The World of the Maya

by R. Werner, Tour Member

Pity the poor Maya archaeologists of yore who hacked their way through the dense tropical jungles of Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico for days, searching for some source of water to slake their parched throats or for a bite to eat. They possessed almost no understanding of the history of the Maya or even the belief that the Maya inscriptions contained any information except for some calendrical notations.

This is the thought that occurred to me on the Far Horizons’ Capital Cities of the Ancient Maya tour last February as I gazed over the Copan Valley at the ancient site of Copan from a small restaurant serving up >heapings of a variety of traditional foods cooked over a firewood stove, each dish better than the last.

And to think that we would have to get up in the morning and take our air-conditioned comfortable bus from our luxury hotel to the incredibly well-maintained site of Copan.

Stanley , our archaeologist guide read off the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the stelae at Copan like they were this morning’s news, bringing to life the ancient kingdom’s struggles with Quirigua and Tikal.

From to Copan’sarch rival Quirigua and then off to the mighty Tikal. The history got deeper and deeper. Down the Usumacinta River in a boat and then off for Palenque.

The hardest part of the trip for me was calling my wife enduring Boston’s winter to let her know which great site, hotel, or restaurant we had just been to (we had both thought when I left for the trip that I would be roughing it in the jungle).

I had such a great time I signed up for the Hidden Maya Cities of the Yucatan tour, which left a few weeks later. Stanley again was the archaeologist guide.

Yes, archaeologists of yore are probably better off not knowing about these Far Horizons trips. But for us – what a treat!

My Birthday at Tikal

by Heather Stoeckley, Destination Manager

Few places present a better impression of the Maya civilization’s past glory than Tikal. The towering temples pierce upwards through the jungle, humbling every living thing in their presence. A trek through this jungle city, a dynastic powerhouse during the Classic Period of the Maya, offers a rare chance to climb to the top of these temples and view the world as the ancient Maya did so long ago.

In February 2007, on my birthday, I entered Tikal with the Capital Cities of the Ancient Maya group, unaware of the adventures to come. In Izta Maya, the name Tikal means “place of voices” and our search to bring the ancient Maya voices back to life began in the Great Plaza. At first, the only “voices” to be heard were the chirps of native birds and the booming call of the howler monkey, a sound so unworldly that it is beyond description. But then our study leader, Stanley Guenter, began to unravel the layers of Mayan history at Tikal, illuminating for us its rise to power and enthusiastically recounting its epic battles with rival cities Calakmul and Caracol. Continuing on our exploration to uncover and learn more, we allowed ourselves to act as children once again, climbing up to the tops of Temples 2 and 5 to capture that one Kodak moment, the perfect souvenir of our adventure.

After a long and exciting day of venturing through the jungle, we ended our visit at Temple 4, where the view from the top was made famous in Star Wars. Using the zigzag wooden stairs constructed by far braver souls than I, we huffed and puffed our way to the top for a panoramic view of the rebel base, err, I mean Tikal. The sight from the top was astounding – vegetation as far as the eye could see, punctuated by the tops of temples – and we all took a moment to sit and appreciate its grandeur. After catching our breath, we descended from our peaceful perch back into this lost world of the Maya to make our way home.

Quite the adventure, quite the birthday!