Five things we learned about the Maya in Central America

Who doesn’t know the game in which one person says a word and the other one completes with the first thing that pops into your head? I have no idea about the purpose of the game, except to prove that you have a dirty mind. Until a year ago, if you’d asked me to play and threw the word ‘Maya’ at me, I’d probably have replied ‘the bee’.

What about you? Be honest. Unless you’ve visited Central America or have a degree in history, you likely don’t know much about the Maya. Continue Reading →

Laguna Chicabal, a sacred volcano lake, or: How I Learned to Stop Being Impatience and Love the Slowness

The evening before our trip to Laguna Chicabal, we watched a cartoon called Zootopia. Don’t judge! When spending all day going to Spanish classes and trying to cram as many irregular verbs in your head as possible, we all need time to cool down our slowly sautéed brains. For those less educated in animated films, Zootopia is about Judy Hobbs, a rabbit from Bunnyburrow who tries to make it as a police detective in the big city.

Assigned a case about a dozen missing predators, Hobbs and her unlikely partner Nick Wilde, a red fox, head to the Department of Mammal Vehicles to have a plate run. Alas, the department is staffed entirely by three-toed slots which are stamping and stapling forms at a speed that would make the latter Pope John Paul II cringe. It’s easily the best scene of the film, and I laughed my head off. But Anete, as ever more prescient, asked: “Would you be laughing if it happened to you? Continue Reading →

9 Things to do in and around Xela, Guatemala

Xela has it – the city surprises people and attracts them to stay longer. Its architecture is grand, and life is bustling and exciting.

Chances are that, when you first arrive here from other parts of Guatemala or Belize, all you want to do is walk around and suck it all in. And walking in the city is excellent, every turn leads to a new square or a building that you didn’t even think could exist anywhere in Guatemala.

There are quiet little parks with a couple of benches to enjoy the sunshine, a theatre and big city squares that remind you of a mini Times Square. At least, if you have been away from big cities for a while. In the evenings it’s all lit up, and during the daytime, magnificent blue volcanoes frame the town. Continue Reading →

Hiking in the Cuchumatanes near Nebaj: lessons about the horrors of the Guatemalan civil war

“I was 2 months old when I lost my father. He was killed by the army.”

We haven’t yet properly met, only exchanged names and pleasantries when Francisco, our ever-smiling guide, drops a bomb on our path. A muddy path at that, because we have just set off for a two-day hike through the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, the highest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America. We have left Nebaj, the biggest city in the Ixil Triangle, one hour earlier on a chicken bus that dropped us off in a village so small that it surprised me that it is even on any chicken bus schedule. Continue Reading →

12 hours in Tikal, Guatemala: a plunge into the world of the Maya

15:50

Anete and I sit on top of the second highest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas – Temple IV in Tikal, aka the Temple of the Double-Headed Serpent. Our gaze is directed eastwards, where a couple of stone colossi stick their necks out of the jungle. Minutes earlier, we’ve stared a spider monkey straight into the eyes. A couple of Olive-throated parakeets skim over the canopy. We remain on our throne for an hour – not speaking much, solely admiring the view. Anete tries to meditate, I climb up to the highest step of the staircase to check if the view gets even better. Any minute now, we’re expecting a group of tourists to join us, but they never arrive. We have Tikal all to ourselves. It’s a magical experience, a highlight of our trip through the land of the Maya. What a difference a day makes. Continue Reading →