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

Maya Guatemala


I sit and reflect at the Aurora airport in Guatemala City waiting to fly back home to San Jose, Costa Rica. My dreams are filled with climbing pyramids of stairs, wild headed Mayas dressed in feathers and loin clothes standing guard above all they rule; looking down on their realm surrounding the great lake Petén Ítza. What now appears a typical campo of maize fields and cattle ranches sequesters the final great empire of Kan Ek, hidden from the outside world yet thriving in the lost jungles of the northern peninsula of Guatemala for almost 200 years after the fall of the other great Maya civilizations of Tikal, Chichin Ítza, Cobán.

I always wanted to be an archaeologist and am a treasure hunter at heart. It all started growing up on the Myakka River, where we found ancient giant shark’s teeth and spear points from the indigenous Indians.

The first archaeological site we visited, Tikal, was one of the largest and most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya. It’s hard to visualize coming from 2012 perspective. The Guatemalan countryside surrounding Tikal and numerous other ancient Maya cities is low lying and has been denuded of jungle to make way for modern civilization. The vast clear lake of Péten Ítza, now devoid of life because of pollution from human and animal intervention, was large enough to support many great cities with its supply of fish, water for drinking and irrigation of crops.

Tikal Acropolis

Through a great old friend Ian we were turned on to this beautiful isolated spot on Lake Péten Ítza, Gucumatz B&B run by Ian’s cousin Moya and her two boys. What a great hostess! She picked us up and drove us everywhere. In between we walked to a primitive village San Pedro and took the motor taxi to San Jose, a village built into the hills and maybe over another late surviving Maya enclave. It is the last bastion of some 3-4000 Ítza speaking Mayas, their original language.

Gucumatz B&B with owners


Next time: The Temples of Xacha







San Jose on Lake Peten Itza