I half expected a monster with matted green fur wearing a sombrero to scare me just like out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon. Perched on a two-foot wide stone ledge with no guardrail, I gazed at ancient carvings of Mayan gods.
In 2015, I traveled to Belize for a second time and toured the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich. Belize is south of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and east of Guatemala. My parents and the tour guide said always to have an adult with my sister and me because human trafficking was common, as we were a mile and a half from the Guatemala border. I felt safe though because Belize’s military was posted everywhere I looked.
Xunantunich was a Mayan city in the late classical period of the civilization. The city is about 800 feet above sea level, and the temple I climbed is about 130 feet above that. The featured photo is of the temple and believe me it is much bigger when I was climbing it! My ears even popped as I neared the top. The first steps approaching the temple are particularly tall, which is because each step represents a day in their calendar.
After some twists and turns, I climbed up to a platform where the sun was so intense I had a better understanding of what a Sunday dinner roast feels like. Glad that I wore a hat to shield my eyes from the sun, I peered up at a gorgeously intricate depiction of Mayan gods.
I continued to climb to the top of the temple; however, it was difficult because the stones were slippery and smoothed by multitudes of treading feet, causing them to be easily tripped on. Red faced, I carefully crept out onto the summit and instantly knew no camera would ever do this view justice, so I did not even bother. The wind whipped my hair as I stood as close to the edge as I dared and thought that the vast jade and juniper shades reminded me of waves of my home state’s Lake Superior. It just kept going and going, never ceasing to my eyes.
As I looked over the ocean of trees, I thought that I was on top of what must have been the most sacred sanctuary for this civilization; however, on my trek up I complained about the heat and poor footing. I pondered what if in a thousand years a teenager like me stumbled around my church thinking the baptismal and communion were a joke. I was being inconsiderate to a people I had only a few precious hours to understand. So I talked to my tour guide in depth about his family and his culture. When we stopped for lunch, I struck up a conversation with the woman who prepared the food about the recipes passed down to her from her grandmother. I took the time to talk to some students my age about what they wanted in their future.
I realize now that when I thought a Scooby-Doo monster was going to scare me, I was continuing to think like the six-year-old who watched those cartoons. I had an amazing opportunity to live outside myself and immerse my American self in a culture all too foreign. I traveled to a temple but that was not what I took home with me. I gained the perspective that the world was more than myself.
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