The Mayan Highlands of Guatemala

By Will Mateo, GDR Country Coordinator

Although not far as the crow flies, the trip from Antigua, Guatemala to San Martín de Jilotepque, the small town where we would be operating our field dental clinic over the next six days, took over an hour along steep, winding roads, down deep canyons but mostly up sharp, verdant mountains…

up, and up, until we reached a small town situated in a valley surrounded by the jagged, profoundly green mountains of highland Guatemala. Here, the main reminder of Spanish colonialism was the large central plaza that spilled out from the steps of the freshly whitewashed Catholic church. market


Meanwhile, the apparently chaotic but, upon closer inspection, surprisingly harmonious impromptu market that occupied the square; the bright and geometrically complex patterns worn proudly by so many women; the unfamiliar, consonant-laden tones of languages born in these mountains—all of these spoke of cultural traditions with roots not merely hundreds, but thousands of years in the past.

clinicFor me, all of this added up to something wondrous, but to our hosts, of course, it was just another busy market day. We soon got to work unboxing and arranging our mobile dental equipment and supplies—portable dental units and chairs; compressors; curing lights, amalgamators, cavitrons; thousands of gloves, carpules of anesthetic, amalgam capsules and dry-angles. Our experienced local partners were a huge help, as were the volunteers who had flown in early to help us set up.DSC_0140

We finished up in the early afternoon and were treated to the famous cooking of Cristy, the maternal and muy cariñosa proprietor of a small local restaurant who for years has been preparing and hosting the meals of our volunteers in San Martín. The hard work of the morning, followed by the warmth of good food and even better company: these were a precursor to the spirit and deep satisfaction that would characterize the next 10 days, as a group of volunteers from very different parts of the world would come together and work hard to give disadvantaged children healthy smiles—and yet despite our greatest efforts, feel that we might not ever be able to work hard enough to earn the astounding hospitality of our hosts.

Photo credits: Cover photo–Tim Jacob. Other photos–Valerie Gerdes

Volunteering Worlds Away

Posted on May 24, 2019. How do you end up closer to home when you’re volunteering thousands of miles away? We had just arrived at the hotel in Guatemala. I was gearing up to run a seven-chair dental clinic with 18 volunteers. I glanced over at the new volunteers just... Read more »

Eat Like a Local in Guatemala!

Posted on May 9, 2019. Check out the article, “Eating like a local in Guatemala!” to hear about one of the many reasons you should join Global Dental Relief in Guatemala this summer! You can find the full article by clicking here. Are you a dentist or hygienist? Have you... Read more »

Destination Guatemala!

Posted on April 30, 2019. Global Dental Relief board member and long-time friend of the organization, Caroline Hagadorn, reflects on her experience in Guatemala. Front Porch, a Denver based newspaper, recently featured her story. Caroline and her family spent a month living, exploring and adventuring in Guatemala. During their time,... Read more »

Community Service and Travel – the Buddy System

Posted on April 11, 2019. I am an eager and avid traveler. Well, it’s more accurate to say eager than avid as I have travelled some, but not a lot. But I am hungry to travel more, especially now that I have retired. At the same time, there are times... Read more »

Laos

Posted on March 28, 2019. Laos means the land of a million elephants. Many travelers visit to see elephants, and we were no different. After working hard to provide complete dental care to 960 kids over six days in Cambodia, we flew to the ancient royal city of Luang Prabang... Read more »