We are the only of earth´s creatures who bury their dead. Prior to that eventful act we are each destined to experience each of us exists in a unique subjective state. It´s a simple anthropic principle; the ordering of one´s world in line with one´s needs. One´s own importance is the supreme law of the land. Consider the person who drives from Los Angeles to San Francisco with the Pacific ocean on the left. Returning from San Francisco to Los Angeles the Pacific Ocean is on his right. He has turned the world completely around to suit his needs. Death, as diverse as it is ubiquitous, will change all that. Death happens in a split second. A few of us live to be 100 years old. Others fall victims to senseless accidents. Catastrophes of nature take their toll. Disease is everpresent. Many make choices in life that inevitably lead to that fateful apex. I have escaped the Reaper´s fearsome grasp more than once. It is impossible to know when the end will occur, or why at that particular moment. On my recent trip to the Guatemalan jungle I lay awake one night listening to the persistent loud sounds of life outside the door of my bungalow. Guests are forbidden from leaving their rooms after 9PM because of the creatures hunting for food. Jaguars, snakes and other wild things are engaged in an ageless battle of life and death. It has always been so. We all feed on death. From the largest predators to the tiniest, we all must eat. The ancient Mayans worshiped gods of Life and Death, recognized the inevitability and made it a gory central part of everyday life celebrating ritual human sacrifice. Modern humans have sanitized death. We have sanitized inflicting death on others. Yet, when death becomes personal, the loss of a loved one affects so many of those individuals who loved and cared for and miss deeply the person who is no longer there. Perhaps that is what makes our species unique, the sense of loss and profound pain that seems as if it will never go away.
The Maya ruins at Caracol are similar to those at Tikal. I booked a tour on a small busito holding 6 of us. 50 kilometers from San Ignacio, we left at 0730 climbing a dirt road up into the jungle. The site is much smaller than Tikal and I wondered how the city-state was able to defeat Tikal in the late 800s CE, but they did. The Maya civilization disappeared soon thereafter. Belize is a very small, diverse country of 320,000 inhabitants. The languages spoken here are Creole, English (the official language), Spanish, Garifuna, 3 separate Maya languages, and Chinese (a very large presence here). As I made my way through the country touching bases with Peace Corps staff and Volunteers I stayed overnight at Belmopan, the capital, as I made my way to Dangriga situated seaside. There I stayed with Dr Steve and his wife Cathy, PCVs, and accompanied the doc and his counterpart on a site visit to a Mayan community. Following the pics from bottom right I flew from Belize City at 0800 on Friday the 13th to San Pedro Sula riding the puddle-jumper in the pic over Dangriga and then over the Gulf of Honduras to the Honduras coast. I was home in La Paz by 2PM. Thoughts about my trip in a later post.
Tikal is by far the largest archeological Maya complex I have visited. It’s the largest in terms of area that must be covered to see huge excavated complexes that date back several hundred to a thousand years. I visited the park for three days and between the heat, mosquitoes, wasps and distances walking on paths through impenetrable jungle on all sides I could only march four hours a day and I still only saw a fraction of what exists buried under jungle, for 75% of the site has yet to be excavated. And also different from Teotihuacan near Mexico City, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Dzibilchaltun, Kabah, Xcambo in theYucatan, and Copan in Honduras is the visibility of the buildings. At all the aforementioned sites one could see the excavated ruins in relation to each other. Granted, at each of those sites the excavated portions are also only a small percentage of existing structures buried under an accumulation of centuries-old natural growth unlike that in Northern Guatemala. In contrast, Tikal sits smack dab in the middle of a vast thick, tropical jungle with a seven-month rainy season. It rains every day. A lot. Park employees must clear nascent green vegetation every few days from the ancient stone palaces and ceremonial sites before the jungle can again reclaim them. When the Maya civilization declined about 900 C.E. and the building sites began to be discovered in the early1900s, in that period of time everything had reverted to virgin jungle. I visited Caracol yesterday here in Belize. I have so much more to write about the places I’ve seen this trip. The water shot above is from the city of Flores, Guatemala an island city in Lago Peten Itza, the last holdout of the Maya in the Peten against the rapacious Spaniards after more than a century of resistance. I will be returning to my home in Honduras on Monday July 16th after a month on the road.