Tonight’s blog post is short and sweet. Today was a day off from our work with Safe Passage. The staff schedules the majority of their meetings for Fridays and are tied up with their work, giving support teams a day off to explore and enjoy Guatemala. Our team took the day to venture about an hour and a half outside of Antigua into the highlands of Guatemala and explore Mayan ruins in Tecpán. The ruins, known as Iximche (pronounced i-sheem-chay), were the site of the last Mayan capitol before the Mayans were conquered by the Spanish.
To say this was the last “Mayan” capital simplifies the context, though. The Mayans were not a homogenous people or even a single nation. There were many Mayan cultures and people – many of them in conflict with others. Also, the capitol of Iximche was were the royalty lived, not the rest of the nation. There were about 200 people who lived in the capitol (what are now ruins) while roughly 40,000 people lived in the surrounding country side.
Our group with our tour guide, Alexis, in the museum at the Iximche ruins.
A scale model of the city as it would have looked in the 1500's. The only thing remaining are the foundations of the buildings which are stacked stone and limestone stucco. The walls were made of adobe and were destroyed in earthquakes. The roofs were made of sticks and leaves, and were destroyed when the city was burned by the Spanish.
The center of one of three main sections of the city. Three royal families lived in the city and each had its own section. The tall foundation on the right of the photo was the foundation of one of two temples: one for the sun and one for the moon.
A Mayan altar still in use in Iximche. Mayan spiritual leaders offer sacrifices each day at this altar for Mayan people in the surrounding communities.
We learned a lot about Guatemala’s history, the culture and history of the Mayan people (at least one expression of the Mayan culture), and enjoyed some time in the highlands. Our tour guide, Alexis, heard our group saying some of the Mayan words we learned with the women of Creamos on Tuesday, and was surprised that a group of high schoolers from the United States knew any Mayan words. Our elation turned to awe as he ran through Mayan numbers (we only know 1 through 6) and the months of the year with ease. It turns out Alexis speaks two of the 22 Mayan dialects fluently. The sounds of Mayan languages are not ones we use in English so we were very impressed to hear him speak.
Our tour guide, Alexis, showing us the first - and largest - section of the city that was inhabited by the main royal family.
A Mayan altar in the center of the city.
Alexis standing in one of the aqueducts in the city. The aqueducts separated the sections of the city, each inhabited by a different royal family.
After we returned to Antigua, we did a little bit of souvenir shopping and enjoyed dinner with one of the long-term Safe Passage volunteers. We got to hear about her experience working at Safe Passage, the path that led her to serve, and her perspective on what support teams like ours mean to the organization and its work in the community.
Tomorrow is our last full day and we’ll be going to a water park with a group of 6th graders from Safe Passage. We’re looking forward to a day full of laughter and play with the students.