“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Genesis 2:15
I wasn’t alone – nearly twenty youth and leaders stumbled down to the UPH office where we began our morning trek to Nueva Esperanza. There, the morning air still cool, we met with Carolina Sanchez and her stepfather David Sedat, directors of the reforestation project at Copán Ruinas Botanical Research Station.
We followed Carolina and David up the switchbacks of a steep and crumbling hillside. In the now-blazing afternoon sun we took up metal stakes and picks, and dug holes to line the narrow path with Izote, a native relative of the aloe plant that thrives even on these hillsides.
So far our Saturday included a lot of typical Trekkers elements. Early rising? Check. Hiking up a hill? Check. Sweating in sun? Check. Then, in an unprecedented turn of events, we went out for tea, and Carolina told us a story.
The story goes like this: Long long ago (think sometime around 400 AD) the Mayan ruler K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’arrived in Copan, and began a long line of Mayan kings in the prosperous Copán River valley. The population grew, and so did their need for food. Farmers stripped the steep hillsides to make room for agricultural fields, and rain and wind carried away fertile topsoil. When the barren hillsides couldn’t produce food, farmers moved further away, stripping new hillsides, and repeating the cycle. Eventually the land simply could not produce enough food to feed the population in the valley below, and circa 900 AD the civilization collapsed.
I should mention that the tea was not coincidental. Carolina and David also own the Tea and Chocolate Place, which serves as an informational center for their work as well as a beautiful place to have a cup of any one of twenty traditional herbal teas – harvested from the hillsides, of course. In the teas, Carolina conserves an abundance of traditional knowledge that is on the verge of becoming obsolete. Izote, to give just one example, can be used to make soap and rope, and a tea made of its flowers can be used to aid digestion, arthritis, and relaxation.
Our goal on this trip was to plant trees. We planted trees, but in the simplicity of this act we also gained a wealth of understanding. We learned about Izote and native medicinal plants, and about the cause of deforestation, and our ability to reverse the damage of years past and cultivate new life in the wasted soils. And hopefully, by understanding their roots – their past, their culture, and the traditions of their ancestors – the youth of Honduras can also understand how to tend to the garden God has entrusted to them here in Copan.
Keep on Trekkin’
Rachel (2014 Volunteer)