Beauty with a Price

On the top of the highest point in Central America, a reflection on what makes Guatemala real


As I sit on the top of the world (or the top of Central America at least), I understand why George Lovell explains Guatemala as “A Beauty that Hurts.” I have never been in a place this incredible, this stunning. Sitting on the peak of the highest point in Central America, watching the sun rising behind the smoking Volcán Fuego and tinting the clouds beneath us with rich oranges and pinks. It may be the most stunning – and surreal – view I’ve ever had. But even to get up here, I see why this beauty hurts:

  • Because in the village just 1,000 meters below us, two little children with dirty faces sat on the side of the road, asking us for “a quetzal, a cookie, just one quetzal.”
  • Because the beautifully hand-woven traje of the women walking from a Maya ceremony is old and worn-out: they can’t afford any new
  • Because the trees on the way up to the top of Tajumulco are still burned, still recovering from being destroyed by the army during the 30-year civil war that Guatemala experienced, a war that disproportionately affected the indigenous and rural Maya people.
  • Because the other people climbing the mountain and camping out are from the capital city or are foreigners, not the locals, who don’t have the luxury to just take in the incredible scenery around them.

I can’t help but feel some guilt: that I am able to experience all the beauty of Guatemala, coming in as an outsider, that so many of its inhabitants don’t have the possibility to enjoy. I can’t forget how much pain is woven into the fabric of Guatemala, both in the past and even still now.

I love Guatemala – the beauty and the sadness. It’s all part of what makes it real. But I can’t accept it as it is. I don’t want to see those children begging for mere cents, I don’t want to see patients suffering and dying because they cannot access healthcare, I don’t want to see these disparities and injustices. But there is hope: our local staff who work so hard every day to go to our patients in the most rural, inaccessible settings, the donors who choose to share to help others, all those people with passion to make a difference.

And maybe it’s cliché, but watching the sun rising instills that hope: that maybe things will change and we can see more of the beauty of Guatemala without feeling the hurt that goes with it.