My Soul for Santa Maria: Life Lessons Learned from a Volcano - My Family Travels
With Maria, The Scarf Vendor
Volcano Santa Maria

4:00 a.m. is too early to be climbing volcanoes. I’m still dreaming as I wake up, crawling out of bed and into shorts, fumbling with shoelaces and hair ties. Everyone in in our little town of Xela is still asleep, and the Guatemalan sky is foggy with dreams. We down our breakfast and hurry to the bus, feet pounding against uneven brick roads, past closed bakeries and quiet homes. We run towards adventure with open arms.

A bumpy bus ride later, I begin to scrape my way up Volcan Santa Maria, a volcano set on destroying my self-esteem. Mayan families walk the mountain, too. All wear deeply colored, hand woven, traditional clothing and carry flowers on their backs as offerings to the gods. Short, plump, wrinkled old Mayan women clad in flip-flops stroll up the mountain, talking and laughing with each other, as I struggle to drag another foot up the steep, dusty incline. Thighs shaking, hair sticking to my hot face—sheer tenacity pushes me up the mountain.


Before Guatemala, I didn’t know what it felt like to walk “home” to a small house in Xela, where a plump Guatemalan woman embraced me as a daughter and brought me into her kitchen to cook. I met so many people there. I spoke to everyone—market vendors, waiters, people on the sidewalk selling goods, hike guides, grocery clerks, and even an adorable little girl at the street food market who stopped me with a sweet, “Hola! ¿Cómo estás? We parted with a hug and the cutest wave you’ve ever seen.

I remember one instance of meeting a woman named Maria, who was selling scarves in the park. She asked if I wanted to buy something, and when I said no, she accepted it and was turning away, when I asked her where she was from (in Spanish, of course.) She turned back around, smiling, and we continued to talk, the wrinkles around her eyes bunching up in a big smile. She talked about her family, and her home. A while later, we said our goodbyes, and I still remember that after we hugged, she said, “Adios, amiga.” Goodbye, friend.


We continue to climb the volcano, success stretching before us, a few steps away—but those steps are the hardest, the shakiest, pushing past what I thought I could do. Success. We reach the peak. I sleep soundly in a nook in the rocks for a while. I wake to the sound of Mayan chants from the other side of the peak, soothing in the deep fog, and realize that I’ve done it. I have done something that was, until now, impossible to me.

Expansive joy fills me on the way down. I bound down the mountain, sliding in dust as I tumble around bends. Elated, and covered in dirt from head to toe, I reach the grassy field at the bottom of the volcano.

Although I loved the food, the places I saw, and the experiences we had—the love and kindness of everyone I met is what pulls me back, and makes me feel alive. It has created unbearable longing for adventure that has grown in me. I marvel at how I’ve changed and how far I have yet to go, and how far I want to go. I realize that this is only the beginning of a lifetime of adventures.

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