A tour of upland Guatemala will immerse the traveler in the archeology of the last aboriginal Maya of 900-1524, with unparalleled experiences in how archaeological knowledge about society, culture and astronomy is read in the ruins of the richest civilization of the Americas. The adventure travelers are guided by an archaeologist, who is author of many volumes. Our archaeologist tour director also deciphers the principal Mayan sites of the always climatically temperate highlands. The many Maya who live in the region today also provide keys in their lifeways to reconstructing the rich past. This incomparable experience of learning by doing archeology and anthropology is coupled observations of the incredibly rich flora and fauna under the guidance of an expert ornithologist.
Mayan Green Tours is offering a ten day expedition combining archeology, cultural anthropology and birding–to Guatemala during June 11-22, 2007. The four thousand- year-old Mayan culture still flourishes in highland Guatemala among millions of Mayan speakers today. While a glimpse of the aboriginal Maya is viewed in this year’s film Apocalypto our tour fully situates our members among still living Mayan communities with their colorful costumes, religious rituals and dance ballads, and more generally lifeways of the millennia. The discerning traveler thus experiences the ancient Maya in their archaeological cities situated on mountaintop as well as the living Maya at the foot of these mountain sites in their indigenous communities of today. This is the most authentic adventure and educational learning setting of the premier indigenous civilization of the Americas. In the achievements of writing, city building and the architecture of kings and high priests in palaces and temples, the Maya rank among the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans and Chinese. If one is to fully understand the Americas, understanding its civilization is a must.
The observation of the wildlife in its natural habitat is the second of our twin goals. The Mayan landscape is also a biotic treasure trove where wildlife abounds around every tree. The setting of highland Guatemala is also unparalleled in its natural beauty -lofty volcanoes ring highland lakes, a rich diversity in flora and fauna are set in a year round spring-like climate of temperate days and cool evenings. The different altitudes make excursion rich in an ever-changing biotic diversity each and every mile. Ecotourism thus multiplies the Maya experience in their natural settings.
We travel by van across the verdant highland valleys and mountains to see the Mayan cities in their natural settings as they were on the eve of the arrival of the Europeans immediately following Columbus. Our first stop outside of Central America’s metropolis of Guatemala City is to Iximche, the location of the first Guatemala City (called then “Cuauthemala”) where the Spanish Conquistadores garrisoned in 1524. At 7,000 feet elevation, the citadel of Iximche was capital to the Cakchiquel Maya with whom the Spanish conquistadors allied in their strategy to “divide and conquer” the major Mayan kingdoms. This strategy was an improbable one of succeeding – for the native population was in the millions and the Spanish military force was merely in the hundreds. But in the final analysis the plan defied the odds in victory. Yet the Maya have dealt with conquerors before and have endured to rise again. And they have, for they represent the only indigenous American civilization still intact in so many of its original practices
The marvelous palaces, temples, ancient ballcourts, and murals at Iximche have been brought to light by meticulous archaeological excavation so that the site is the best preserved in the highlands. The city is intact and all there for understanding of meanings ascribed by the Maya. At this highest site in altitude and all sites that the tour visits a variety of birds inhabit the ruins.
Day two will find the group on Lake Atitlan, which is incomparable for its pristine beauty, for birding within the Reserva Natural Atitlan where hundreds of species of birds have been sighted and recorded. Next, we boat 10 miles across the lake and tour the ruined Tzutuhil capital of Chuitinamit in one of the most picturesque spots in the world. The more avian minded adventurers may climb on the forest engulfed Volcano of San Pedro with rich vistas of the tropical birds and of the Pacific coastal plain below.
In cosmology, Lake Atitlan was the southernmost edge of the Mayan world and was conceived as the place of the famous creation of humanity dramatized in the Mayan book of the Popol Vuh. (This book is the single largest native American epic, and has been translated into every European language plus many more around the world). After an evening of birding in San Lucas Toliman, the group may participate in the continued mapping of the only known Mayan zodiac. The archaeological remains of the zodiac, with each of the constellations of the night sky carved on huge boulders, is where the assembled Mayan tribes would ignite the flame of the solar calendar during the last week of January each year. The Mayan chronicles detail the actual ceremony and dance; vestiges of the ancient ceremony were enacted until about 50 years ago and are still remembered.
While the zodiac was simply the ritual south point for a highland Maya, the political and cosmic center was Utatlan (K’umarcaaj). This city was seen as center of the Mayan ritual and political cosmos. The astronomical principles dictating the arrangement of temples, caves and palaces of this most revered of the highland Mayan ies to coincide with the equinoxes, solstices and the rising and setting of particular constellations, will be decoded on site by Dr. Fox, based on his three decades of research.
When the conquistadors burned Utatlan as bastion of Mayan resistance in 1524, its population was forcibly removed to nearby Chichicastenango. Members of the tour will have the opportunity to bargain with Mayan vendors for their handicrafts of textiles, dance masks, pottery and much more in the biweekly market of today in the central plaza of Chichicastenango in much the same way it was when held in the central plaza of Utatlan before.
The tour culminates in a flight to Tikal in the lowlands to see two hundred foot high temples loom above the jungle canopy and relish in the experiences of some of the richest birding locales in the world. Birding enthusiasts will probably note this as a highlight of the trip as do most visitors to Tikal. Tikal is testament to the grandeur and mettle of the Classic Maya. It is an enduring legacy in which the people of Guatemala take great pride.
The traveler will return with remembrances to fill a lifetime; the Maya will be known first hand in person and in their mighty archaeological achievements which have come to represent the indigenous civilization of the Americas. Flora and fauna will be observed and probably photographed in their native habitats in both the tropical highlands and lowlands -together comprising almost unparalleled species diversity.
Dr. John Fox together with Roy Smallwood formed Mayan Green Tours, Inc. to introduce tours to the rich archaeological and cultural labyrinth and ecosphere of Guatemala. Dr. Fox is a leading authority on the Maya and has published extensively having spent 30 years researching the highland Guatemala. Roy Smallwood joins the tour assisting in the identification of the avifauna of Guatemala.