Skirting Archaeological Disaster

20 Tourists Assaulted in Tikal

“Veinte turistas extranjeros que viajaban al Parque Nacional Tikal en un microbús colectivo fueron asaltados ayer en la mañana, en el kilómetro 36 de la carretera a Ciudad Flores, Petén, informó la Policía Nacional Civil (PNC).” (From the Prensa Libre, Guatemala)

Also a Global Heritage Site, The nearby temples of Yaxha, is our destination the day after Tikal. As we drive through Remate, the gateway city to the ruins, we see a huge police presence. The Guatemalan  PNC (national police) and their trucks line the streets all displaying firearms of one kind or another. I’m scared. Bob, my resident political analyst, has been warning me about the isolated northern border of Guatemala and Mexico, “It’s the stomping ground of the drug cartels. A few years ago three dozen people were murdered up here for interfering.” Moya’s son Jason, a man of few words, when asked about it, just shrugs. “There hasn’t been any trouble lately, but we don’t keep up with the news. No TV, poor internet.” Hard economic times in a true third world country have taken a toll, aided and abetted by the drug wars and the death squads. I hold my breath as we drive through without being stopped.

Yaxha - from the temple top

Even less people are in attendance at the more remote and less excavated Yaxha. We walk through a surrounding jungle complete with a large population of howler monkeys calling and communicating with each other. It’s like we’ve discovered this place and have it to ourselves.  Standing atop a temple we follow a huge lake to another temple top in the far distance. Remnants of the extensive causeway system link the numerous ancient cities. I revel in what a magnificent and intelligent society thrived here some 3000 years ago.

Temple at Yaxha

On the way home, past the cops still on guard, we stop for a late lunch and pick up a newspaper, La Prensa LIbre, while we wait.

Here’s a translation of today’s news: “Twenty foreign tourists traveling to Tikal in a microbus were assaulted yesterday morning 36 k. from Flores, Petén, Guatemala according to the PNC (National Civil Police). Total: 60 tourists assaulted in the last 15 días in Petén. Oh My God! We skirted disaster.

Next time: Back to my memoir Life and Deaf


Looting the Maya Biosphere

Guatemala Part Two

Lake Péten Ítza

Bob and I float on Lake Péten Ítza on the isolated upper peninsula of Guatemala on the Mexican border, contemplating. (Yup, it’s so quiet and deserted we can do that.) The water is warm and crystal clear. We look through it, on it, above it to nothing; no boats, no fish, no animals, no people, except for guards and dogs protecting the concrete-walled compounds of the rich and powerful on the shoreline.

What used to be in the middle of Mayan civilization in Central America, was first deforested by the Maya themselves to build their cities, grow their maize, build their highways, and much more recently has become a hotbed of clashing Mexican and Guatemalan drug cartels, death squads and another huge deforestation, pesticide proliferation from cattle ranching, and the looting and selling of ancient artifacts. All very lucrative for the drug lords.

La Danta largest pyramid in the world

I love artifacts. It’s so exciting to find bits of antiquity and begin to understand how people lived and how the world has changed. I don’t sell them, but I like to collect them. I could appease my conflict by joining the non-profit Global Heritage Fund and Network which includes Tikal, its neighboring temples. El Mirador, possessing the largest pyramid in the world – La Danta – is now thought to be the cradle of Mayan civilization, and  is largely unexplored. With my background in science and my record volunteering in primitive areas of Africa and Central America, this could be my next volunteer adventure!

El Mirador