Editor’s note: Missioner Misty Menis-Kyler shares her recent experiences traveling around Guatemala.

Since the school year ended and Camp Angel’s is over, I was invited to travel for three weeks with two of the volunteers who had come to help at Valle. I have never traveled just to travel before, but I felt it was time to break out and do something spontaneous, so I said yes. FMS provides missioners with a vacation stipend so that, when needed, or when missioners have a break in their service (Valle’s school breaks), missioners can use their stipend to travel or do self-care before restarting their services. For me, self-care is very important because it is easy to forget to take care of myself when you are serving others. Also, I really wanted to see more of the country and culture of the Valle community, so this was such a great opportunity for me.

We began our travels by going to Semuc Champey, a gorgeous place with crystal clear water. There, we explored a water cave where the only light we had was from the candlesticks we each held in one hand. With our free hands, we held onto a rope which guided us through the cave. Sometimes, the water was only up to our ankles, and at other times, we were treading water because we could not touch the ground. It was such a fun adventure! At the end, we climbed three meters up the cave wall and jumped into a small pool where we were carried by rushing water down a hidden hole and dropped into another pool of water on the other side.

Next, we traveled to Tikal to see the Mayan ruins. These ruins have been uncovered and restored so you can actually see what it would have looked like in the past and how the Mayans lived. We even got to climb up one of the temples and watch the sunset. It was beautiful.

After Tikal, we wanted to go to a place called El Mirador. However, in order to get to and from El Mirador, one either pays a lot of money to fly in a helicopter or one spends five days hiking through the jungle. We hiked.

On day one, we walked five hours. On day two, we walked seven hours. All along the way, our guide stopped and told us about the different Mayan homes we saw. Most of the area was still covered by the earth and jungle with only a few places where parts of temples or art had been uncovered. This allowed us to see the raw, unaltered Mayan ruins, and it was amazing. During our trek, we climbed so many temples and watched so many sunsets. Looking out over the jungle and seeing nothing but trees in every direction really made me feel small and big at the same time. (Being on top of the temples, overlooking the jungle, made me feel so big, but seeing the endless jungle—very much like the ocean—made me feel just the opposite.)  

Upon arrival at El Mirador, we explored for a day before heading back. The return journey was the same: seven hours the first day and five hours the second day. I had to throw out my shoes at the end because the mud we had to walk through was terrible. Manytimes, I almost lost my shoes in the mud. I don’t regret making the “camino” to El Mirador, but I’m not seeing myself making any caminos in the near future.

After El Mirador, we headed to Belize to relax on an island and allow for my visa to be renewed (Guatemalan law requires non-citizens to leave the country and get a new visa every few months). While on the island, we swam in the ocean, played beach volleyball, and—my favorite—went on a snorkel tour. We got to see dolphins, stingrays, nurse sharks, sea turtles, and lots of other fish as we explored the second largest coral reef in the world. We also got to swim with manatees!

After our well-earned rest in Belize, we headed back to Rio Dulce in Guatemala for a few days of exploring and resting before heading back to Valle. Needless to say, I was ready to be back. I had always loved traveling and exploring new places, but, like I had said at the start of this blog, I never really had the chance to just travel. However, the three weeks on the road helped me see how much I could handle at one time and also allowed me to see just how at home I truly feel at Valle.

Now, we are preparing for the start of a new school year and getting ready for the kids to return on the 15th of January. We are all excited and ready to get back into the swing of things. On that note, I will leave with one last bit of exciting news: my “unofficially” adopted stray—Alejandra—had a litter of nine beautiful puppies on New Year’s Eve. I am super happy and ready to find good homes for them once they are weaned. Yay!

Reflection question: How do you take time to self-care?