Category Archives: Maya


Sat here as Alex fertilised the forest gives me a short break from both our footsteps and our nattering.

I read my Lonely Planet a little before scolding at myself and just listening. Slowly at first, much like your eyes adjusting to the brilliance of the stars the volume slowly increases until the buzzing of bugs is only interrupted by birds chirping and trees rustling – and the odd fool with his MP3 player going, I politely reminded him I’d go to a disco if I wanted music. Turns out he works there, but what does that matter? That’s even more reason he should follow the “No Music” sign – which also forbids a small dictionary’s worth of other things.

Three weeks later, I finished writing this

Tikal is an awesome place, I’d love to have been the first person to write about it because it’s such a cliché. Walking down jungle paths between pyramids, climbing up them to peek at the tops of others poking out the trees.

Yada yada, I loved it but we had a different mission.

Yavin IV

Tikal, you see, was the set for the rebel base in Star Wars IV.  A fact pointed out by Steph (or Paola, or both perhaps) a few weeks earlier during our Star Wars Marathon.

So here we are on a mission to find X-Wings and support the rebel cause. hmm perhaps not sensible words to be using in these politically unstable countries!

Temple IV is the one used, though the noise of the X-Wings must have rustled the feathers of the much animal life (including Toucans!) we saw later that evening as we waited for the sun set.

Heading out as the light rapidly faded every leaf became a terrifying spider. We ducked into a bat cave (not knowing it was one until we reached the end) and finally got back to our hotel – El Jaguar- where we had rented a tent in their garden, and whiled the evening away drinking Micheladas and eating expensive pasta.


The next day we headed to Flores, I’d made a careful list of all the great sounding coffee shops, drinking establishments and food places I wanted to visit and Alex had agreed to a crawl of the lot of them. Unfortunately a truck ran into a power line and the whole of El Petén was out of power, so most places closed down. We whiled away the evening in our hostel, Hostel Las Amigos, and I had the chance to visit the well-worth-the-wait Cool Beans in the morning for breakfast. After breakfast I bought an excellent new book which kept me entertained during the 7 hour bus journey back home.

Todos Santos and Zaculeu

Relaxing on this cool concrete step at the side of Todos Santos’ square I overlook the village go by. Immediately to in front of me two Maya decedents discuss what appears to be an unhappy tale in Mam, their local language, as they chat the lady on the right tries to fix her bag handle. On the balcony to my left two menu dressed in traditional red and white trousers, large collared shirts and hats with a blue and white striped belt have been quietly discussing since before I got here.

The trouble I have here with approaching people is making the assumption they speak Spanish. Though it may be a fair assumption to make, it feels a little like rubbing salt into the wound of disparity between the Spanish descendants and the indigenous. In a similar way to visiting any other country and presuming someone speaks English – do you ask and risk patronising them or do you start out in English and hope it doesn’t make them feel bad for not understanding. Fact is, most of the indigenous do speak Spanish and are far too friendly to actually get offended by a tourist who wants to chat.

None the less, we had a brief chat, they had a jolly laugh at my Mam pronunciation and I never managed to understand her answer to my request for a photo. Some of those attached here, are from Claire.

Mam 101

Mam is one of the many languages of the Maya, it’s spoken by a little under half a million people – more than the population of The Borough of Barnet. There are three main dialects, however due to massive suppression by the Spanish of the written language huge differences evolved between neighbouring villages. It’s cool stuff, here’s a couple of words I learned from the lady with the broken bag and her friend:

  • Hiete – Hello
  • Cochonte – Thank you
  • Ba’am Peh – How are you?
  • Cuch-nah –  Bye!

I’ve not made many doors this week

I’ve only been here for a few hours, it’s nothing like the Lonely Planet’s description of “Mud streets and tortillas everywhere” but it’s wonderfully tranquil, the air is fresh and the scenery stunning. As if that wasn’t enough, the people are friendly, I’m greeted by smiles and waves and just spent 20 minutes in the carpentery workshop of Juan Carlos and Jovani talking about how business is slow and the state of English Football!

I had planned to enquire in HispanoMaya about their weaving class and film on local culture, but they don’t seem to be opening today. I shall try them again and, failing that, head to the ruins of Zaculeu.

Maya Fashion

Now it would appear at first, that here everyone wears the same thing, and I can almost hear mum saying “But where’s their sense of self expressive fashion?!”. But fear not, with a little eyeballing you soon notice that while all the guys have the same hat, the belt on it has different sequins or colours between the blue stripes. Many, too, have ditched their traditional shirt (which varies in the pattern, especially on the colour) or our European [[T-Shirts]].

The female difference is more subtle, in the patterns of their tops (all wear dark blue skirts and the way they tie their hair – often long black plats with coloured ribbon running down and tied at the bottom creating a big loop of hair.

All carry shoulder bags of equally intricate designs.

Ruinas de Zaculeu

HispanoMaya didn’t open but I also had to wait until 2pm hours for the bus which meant it would be too late to go to Zaculeu the same day. Instead, I hung out in a nice cafe with Internet and excellent fried plantains for a bunch of hours, until it got dark and began being dangerous to walk home. What’s the opposite expression of “Every cloud has a silver lining?”.

The next day, I hopped on a bus to Zaculeu. Zaculeu is a really cool place, sieged by the Spanish for several months before the inhabitants died of starvation, the town itself is surrounded on three sides by ravines, making defence easy. Today it’s a very nice sized ruins with reasonably sized pyramids, you can easily see the museum and walk the structures in an hour. Which was very convenient, since I only had an hour until I had to return to catch my bus back to [[Guatemala City]].