Picture of Authors at volcano

Spain and Guatemala: Last Summer of Freedom

Thursday, October 31, 2013

After completing the first year of my clinical psychology doctoral program, advanced students warned me that Year 1 summer was going to be the last summer of “free time” for the next several years. So, in lieu of starting my psychotherapy rotation during summer vacation, I chose to spend a few weeks traveling. I used frequent flyer miles to visit friends living in Vilafranca del Penedès, Spain—a town founded in the 12th century and a center for the Catalan wine industry.

One highlight of this trip was visiting the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, designed by Antoni Gaudí. I attended mass in the crypt with elderly Spanish women, wearing delicate lace veils on their heads. Another highlight was making a little pilgrimage by train to the coastal town of Figueres, the birthplace of Salvador Dalí, and exploring his larger than life Theatre-Museum and mausoleum.

After Spain, I made a quick stop back in the United States to pick up my niece, who had just graduated from high school. My parents paid for her to join me in Antigua, Guatemala, to study Spanish for two weeks. We enjoyed a home stay with a warm, hospitable local family, spending evenings chatting and laughing in Spanglish.

An unforgettable memory from Guatemala was a side-trip to Tikal National Park, a major Mayan archaeological site. My niece and I hired a local guide, Roxy Ortiz, who led us on a 4 a.m. hike in the darkness through the jungle. While howler monkey wailed in the canopies above, we cautiously avoided giant spider webs and slippery mud puddles.

Our hiking group eventually trekked to one of the tallest pyramids in Tikal — Temple IV. At the top of the pyramid, we watch in reverent silence as the sun rose over the rainforest. Our guide Roxy told us to listen intently as the forest birds, one by one, broke into their morning song until finally, the whole forest resonated with their diverse melodies.