Rugged mountains wove through the landscape as if to make up the seams of a green quilt that covered the rich soil buried underneath. The RÃo Grande snaked in between the patches, creating seams with the mountain ridges and giving life to the earthy quilt. As the plane landed on the tarmac, the ground vibrated below, cushioning our landing but not quite absorbing the shock of finally being in Guatemala. The quilt disappeared as each seam became a towering mountain and each patch became a verdant field.
Guatemala City welcomed us, but not with anything that we expected. Known as the most violent city in Central America, the capital only held bus bombings, murders, robbery, and dozens of other violent acts. With our suitcases overflowing, we took our first few steps in Guatemala and then hurried to run the next dozen. Not wanting to deal with any of the violence, especially with the 39 deaths of the previous week, we rushed past the crowd of Guatemalans, outside the airport doors, and through the city.
This was my second time experiencing all that Guatemala had to offer and teach me. Familiarity has no way to deprive us of new things. I learned that I cannot be blinded because of my alleged expertise on Guatemala, for new and beautiful things were waiting for me every time that I opened my eyes.
The landscape is something that I will never take for granted; it was majestic, not only taking my breath away but also knocking me backwards in awe. The sky and land, hills and valleys, roads and forests, lakes and rivers glistened with a brilliance and newness that caused the ambiance of stepping out of a time machine, directly from the first and finest days of creation. Lago Atitlan broke the silence, demanding powerful attention as the volcano-surrounded reserve of water shone with wisdom from years of withstanding agitation and mudslides. A blur of brown showed the remnants of a recent mudslide that had annihilated villages that clustered the shoreline of the lake; however, the brown was always met with the sparkling, crystal blue lake, refreshing and renewing.
The view in the camera paused as the photo was taken. Reviewing it, the picture would undoubtedly qualify for a National Geographic front cover due to the stunning landscape. What it could not show were the people behind, interested in our group of rich, white tourists. They stood by simple wooden tables that showcased trinkets and paintings, jewelry and knives, carvings and purses. Vivid colors and sharp designs separated the roadside market from the landscape, showing the contrast between tourism and the harsh, callused life of Guatemalans. Dusty children ran around, and, as the flash snapped each time attempting to capture pictures of them, their eyes pleaded for something more than a picture taken. In the tiny screen of the camera, feet were crammed into their older sibling’s ragged shoes; knees had been scraped and bruised from falling and tumbling; cheeks reddened slightly with the heat of the afternoon sun; hair flowed and danced behind them, midnight black like their ancestors.
It was here, in Guatemala, stranded from the technology and comforts of America, where I felt like I belong. I discovered that these people fit into my heart with a perfection that tears and rips as I have to leave each summer. The Guatemalans are part of me, not because I have a superior empathy for their poverty and pain, but they have a true gratitude for life, the little they have, and the people surrounding them.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.