow vertical tube to help catch up when you let yourself slide down through this tube landing with a splash into a pool of water below…not unlike a birth canal actually.
Other highlights included swinging on a long swing over and into the river, watching one our group mates jump from the bridge into the river, eating a yummy roadside meal cooked by some local women, and tubing for about 10 minutes in the river connected to each other by linking our arms and legs to each other. I wish I had photos of the caves, but didn’t have a waterproof camera. The guides brought some camera guys though and hoping to see some great photos when they get them up on their Facebook page – will keep ya posted!
The Field School
Today was the first day of the field school. I really love the basic information we went over today. It’s nice to be here with kindred spirits who are interested in the same topics as me: health as a human right, social justice and occupational justice. We went over the logistics and rules of the program, followed by an intro to both occupational therapy (including occupational justice and occupational science) as well as anthropology (including medical anthropology and the different approaches to it). I then had a 3 hour Spanish class this afternoon which was fun, but extremely tiring. Thinking and speaking in Spanish that long truly sucks all the glucose out of my brain/body. But I already feel like I’ve improved and it’s getting easier. It is becoming much easier being immersed in it of course, plus they speak very clear Spanish here so it’s actually been easy to understand people.
Tomorrow is the first day for my project group doing Pediatric Nutrition to go to the local hospital for our field work. We’ll be at the hospital three days a week, then working together on a research topic one day a week, with Spanish class three times a week, meeting together as a whole group twice a week, and site visits to other health care related places in Antigua area once a week (some of those days overlap ha with one thing in the morning and another in the afternoon). On top of that, we have lots of readings, Spanish homework and somewhere in there we have time to visit some places around town, whew!