Is Your Heart Happy?

By Cara Thornton

Contributing Writer, ’15, Biology

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 10.39.25 AMLaGrange College has a policy in which they award a $2,500 travel voucher to junior or senior students to apply toward an interim travel abroad course. This year was my year to travel and immerse myself in a culture that I would have never had the opportunity to experience otherwise. While others chose trips to Italy, Hawaii, or the Philippines, I happily signed up for the trip to Central America with Dr. Paschal and Dr. Crutchfield, the trip that caught my interest the most.

As departure drew near, we students researched the history of the three countries that we would be visiting: Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. Looking at cultural and archeological sites, Dr. Crutchfield’s class focused specifically on Mayan history, while Dr. Paschal’s class was more engaged with the land’s natural history, including the many exotic birds, plants, and animals.

As we landed in San Pedro Sula International Airport in Honduras, we quickly found we were a world away from Atlanta. We traded out the cold, 30-degree air of a concrete jungle for the warm, comfortable 70-degree climate of a real, flourishing jungle. On the three-hour bus ride to our first hotel, we noticed many other things different from home. The clay and metal huts we rarely ever see in real life lined the streets. What surprised me the most was the modernity of these seemingly basic homes. Each had electricity and most even had a satellite dish on the roof for cable.

After a long day of culture shock and a near-miss between our bus and a roaming cow, we were at our hotel in the beautiful city of Copan. We had our first experience of walking through Mayan ruins the next day, and we saw beautiful free-range dogs, scarlet macaws, and many other exotic birds.

On the way to our main site in Guatemala—Tikal—we made several pit-stops at Mayan sites,  like Quirigua, some non-Mayan sites, like the United Fruit Company banana plantation, and the Bridge of Rio Dulce, the country’s longest bridge. We finally made it to Tikal, and were ready for the next adventure on our itinerary.

Our day in Tikal started at 4:30 a.m. with a hike through the jungle to Temple 4, which we climbed to watch the sunrise. While it turned out to be a sight not as ideally picturesque as expected, the experiences we had at the top of the mountain remain unforgettable. A bird started to sing, as if it were an alarm clock for the whole jungle. Then, we were surrounded by a great, loud sound you might expect from a T-Rex. In actuality, it was packs of Black Howler Monkeys communicating with each other. And so began the amazing day in Tikal, which included many historical sites, along with finding every animal we wished to see (including coyotes, mealy parrots and spider monkeys). Tikal was incredible, but soon we had to depart from our Guatemalan home and head to Mexico.

In Mexico, we took side trips to different sites by either boat, bus, or foot. Each site was special for both the experiences it offered and the cultures it displayed. After a very long drive on a road that had more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese, we arrived at boats that were going to take us across the river that forms the Guatemalan-Mexican border.

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 10.39.31 AMOur primary destination was Palenque. This site was special because of its history and remarkable buildings. One of the highlights of these Mayan ruins was the Queen’s Bath, a giant waterfall. It was so beautiful, I wished to sit and stare at it for hours, but we were on a time limit, and there was much to see.

Later, we left Palenque and went to one of my favorite places on the trip—a waterfall at Bonapark. Their waterfalls were huge and ended in the clearest water that I have ever seen. Even though it was cold, none of us could resist at least going to the water’s edge and some of us even swung on the rope swing. We ended our trip with a day at a fun park in Mexico where we sped down waterfalls, swung in trees, raced in rope courses, and zip-lined through the jungle.

This opportunity to travel abroad was an awesome experience, and I’m glad I had the privilege of traveling and making memories with wonderful people.  One of the guides always asked if our “heart was happy?” because we were such a cheery, cooperative bunch. I would like to thank LaGrange College as well as my amazing tour guides, professors, and classmates, for giving me this opportunity and helping me to make memories of a lifetime. My heart will always be happy when reflecting on this trip.

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