Quiriguá is a small town of about 4000 people with awe-inspiring ruins in its backyard. I stayed here for four days in a Japanese-style bed and breakfast and toured the archaeological site as well as engaged locals in conversations. My host, Masaki, cooked excellent food (served with plenty of green tea) and also showed me the bees she keeps to make honey. The bees in Guatemala, by the way, are called doncellas, and they don't sting. These were possibly the most relaxed four days of my life. Sitting in the hammock outside my room, I read, wrote poetry, and practiced the kind of deep reflecting the Mayans call mayonik.
One museum featured an exhibit of jade carvings. The Mayans made jade objects by carving them out of jade stone, using tools such as the hand-powered drill shown below. Perhaps the strangest thing I saw was a 10th-century carving (below, far right) of a foreign man who was predicted to arrive in 500 years and rule over the people of Iximulew; I could not overlook its uncanny resemblance to Hernán Cortés, the conquistador who 500 years later would fit that exact description. Whether this is coincidence or maybe just an archetypal narrative that rang true, it certainly stirs the imagination.
Quiriguá also boasts a ball court in which the ancient Mayans played their famous hoop game. As I sat in the "bleachers" of this ball court, imagining what it would have been like to watch crowds of ancient people here, a serendipitous thing happened: out of nowhere, a flood of about 200 children poured into the ball court, all dressed in Mayan-style clothing and headwear, waving plastic swords and sticks and firing fake arrows at each other. Their teacher explained that they were on a class field trip to learn about their heritage. I commended them and wished them well!
Situated near Lake Petén Itzá, Tikal is the most famous archaeological site in Guatemala.
I stayed for four days in a hostel on the lake. I joined a group who went searching for crocodiles in the lake at night, which used to be common to see. While we did not find any crocodiles, we did see a beautiful moonset on the water.
As I was admiring Tikal, a man dressed in white happened to come and lie down right in my view and put his hat on his knee. He seemed to really be taking in the paradise of the environment. By its pure synchronicity and authenticity, this is possibly my favorite photo I have ever taken (below).
The final site I visited was called Yaxhá, an ancient port city situated along the river. Yaxhá means "green water" in Yucatec, which is another language related to K'iche'. Originally, I hadn't planned on visitng Yaxhá at all. But while staying on Lake Petén Itzá, I met a strange man called Bruno in a store, who told me Yaxhá had a mysterious kind of energy, "like a magnet." I was intrigued, so I accepted his offer to take me there himself.
Bruno talked a lot about Yaxhá, but I don't remember much of what he said. What I remember is his energy: I felt as though he had some kind of psychic power that let him read my thoughts. He would stop talking when he sensed that I was thinking about what he said and formulating a question; then, he would break the silence by answering the very question I was thinking. The more this kept happening, the more my imagination filled with wonder about whether his "power" came from Mayan spirituality. But just as I began to wonder this, he donned a huge smile and said: "Te gusta el evangelio, ¿no?"
It would be another few years before I would be called to really connect with the evangelio. Instead, I wanted to embrace the experience of a lifetime I had had with the Mayans. This experience inspired me to choose another indigenous culture to learn about for the following year. So I looked even farther away for an indigenous people much less well-known...