Experiencing the Legacy of the Maya in Belize (Part 2)

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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 this second blog post. Click here to read his first blog post. 

5For the Maya, caves had a very spiritual significance and more importantly was a vital component of their creation story. On the trip, we visited two separate caves and several Mayan Ruins. In the first cave, we went cave tubing and was able to have more of geological approach. But for me, it was a very spiritual experience. For many, a cave could be a very intimidating or dangerous place. For the Maya, it was a place of worship and it was their underworld. The Maya would come to these caves to pay homage to their gods and plea for water, resources, and fertility. As we began to explore the cave, I felt calm. I felt very comfortable being in the dark and felt connected with my ancestors. I asked myself: Where did this sense of security come from? All I could do is embrace it and take advantage of the moment.

The second cave we went to was Actun Tunichil Muknal, also known locally as ATM cave. In this cave, I was able to truly understand the logic behind the Maya understanding of the underworld. The cave was absolutely beautiful. The water, rock formations, artifacts, every aspect of this cave was perfect. I knew once we arrived at the cave: we were entering sacred grounds. A place where my ancestors came before in order to please the gods. As we made our way through the cave, we finally met the crystal maiden. As I stared upon the remains of the maiden, I couldn’t help but feel a flow of sadness. The Maya people explored the cave into such harsh conditions, believing that the end of the water flow would lead to one of their gods. Was I feeling pity for the young adult? Or was I feeling a sense of disappointment? As I reflect on this emotion now, I believe my emotions were coming from my ancestors before. Did my ancestors at one point give up on their gods because of how desperate the situation had become? How is this relevant to me today? I took this as a lesson to continue to challenge the norm and to never forget what I saw in the cave.

6Caracol, Cahal Pech, Xunantunich. These were the ruins we visited during our service learning trip in Belize. During these visits, I was very emotional. Happiness, pride, joy, anger, sadness were some of the emotions I felt during these visits. Why? I was happy that I am able to visit the monuments my ancestors built. I had pride because so many people were there to appreciate and marvel at the beauty of these buildings. I was angry because I wish I had learned more about my own culture and at the same time angry that such an empire had fallen. I was sad because we know so little of the Maya and how we would’ve known so much more if the Codexes were still around. But I was joyful because I found a connection to something bigger, something deeper. Something that no textbook or TedTalk can explain. I found peace. Later on the week we attended the Zoo. The group was able to look at the animals, in which the Maya respected and created their whole culture around. The Harpy Eagle and Black Jaguar were my favorite animals. Such beauty, no wonder the Maya respected these animals so much.

7By far my favorite, most important part of the trip was the Bioluminescence night boat ride. I was part of a moment where time itself stood still. Everything was alive: the stars shined bright, the night was cool, the water was warm and full of light. As I observed the animals flowing through the water and how they created an array of stars in the water, I again found something that I have been looking for my whole life—peace and purpose. As I put my hand in the water, I felt a connection to the world and universe that I’ve never felt before. I’ve tried to explain to people what I experienced that night, but all I can say was “you have to experience it yourself.” I found myself thinking about my travels around the world, the people I have lost, the life experiences I have went through, the ups and downs, my family, my friends, my grandmother and how far I have come.

To think that a kid from New York, would be able to see a thing of beauty such as Belize. Belize opened doors that I have been trying to open for a very long time. To celebrate my ancestors in taking ownership of my history and identity. To appreciate the importance of our relationship with the environment. To never forget where I come from and who I am. To learn from my people’s mistakes and achievements. Finally, most importantly, to continue the legacy of the Maya people by finding peace within.