We awoke early in anticipation of a big day. We were tired from the previous day’s journey which had carried us to San Miguel Village, and had involved backpacking, backtracking, multiple bus rides and an insistent German.
A hearty breakfast would equip us for the day ahead, and this was provided at the house of one of the local families. We had dined in the house of a different family the night before, and would eat at a different house every day during our stay. This was a deliberate policy of the village, perhaps to share the burden of hosting visitors. We enjoyed the variety and the chance to meet various members of the community. Two things remained constant however – tortillas and shy, smiling kids.
Our appetites sated, we met Vicente, our guide for the day, who provided an excellent tour.
We walked out of town towards the springs and on the way Vicente explained the medicinal use of many of the plants and reminded us that the local people had used their knowledge of the natural world to sustain them for thousands of years. He also explained how this way of life was under threat, however. He told us about plans to build a hydroelectric plant right next to the spring.
News of the power plant highlighted the reality for so many indigenous people in the world, whose way of life, or life itself, is threatened by resource companies and by what many in the western world would call ‘progress’.
The news also reminded us that we had made the right choice in enduring the multiple bus rides the day before in order to support a local, community based tourism project. Our contribution wouldn’t make them rich, but funds from regular visitors help sustain communities such as this one.
Staying in San Miguel, we realised, was better than staying at the lodge that was recommended to us the day before by the insistent German – a lodge which happened to be owned by a relative of the insistent German.
Our informative hike taught us a number of phrases, such as “Catch Bush”, which is used when an animal runs away into the forest. The hike also took us to Tiger Cave, a surprisingly large cave which played an important role in the cultural practices of the village, all of which Vicente explained to us. It was also a pleasant reprieve from the tropical heat, as was the swim in the spring on the hike back to the village.
Another wholesome, fresh-cooked meal greeted us upon return from the hike, and provided us with sufficient energy to take another bus, this time to the Mayan ruins of Labaantun which lie close to the village.
Culturally informed, we wandered back towards the bus and perused some of the souvenir stalls, which were another local community initiative. A number of the souvenirs on sale were attractive enough, and small enough, to be carried home and given as Christmas presents to give to friends and family. We also managed to find a phone to call Australia and wish our Dad a happy birthday. Thus ensured we would also receive Christmas presents.
The interaction with the women selling the souvenirs, and the women who cooked and served our meals at San Miguel, caused me to observe that visits to many indigenous communities in the world, in which women carry out many of the daily chores, bring visitors into contact with women more than with men.
Our visit to San Miguel concluded with another tasty, wholesome meal and another attempt to interact with a shy, excited child. The next morning, having been lulled to sleep by the rainforest, we set off for the coast.
Images: Rachelle Blake