May 122014

This is the first Mayan ruin I ever encountered. It came after a heat stroke inducing trek up a slippery hill wearing flip-flops. When I got there, I wasn’t particularly impressed. Fortunately, the next day, Tikal exceeded all expectations.

I didn’t have much intention of sharing this photo, but as I’m really far behind on my daily posts and struggling with a laptop that likes to crash just as I finish processing a new photo I thought I’d quickly upload this one.

Feb 232014

I had read about the Tz’utujil women of Lake Atitlan’s hats made of meters of ribbon wrapped around their heads. I couldn’t even begin to picture what it would like though. I was glad when I found this lady and now I know exactly how these hats look.

Tz'utujil woman ribbon hat lake atitlan guatemala traditional dress

Feb 152014

I was wandering through a town on Lake Atitlan when I came across the Tz’utujil men relaxing on a park bench. The Tz’utujil are one of the 21 Maya ethnic groups that inhabit Guatemala. There about 100,000 Tz’utujil inhabiting the area around Lake Atitlan.

Tz'utujil men in traditional dress, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Jan 232014

For viewing archaeological sites in something close to their natural state, it doesn’t get much better than Tikal. This temple has been excavated, but it’s sister, which was located behind me was still very much in the condition it was found in, buried and covered in trees. It looked just like a big hill.

We had the added bonus that we were on a sunset tour, meaning we started in the blazing afternoon heat that most tourists aren’t stupid enough to mess with. As a result, we had the whole place to ourselves. I thought it was worth it, though it officially marked the sweating through of every t-shirt I had brought to Guatemala on my second day there.

Back when Tikal was buzzing, the entire area was cleared of vegetation and paved with gleaming white stone. The temples and stele like those shown in the picture were painted in gaudy bright colours.

I found it interesting that the Mayans had flattened a large portion of the jungle for their city and farmland, considering that we have this idealized view that the ancient natives of the Americas lived in tune with nature.

Mayan temple and stele at Tikal, Guatemala HDR


Jan 142014

New Smugmug

So Smugmug, the site that hosts my images, has made their galleries much more customizable so I was able to make it match the main Traverse Earth site, just about. It’s an ongoing process as a few bits aren’t quite right, but take a look by clicking <Browse Photos> above. Let me know what you think of the new layout!

The Mayan Palace

This shot is of the remains of the palace at Tikal. It was a large building but the royal bedroom was nothing like we’d expect of a European palace. It was about 8 feet wide by 10 feet deep with a stone slab for sleeping on beneath a small window. There were small holes in the walls throughout the structure where, it is believed, candles or lanterns of some sort could be placed to light the interior.

Moving to the left from where I’m standing we walked around to enter a huge temple complex. Shortly after this, we heard the howler monkeys in the nearby trees. The whole experience made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

The ancient Mayan Palace ruins at Tikal near Flores, Guatemala


Jun 272013

My new Polish friend, Pawel, and I stepped off our boat in Lake Atitlan and began wondering what to do with the hour we had to explore the town we’d just arrived in. As usual, we were swarmed by people offering to take us on tours of the town. One tuk-tuk driver said simply, “Do you want to go see Maximon.”

Suddenly, I remembered reading about the Mayan evil saint called Maximon. After a quick look at his guide book, my accomplice was on board and we hopped aboard a tuk-tuk. If you want to visit Maximon, you have to go with a local who knows where this idol is. The statue is moved from house to house each year.

After a short drive our newly hired tuk-tuk driver said we’re here. It just looked like a normal street, lined with shops. Surely, there were no houses here. Then, he took off down a narrow alley. When I say narrow, this thing was about a meter wide, and had sharp 90 degree turns. It’d be an excellent site for a mugging.

As we approached the first corner, me following behind the guide first, I adjusted my tripod to a position where I could use it to throw a quick punch. Our guide saw me do this and offered to carry it for me. He was either a really nice guy, or trying to disarm me. I said I’d hold onto it. Taking each corner wide and poking my head out to see what was lurking round the bend, we weaved our way back to a residential area.

When we reached our destination it was obvious. An open door with a dark interior venting smoke from the inside was in front of us. Our guide said we were lucky because they were in the middle of a ceremony. Then, he walked inside. Pawel and I exchanged a look of trepidation before we were beckoned to follow.

As I stepped into the room I was immediately hit in the eyes by thick, hanging incense smoke. My eyes watered as my nose took up the rich bouquet and I had to resist the urge to sneeze. As I got my sight back and my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I discovered we were in a very strange place. A wooden idol, Maximon, sat in the middle of the room. In front of him, colored candles that had burnt down to pools of wax littered the floor, still flaming. To my right, about a dozen Mayan women sat in silence, holding tall candles.

A man stood face to face with Maximon, speaking to him angrily. It sounded like they were in the middle of a pretty serious argument. At this point, our guide moved deeper into the room, to the far corner. We picked our way past the pools of fire, women and angry men. He then told us about what was going on in the room, but it was so overwhelming it was difficult to take it in.

We returned outside and were told that if we wanted to take any pictures, it cost ten quetzales for three photos. I only had large notes so was stuck with a bit of a problem. Fortunately, my companion had a solitary 10 quetzales note, and was good enough to let me go in and take the photos for the both of us. It’s a good thing I had three chances. The first photo was framed strangely in the dark, in the second a man walked in front of me, and the third… can be seen below.

Maximon, the evil saint ,and Mayan attendants in Guatemala

Jun 192013

I had a morning to kill in Antigua, Guatemala before heading off to climb the Pacaya volcano. Antigua is a beautiful old colonial town, evacuated after multiple earthquakes suggested it wasn’t a great place to establish a capital. Some people stayed though, and it’s now a world heritage site. I set out along a route that would take me to see the earthquake plagued cathedrals and monasteries of the town.

Along the route was a restored colonial mansion. When I got to where I thought it should be, I couldn’t really find any sign of it. Then, I spotted a small name plaque marking it’s location. It also showed it’s opening hours, and was closed. I turned to walk away and saw, across the street, a small shop selling textiles with a little old Mayan lady sat on the floor, weaving. Her name was Irene, and after a little chat, and an explanation of backstrap weaving I didn’t fully understand (was in Spanish), I snapped the below photo.

Mayan woman backstrap weaving surrounded by colorful weavings in antigua, guatemala

Jun 052013

As you may know, I flew down to Flores with the hope of finding a helicopter to fly me into El Mirador, a huge, largely unexcavated Mayan city in the jungle, where I could overnight before flying back. The helicopter was essential as otherwise the trip required two days of trekking in and out. I would have loved to do the trek, but I just didn’t have enough time.

Upon arriving, I discovered the the cost of the helicopter (which I’d decided I was happy spending a fortune on) would be $5000. That was not the fortune I had in mind. As it turns out, they no longer keep a helicopter in Flores, so you have to pay to fly it in. I do wonder if that might be because the helicopter in Flores crashed or something.

So, it was time to execute the backup plan. The backup plan was an equally impressive and much easier to reach, excavated complex called Tikal. This is the reason that most people visit the area. Everything I’d read about the place said you should go at sunrise to avoid the heat of the day. This would have required a 2am wake up.

Instead, after telling Nelson, the guy on the tour desk at Los Amigos, that I wanted to take pictures he recommended the sunset trip. His reason was that the sunrise is often obscured by the mist rising from the jungle, but the sunset was visible. So, I booked a trip at the hottest time of the day, but at least I could sleep in.

I awoke at 6am. My room was boiling. So, I went for a cold shower and set out for some post sunrise pics of Flores before tucking into breakfast at the hostel. Following that I settled into a hammock with George Orwell’s 1984 to kill the time before my tour. I came very close to dozing off, but managed to climb out in time for the trip.

Tikal was amazing. I’ve got a lot of photos of the area so will tell you more about it as I post them. One thing I can say is this, I’m glad I went in the afternoon. Yes, it was absolutely boiling and I sweat more than I think I ever have in my life. But, my tour group of about ten people seemed to be the only people that were as stupid as me and willing to go in the heat of the day. We had the entire place to ourselves. After watching the sunset atop a pyramid we descended to walk back through the temples in almost total darkness.

Temple pyramid at Tikal, Guatemala