Experiencing the Legacy of the Maya in Belize (Part 1)

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Mynor Rosa (16) participated in the Spring 15 service learning course Jungles and Jaguar Gods: Exploring the Maya Environment. Led by Dr. Lisa Lobel, assistant professor of Biology, and Dr. Akeia Bernard, assistant professor of Psychology and Human Development, this course explored human/environment relationships to understand the natural and cultural history of Belize with emphasis on archaeology, the Maya and neotropical natural resources. He reflected on the course and nine day service learning trip in the following blog post.

2Belize has made an impact on my life that has completely changed my perspective of the world. Through the research, hikes, car rides and discussions; I have found something for which I have been seeking.

The main reason why I chose this service learning trip was to learn more about my identity. Growing up, my family would teach me different customs and rituals. However, I never paid attention, nor did I care at the time. It was until I grew older that I took ownership of my background and was proud of my identity. My ancestors left behind a legacy that has impacted the world and influenced so many people. The drive to learn more about the achievements (and mistakes) of my people led me on a journey that changed my reality.

Although I took to the class to gain the Cultural/Anthropological perspective of the Maya, I had the privilege to also gain the scientific and ecological perspective of the Maya and their environment. Being in a class where the Cultural and Ecological could not be separated, I realized how vital our interaction with the environment is and how this interaction could potentially have led to the Maya downfall. For me, I could only reflect on several questions: Did the Maya set themselves up for doom? How can we learn from their experience? Is it too late? How can I do better?

I have been to Belize once before. The trip was short, but I felt a sense of life there, something that I felt before in various locations around the world. The feeling left a sense of curiosity. As I return to Belize as a student, I knew that this experience will change me as a person. The moment we arrived at the airport and began driving towards our destination, I was reminded a lot of Honduras. The long fields, beautiful mountains, the sun, the GREEN. How beautiful the green was in Belize. Towards the end of the day, we ended up a Mayan Museum. At this museum, we met Belizean Mayans who provided an interactive showcase of the Maya culture. The class made tortillas, mashed corn, danced and was able to appreciate the Mayan way of living. Throughout the presentation, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my grandmother. My grandmother practiced a lot of the traditional rituals and spirituality of the Maya. She always said that everything is alive. I never understood what she meant until that very moment. I was at a place that I have never been before and although she has passed away years ago, I knew that she was there with me the entire time. This was another moment that made me realize how vital this trip was for me. Not only through a cultural, ecological standpoint; but through a spiritual one as well.

Our first place of stay was Bocawina. This Belize Adventure & Eco-Resort located inside Mayflower Bocawina National Park, was AMAZING. The flowers, plants, animals, and the view of the Mountains–it felt alive. Everything was alive. Once again, I felt connected to the environment.

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The following day we began our first adventure to the Antelope Falls. The hike was one of the most rewarding, painful experiences I’ve had in a long time. Being part of a journey that tested my physical, emotional strength was something that I was not expecting. Throughout the hike, I told myself that this was a once in a lifetime experience that my ancestors would take on all the time. I was in a position where I was able to connect with my ancestors through something as simple but yet complex. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out different resources that the Maya used to survive. The hike began to take a toll on some of the members of the group as we got closer to the top. This was a time where the group came together to support and push each other to complete this journey. The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. This reward was through an amazing waterfall and swimming pool created by the falls at the top of the hike. The beauty in being able to embrace the water and see how we depend so much on the environment to give us resources. I will never forget the falls and how it sparked the journey and connection to the environment.

The following day we went snorkeling. I have done snorkeling in the past4 but never at a location so beautiful or diverse in life. Yet again, I noticed the connection between human and environment. The interaction between these two forces and how we as humans take advantage of its beauty. How can one come to this place and not feel a sense of life or appreciation for what lies in this body of water? And with this knowledge, can one not feel guilty to contributing to the destruction of the planet and eventually have future generations not experience these wonders? It was a bitter sweet moment for me. I took sometime in the water to process and reflect what I was experiencing. Embracing the here and now. Soaking the sun and the energy that came with it. That same night, I began to walk around the resort and just listen to the environment. I always appreciated the night and for what it stood for. I looked up and saw the beauty in the stars. To think that the Maya, my ancestors, were just as connected to the sky as they were to the earth.

Click here to read blog post number two.