Early last week we said a bittersweet adios to the community of Nuevo Horizonte, after spending 6 days living in their idyllic (and uniquely historic) slice of hot and jungle-ie Guatemala. I’ve finally taken some much needed time to reflect on the scope of that passing week.
Perhaps I should quickly introduce myself – Hola, I’m Lisa! I’ve joined Erick and Alan on the instructor team for the remainder of our course. I met our students upon their arrival to Guatemala and together we jumped feet first into our 6 week Guatemalan journey.
So there I suddenly was in Petén (the largest and most northern department in the country), with 11 new dragons and a thirst to begin an adventure. As it would turn out, Nuevo Horizonte, New Horizon, is a good place to begin a new story.
Founded in 1998 by 126 FAR guerrilla fighters – who had no family or home to return to after the signing of the peace agreement and living 15+ years in the jungle – they sought to find land to re-build their lives and their futures. It was a complicated prolonged struggle to formalize themselves as a cooperative, but with fierce determination and nothing left to loose their socialist ideology and resilient spirits prevailed. They chose the name Nuevo Horizonte for their new home to reflect their new purpose, to construct a society where they could live fully and freely together in family and community – A new horizon indeed given the unimaginable hardships and sacrifices made while fighting for their right to life during years of bloody war and unjust oppression. They dreamed of having freedom of thought, full bellies, education, healthcare and real opportunities for the future, things that could never be counted on the government to provide. Nearly 20 years later their population is nearing 500 inhabitants and the elders in the community are seeing their legacy live on to thrive. Like many Guatemalans, they’re still fighting (without weapons) a corrupt and dysfunctional state for necessary resources for survival, but they live in peace amongst each other and are satisfied and proud of their enormous communal achievements.
Here we began to unpeel the layers that make up Guatemala’s’ story. We recuperated from several days of long and rigorous travel, and I got to know our students and understand their emotions and perspectives around the expedition we’re on. We took it slow, filling our days with a combination of activities around Nuevo Horizonte and excursions to impressive ancient Mayan temples.
Nuevo Horizonte is situated on a large and diverse piece of land which was two separate fincas when they first looked to inhabit the place. While today the community lives in a grid-like neighborhood, with homes, a school, church, and community centre, there was nothing there when they arrived. The land that encompasses this space has been left intact or developed in harmony and preservation with nature to create economic opportunities for the cooperative. They’ve established 5 main projects to sustain their co-op which include fish-farming, tourism, cattle rearing, reforestation, and a general store.
One magical morning we hiked through a pristine regenerated sub-tropical forest. It was rich, transcending and took us on a journey back in time. We knew where we were headed, to a spot in the jungle recreated to depict what the guerrilla camps were like during the 80s and 90s. On our way to this spot we soaked ourselves in the beauty and diversity of the forest. Eventually the trail led us passed areas roped off with caution tape. Here, our guide explained that they had stumbled across (what eventually was known to be) tombs, small structures, and artifacts from ancient Maya times. Not having an archeologist in the community itself, they’ve invited various organizations to study the area and determine the significance of these findings.
It is remarkable to think how we unknowingly stumble upon and discover such significant things in life. I had to pause in order to register the importance of where our feet were trotting along and what it all means. It’s through this same humble explorative process that we have discovered giant ancient civilizations around the world, after development had been reclaimed by nature from thousands of years out of human contact. It’s with this same explorative curiosity that we learn in general, not only within a slice of space and time, but within ourselves as well. It makes me wonder and long to know what other gigantic mysteries and stories surround us, and that live within us, just waiting to be uncovered.