After two long days of waiting, we finally see the peaks of Volcán Pacaya peaking through the clouds as we began our descent to the Guatemala City airport. Strange for me to think that 6 years before I was in the same position as my students; anxious to begin and so excited I could hardly keep still in my seat. And with the first glimpses of this volcano in the distance, I knew exactly what my students we’re thinking: we’re finally here.
We land and make our way through traffic of Guatemala City en camino a Antigua via the Carrera Interamericana. This is the highway on which Ernesto “Che” Guevara realized his journey from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Caracas, Venezuela recorded in his famous “Motorcycle Diaries”. We took the paths of the great people of the past to bring us (much like them) to the gates of the famous city of Antigua. We settle in long enough with our host family to once again, head back out the door for a hike to the highest point in Antigua:Cerro de la Cruz. A beautiful vista of the city below, we become acquainted with the sights, sounds, and smells of the oldest (Spanish) city in Guatemala…
Volcanos were fascinating to the explorers and conquistadors of the Americas. In 1519, Hernán Cortés returns to Vera Cruz from his first invasion of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán, where he writes to the king of Spain his “Segunda carta de relación” telling of this conquests and discoveries in this strange New World. One of the most prominent section of this letter is his description of a volcano (of coarse never seen before by European eyes) in which he depicts a “snowy mountain that it hot, with ashes that fall from the sky around it”. Interesting to think of how we would describe our first encounter with the unknown and what words we might use to describe it.
Our students experienced their first volcano up close and personal when, as we were having our regular evening meeting, the Volcán Fuego erupted, just a few miles from our host families house. Unmoved, our host sister says “Oh, this happens all the time”, as our students ran to the roof to watch the explosion in “el aire libre”. A perfect way to finish the day: beginning with the majesty of a volcano towering over the clouds to greet us, and a fierce volcano demonstrating its power to put us to bed. I think it is safe to say we’re not in Kansas anymore or DC…no. We’re in Guatemala.
Looking back to the city that is now their (temporary) home, and looking forward to the work and change they will accomplish here.