Travel Journals By Steve Hulbert


By Steve and Cathy Hulbert

The more I see of life, the more I perceive that only through solitary communion with nature can one gain an idea of its richness and meaning.  I know that in such contemplation lies my true personality, and yet, I live in an age when on all sides, I am told exactly the opposite and asked to believe that the social and cooperative activity of humanity is the one way through which life can be developed.

                        CYRIL CONNOLLY
                        The Unquiet Grave

To be for one day entirely at leisure is to be for one day an immortal.

                        Chinese Proverb



February 10, 1996 - Blast Off

    12:01 am, AA #2103 to Belize and we were off - SeaTac - Dallas/Ft. Worth - Miami - Belize City, and finally to San Pedro, Ambergris Island on a plane that was third world - the stained cardboard ceiling had leaked and the roof was curling off.  We landed on a runway narrower than our driveway.  The airport was Africa again - hot - customs - wait - passports.  Alfonso came to meet us, our bags, and dive gear - his father had forty-six children - ten wives.  We drove from the airport through town - no cars - only golf carts - to the dock for a fifteen minute boat ride to another Caye and our hotel "Journey's End."

    We made it, safe, and sound, after twelve hours of airports, cars, and customs.  We reached the beach and blue water - this is why we came to Belize - to see and feel the earth and sea - before too many others had come.

February 11, 1996 - Divin'

    Could have slept until noon - got up and thought it was 9; it was 7.  We had come to dive and we were off for our first Aqua Adventure  -  it's for real.  Had a great dive - Mexico Rocks.  Steve was our dive master, and Juan ran the shop - great guys and outstanding dive.  Back for lunch and a swim - and off again to Charlie's Reef.  What a dive - unbelievable coral, scenery, and sea life.  Got back - steering broke on Steve's boat and I helped him fix it.  Negotiated a parrot from Lionel.  What hands.  A wood-carved masterpiece.  A beautiful sunset and dinner - it's great to be in Belize.

February 12, 1996 - The Blue Hole

    It's an early rise and shine for the "Blue Hole Express."  Arelle met us at 5:45 am on the dock and took us down to San Pedro.  There we met Captain Cal, Oliver, and Sylvin, the dive masters.  Change in the weather overnight - the winds picked up out of the north, which generally bring storms.  At least it wasn't raining.  A rough ride out on the high seas (three hours out and three hours back) to the Blue Hole and two other dives.

    There were thirteen people on board plus crew and it was rough enough that everyone packed into the cabin area.  It didn't take long for two women to get sick and the fun began - the rest tried to sleep.  I took the chance to stand outside and talk to Sylvin and Oliver, both recently married and loving life.  The most important thing to them was the local basketball that they played three times a week.  They love the USA stars, Jordan, Shaq, John Stockton, the Mailman, etc.  When we finally got there, I found out that we had been riding the waves on the way out, - on the way back, it would be much worse going into the waves and attacking the chop!

    The "Blue Hole," our first dive of the day, as Jacques Cousteau says, "one of the best five dives in the world."  A 1,000 foot mountain of limestone, which back in the glacier days was above the sea - and as the water came up it made a cave within this mountain ridge, several hundred miles long.  As the water ate away the limestone it finally collapsed all at once, making the perfect circle.  138 feet straight down a wall - a very deep dive - down a perfect circular shaft opening up into the giant cave - with stalagtits hanging from the ceiling up to 30 feet long - it was like swimming through a maze of dragon teeth.  Because of the depth, the dive could only last eleven minutes and that included getting down there - so it was like sex, it didn't last long enough.  We came up for our decompression stop at 15 feet for five minutes and it was over.  Divers from all over the world come here just for that eleven minute experience.  It was great but fast.

    We were to have dived at Lighthouse Reef but because of the weather and direction of winds, it was "blown out."  So, we headed to Cockroach Reef on Tureneffe Caye, and had a good dive at 60 feet on the south-end of the reef.  After our dive, we went into a beautiful light blue-green lagoon, anchored up and had lunch.  While there, Sylvin pointed out a dolphin that was playing and she stayed during most of our lunch.  We made a second dive at the north-end of Cockroach Reef and headed back home over the deep blue sea - it was rough!

    Back to San Pedro and we were shuttled home by Charlie on the "Exterminator" to Journey's End.  His boat had two Yamaha 200 outboards - he could beat anybody on the island.  Had dinner and went to bed.

February 13, 1996 - Fishin'

    We slept in until 8 am. and it felt good.  We had a fishing trip planned for the "famous flats" of Belize, looking for Bonefish, Tarpon, and Barracuda.  Juan had set us up with Sievero, our guide; he was the best.  Sixty, I'd say, and very funny in a subtle way; he was a happy man.  As we started out in his skiff sitting in two wood
Adirondack chairs, it was cloudy and windy, (at home, a cool and cloudy day is best for steelhead and salmon).  Sievero said, "Bad day for fishing - the weather couldn't be worse.  Cloudy - you can't spot the fish and it's windy from the north."  (All I'd read and heard about flat fishing is how hard it is because you don't cast until you spot the fish and then you have to hit them.)  We started our journey with a 30 minute boat ride in the patio chairs down the coastline to town.  We got to the river that splits the island and going through the backside of San Pedro, we saw the slums and the other side of Belize.  You forget how much we have, how little others have, and how most of the world lives.  It took another 15 minutes to get out to the flats through the mangroves.  Sievero showed me his fly rods and reel - nice stuff.  (Told us he'd been fishing all his life.)  As we pulled up and stopped, there was a beautiful Oriole singing in a tree, a Great Blue Heron fishing on the shore and many other birds.  It was an amazing bird world.  He cut the engine - pulled out his pole - explained how to fish for Bone, "When I spot them, I'll tell you where to cast between 10 and 2 and how far out."

    Within ten minutes, he spotted Bone.  I saw them and we had one on!  "WOW," too good to be true.  Right back at it again and within ten minutes, had a second one on and landed.  He took a picture so they would believe me at home, and then released the fish.  The weather got worse and we tried another flat at the south-end of the island but it was not fishable.  We didn't see another fish all day.  It had been a great day of fishing and we had a beautiful boat ride back home around the rest of the island.

    At "Journey's End," we had lunch, a nap, and love.  What a day.  By the time we got up it was starting to rain and we took a gamble on walking to town, about a four mile trek.  It was fun and gave us a good picture of the many lifestyles of Belize.  We started at the northern end of the island by our hotel and went by all the big homes of the rich.  On the trail, we saw the working people coming home on bikes or running.  When we got to the river, we all rode a rope-tow ferry across.  About a mile out of town, it started to rain "hard as the devil" as we finished our walk into San Pedro.  (Population:  5,000 people; about 50% native and 50% from mainland Belize, and approximately 100 Americans along with the tourists.)

    We walked through the slums and the poor side of town that we had seen earlier that morning on the boat ride.  And as we got into town, all the roads were clay dirt, hardly any cars, only golf carts (that's right, golf carts - they were the sign of the elite) - all for transportation - not golf.  We finally made it to dinner at Elvi's a great place.  Clean, nice, sand floors, and great food (lobster season closed the next day for six months), so we had our fill of lobsters and margaritas.  Later, we walked the back streets to get some fresh air and see the local arts.  It was great.  At 8:30 pm, we met Arelle for a great boat ride home in the dark night.

February 14, 1996 - Happy Valentine's Day (Tikal)

    We awoke early, got ready, and met Captain Alfredo at the dock.  Had a 15 minute boat shuttle to town (with the most incredible sunrise and a dolphin).  We met our friend, Alfonso, who took us to the airport.

    We flew from San Pedro to Belize City.  The trade winds had come back in and the sun was coming out.  At the airport again - through customs - to depart for Guatemala - transfer to another flight (mucho hang time in airports).  We took off and we were on our way to Tikal, one of the oldest and largest known Mayan ruins in the world - a Mayan city at one time inhabited by 75,000 people.

    Flying over the rain forest for a two-hour flight, the plane then banked into Flores, Guatemala, located next to a beautiful lake.  At the airport we went through customs, and then were greeted by a line of people acting like they were there to meet you for a tour.  When we finally hooked up with our guide, he had a young man by the name of Gilbert with him and a driver that was to take us to the Tikal Park Reserve.

    As we left the airport and drove up the mountain side, the first thing we saw was a military post stretching over several miles.  A giant wall with barbed wire and guards with big machine guns posted every couple hundred feet in cement lookout towers - we were trying to figure out who they were trying to keep out - the kids, the dogs, or the enemy solders?  (It was like landing in Bujumbra with guards everywhere and being stopped along the road by guys with guns.)

    On the drive, we began to talk to Gilbert - he knew a little English and Cath knew a little Spanish - we taught each other during the hour and a half trip - laughing, learning about his family, friends, fun, church, life, and he about ours.  It was the best - we had a great time together.  Also the drive through the countryside of Guatemala was another third world eye-opener and reality check.  The poverty - living conditions, the smell, it was all there.  When we got to the park, we were dropped off and had four hours to see this incredible wonder - there we met our guide, Locho.  He was a quiet but extremely knowledgeable man who had worked at the park for twenty years. You can't put into words, the feeling you absorb in a place like this - where a people who could know so much about astrology, math, architecture, politics, religion, trade, agriculture, were now gone.  (Walking through the rain forest, we saw fox, monkeys, toucans, all kinds of birds, and wildlife.)  We learned about a people, a culture, and a city, through Locho describing its past from the petroglyphs.  The courtyard, the playing field, the plaza, hiking the vertical stairs hundreds of feet, to the rulers' thrones and looking out over the most beautiful lost city - you just can't believe it.  Most importantly, you could feel the spiritual element of the day.  I can't tell you - you must read and learn about the Mayan People and Tikal.  (See attached, "El Mundo Maya" and The Tikal Ruins.")  We were running late as we hiked down through the rain forest.  We had a quick lunch and headed back to the airport.  We were lucky to have Gilbert with us on the ride back - we talked and laughed all the way back - Cath teaching him and him teaching us.  At the airport, I gave him my sunglasses (Ray Charles, Ray Ban), and bid adios to our amigo, Gilbert.  We boarded the plane, flew from Flores - Belize City - San Pedro, and walked to town.  Had a romantic dinner and laid on the dock waiting for the boat to come to take us back to "Journey's End."  The stars were out and it was a beautiful night.

    This was one of the best days we've ever had together.  Sharing another journey to another country, another time and place, learning about a people and culture as great, if not greater than ours.  THE NATIVE PEOPLE - and a chance to meet Gilbert in his country and learn from him - thank you, God, for this day.

February 15, 1996 - Another Day in Paradise

    Awoke at 6 am and did my one and only photo shoot - a Belizean sunrise and it was a beauty.  As I took shots from all over the beach, the staff came out as they were preparing breakfast.  Fritz, Susan, Rosie, and Arthur, we all took pictures of each other and rest of the staff.  We laughed.  Cath came out and we had breakfast and talked with Dave, a businessman/hustler from New Jersey, whom we met on our flight from Belize City to San Pedro, coming home from Tikal.  He was a promoter and talked about the 2,000 room hotel, casino, airport, and facilities that he and his two partners were going to build north up the beach a couple of miles.   Big talk for a hustler.

    Sievero picked us up at the dock at 8 am and we headed south to try our luck again with Bonefish and Barracuda.  As we pulled out, he asked, "Do you feel lucky today?" I said mucho lucky.  (Don't ever say that - you can hex yourself.)  He said he felt a little lucky and we took another fantastic boat ride to the southern island flats.  The moment we got there, we were into fish - we could see their fins coming out of the water as they fed on the bottom - it's called tailing.  It was so windy that my casting looked like Helen Keller with polio.  Not even close.  As soon as Sievero would spot a fish, another cloud would roll in and I would lose it.  The sky was a patchwork of clouds and when the sun was out, you could see the fish through the wind's ripples, but when cloudy - no way.  So I flailed and tied wind-knots in my line as Sievero laughed.  We had a great time.  The day grew on and all of a sudden, Sievero stopped the boat and said, "CUDA."

    We got to stalk a Barracuda about 10 lbs.  He glided in the flat as Sievero changed flies to a plug with tail.  I got two casts and missed, but on the third cast, he started coming for the fly and at the last minute spooked; a cloud came over and we lost him.  That's what makes flat fishing.  You actually get to see them and stalk them - Sievero was a master.  You can be as unlucky as you can be lucky the day before.  We fished hard until noon but after about 10 am, did not see another fish.

    We came back to the lodge and had lunch at pool side; sun-fun-read.

    At 5:30 pm, we met at the dive shop to do our first night dive ever - the Hol Chan Reserve off the south tip of Ambergris Island.  Instead of Steve taking us out, Elito, a partner at their other shop, came up.  Elito was a full Belizean - his family, all born and raised on the island of Ambergris.  He was an outstanding individual, so beautiful and kind.  He reminded me of Bridgette Cullerton, (another full bloodied Belizean) whom I met at home in Washington.  She was Assistant Superintendent of Schools for the state before she came back to Belize to head Tourism and Economic Department for her country.  Truly one of the great people I have met.

    Anyway, back to the dive.  We rode down to the dive site under a spectacular sunset, and as darkness fell, we entered the water, putting on our equipment.  Elito was very professional and had laid out a complete dive plan.  As we turned on our lights and started to descend, it was unbelievable - you could see more and felt more confident than in the daytime due to visibility.  Sea life and the action were beyond words.  As we found, 80% of life in the ocean is nocturnal and it came alive for us.  String rays, sharks, more fish and coral than imaginable, plankton of all colors, shapes, and sizes - eels, turtles, octopus, groupers, shellfish, everything.  Because it was a national reserve, there were a limited number of divers allowed - no fishing permitted, and the place was teaming with life.  It was a shallow dive of only 28 feet, so the best part was that we were able to stay down for nearly an hour.  Another world as complex and beautiful as ours exists beneath the ocean surface and we got to experience a small piece.  It's humbling, exciting, exhilarating, and spiritual.  It was the best - our first night dive ever.  Do it!

February 16, 1996 - Last Day Divin'

    For our last full day in Belize, we wanted to do what we came for - DIVE!  Up for breakfast and out on the dock at 9 am -  Ready to go, we had decided not to go to the Blue Hole again due to the weather.  The Belize Dive Center picked us up with a boat packed with thirteen other divers.  It was an extremely hot day and got up to 90 degrees - it was a scorcher already.  At the dock, another couple from "Journey's End" also got on and forgot their PADI certification cards and had to go back and get them.  Captain Raul did not have enough weights on the boat and he had to borrow some from Juan.  By the time everything was ready to go, we divers, all suited up and waiting for 30 minutes, were hot and pissed off.  From there, things went down hill.  A short ride out to M&M Caverns and we all were in the water.  This was a deep, 100 foot dive with 13 people and everything that could go wrong did - too long of a story - but many divers doing stupid things that ruined the dive.  Worst of all was we didn't even get inside the caverns due to everyone kicking up slit.  The one good thing from this trip was that we made a friend in assistant dive master Michelle.  When not diving, he was Captain of a 65' yacht from America who had been traveling the world for the last twelve years.  He was a great guy and very international.  We talked about many ports and countries he had visited and he shared a lot of stories, we became friends.  As we headed to the second dive site and we asked if they would stop at "Journey's End."  So we could depart and instead try to go for an afternoon dive with Steve and a smaller group.

    At 1 pm, we met Steve, two other couples, and went out to the Hol Chan Reserve.  The currents were strong and there were two other dive and snorkel boats there so Steve suggested we go out further to Pinnacle Reef.  What a great move.  It was our last dive of the trip and the best.  It was at 60 - 70 feet and the minute you entered the water, Groupers and a host of fish were surrounded us.  It was like being suspended and floating in time - we spread out and cruised with the current - seeing the most incredible world of sea life and beauty.  It lasted about 30 minutes and was a great way to end our journey's "aqua" experience.  As we headed back to the resort, Steve invited us to the local "football" (soccer game) in town that night where the "Journey's End" team was playing "Victoria House" in a 64-team tournament.  They had made it to the quarter finals, played six games per round and were doing well.  We planned to go have dinner at Elvi's and then go to the game.  We pooled it, read, and later rode down to town with Steve who was headed out for a night dive.  (He met us at the game afterward).  Great sunset and boat ride to town.  Good dinner, last minute shopping, and off to the game.

    It was like indoor soccer, outside - with five-man teams, and a goalie (two refs) - about the size of a basketball court with a three-foot cement wall around it and fenced.  It was truly local and great fun.  The announcer was speaking Spanish, with about 200 people in grandstands and not many other Americans.  It was a good game, 0-0 until the third period when Elito, who was on the other team, scored and then we were down by two and it was over.  We stayed and watched the second game.  Fritz, along with the team, came and sat with us in the bleachers.  It was great - nearing the end of the second game, a powerful wind started to whip up and the bleachers started to clear.  In about three minutes it started to pour rain and we were in a wild tropical storm.  Steve and Jackie (Steve's wife; they have two kids) took us to a small little bistro next to the San Pedro Sports Arena and we waited out the storm.  It finally slowed to a drizzle and a hard wind, when we decided to make a run for it - it was a wild boat ride home with no lights.  We made it alive!  That night, we were going to have a party with all the staff of the "Journey's End."  We had given Mr. Bill (General Manager) some money to buy rum and Biliken beers for the entire staff and a party - everyone was coming from the busboy, maintenance man, cooks, administration, and desk clerks - we were all going to meet in the staff compound area and party.  Due to the storm and late game, it was decided to let the staff do it the next night.  (It was going to be Carnival night.)

    Once a year, they celebrate St. Peter.  Everyone in San Pedro gets drunk and paint their entire bodies in wild colors and they have a contest for the wildest, nastiest, meanest, happiest, paint jobs.  (They throw flour on themselves after painting and dance and drink all night.  We'll have to come back next time during Carnival Week.)

    We loved the people - Steve, Juan, Bill, Jackie, Rosie, Susan, Fred, Fritz, Celsa, Elito, Johnnie, Alfonso, Alfredo, Carolina, Sievero, Gilbert - they were the best part of the trip.

February 17, 1996 - "Road Home"

    We had breakfast, said goodbye to everyone and thanked them.  Our boat left at 11 am.  We flew out of Belize safe and sound - one more trip half-way around the world and we made it out alive.  We loved, the people; the sun; the diving; the ruins, and being together again - it was good for both of us and our lives.  It was a great education and learning experience - we'll have to do it again - soon!

                            Adios Amigo


One of the most intriguing aspects of Belize to the visitor is the abundant archaeological legacy of the Maya.  Even today, some 1,700 years after it is believed to have reached its peak, Maya culture is a very rich and impressive lode.  Although pieces are filling in, the puzzle of Maya civilization is far from complete, and much of what is known is mere conjecture based upon fragmentary evidence.  As the guessing game continues, perceptions change and mistakes are rectified.  The Maya World, its history and culture included, has been cemented together in perpetuity with the European conquerors and colonists whose initial disdain for the Maya turned to wonder as they discovered and explored the ruins.  Eventually, they came to regret their initial haste to destroy and denigrate.


GEOGRAPHY:  The Maya inhabited some 125,000-225,000 square miles, encompassing the present day boundaries of El Salvador, W. Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas to the west, as well as the entire Yucatán Peninsula.  While firm geographical boundaries exist to the north and east, boundaries are more difficult to fix in the southeast and southwest, where they correspond only to zones of cultural transition between Maya and non-Maya.  The area has traditionally been subdivided into the lowlands in the north and the highlands in the south.  With the exception of Copán, which is located in the eastern portion of the northern highlands, the most famous Maya sites are in the northern lowlands.  Maya culture, in turn, is part of Mesoamerica, a larger cultural area extending from northern Mexico as far south as Costa Rica.  The Maya both were influenced by and influenced neighboring cultures, such as the Olmec of the Gulf coastal plain, the Zapotec and Mixtec of Oaxaca (west of the Isthmus of Tehuan-tepec), as well as lesser known societies to the southeast.  The borders of the cradle of Maya civilization are delineated by the presence of the sapodilla.  This tropical evergreen, famous in the modern era through its sap, which has been used to produce chewing gum, was employed by the Maya for supporting beams and wooden panels.  In addition, the sap was used to make the ball for traditional ball games.  Mixed with a second regional resin, the tree's sap also supplied a highly prized incense used in Maya religious ceremonies.

HISTORY:  Although it is not known what the people actually called themselves, the term "Maya" was applied to the entire civilization.  Recent findings indicate that the Maya may have inhabited Belize from as early as 9000 BC, but it is thought that the civilization's influences extend back to the Olmec civilization which flourished on the nearby Gulf of Mexico from 12000-300 BC.  The Olmecs were renowned for their carving skill, as well as their calendar and system of hieroglyphics.  Maya history is customarily divided into three periods: Preclassic or Formative (2500 BC-AD 250), Classic or "Golden Age" (AD 250-900), and Postclassic (AD 900-1540).  The Preclassic is further subdivided into Early Preclassic (2500-1000 BC), Middle Preclassic (1000-300 BC), Late Preclassic (300 BC-AD 50) and Protoclassic (AD 50-250).

SOCIETAL DECLINE:  No one knows what caused the Maya society to decline.  One scenario is that of ecological collapse, brought on by population pressures which had caused over-exploitation of the environment.  A series of theories hold that the society collapsed because of clashes and fissures within the social structure Maya expert J. Eric Thompson reasoned that a combination of factors - such as natural disaster and agricultural problems - could have led to disillusionment with the elite, which was followed by a peasant revolt.  Others believe that a civil war between population centers led to the civilization's demise, or that the Maya lowlands were invaded from abroad.  Yet another theory holds that environmental pressures caused the civilization to splinter and decline.  The rainforest may have been overexploited, there appear to have been water shortages, and the area may have been overpopulated.  A final and perhaps the most intriguing theory is that the Maya prognosticated themselves out of existence.  Prophecies may have foretold changes at the end of a katun (one of the cycles on their calendar) which the fatalistic Maya then brought to fruition, thus bringing about their own downfall.  A further refinement of this theory is that the Mayan astronomer-priests may have ordained it.  In the 10th C. it was announced that the fourth or present world was about to end, giving way to a fifth world without men.  This may have brought on an artificial "judgment day," destroying the civilization in the process.

MINGLING:  The story of the ancient Maya definitively concludes with the era of Spanish Conquest, when destruction and mayhem dealt a devastating blow to local culture.  Columbus encountered a canoe full of Maya traders in 1502 while exploring the Bay islands off Honduras, and their decline began then and there.  In addition to deaths by war and famine, introduced disease such as malaria and smallpox took their toll.  Ritual and belief were crushed by the repressive church, and the written script disappeared.  Traditional crafts such as sculpture, feather work, lapidary work, painting, and metallurgy were extirpated.  The economic system was transformed as well.  The best lands were taken over for plantation crops such as coffee and sugarcane, which soon replaced traditional staples, and iron and steel replaced flint and obsidian.  Still, a certain amount of ideology and the spoken language survived the transition into this "new world order."  For example, the Christian cross was already used by the Maya as their symbol for the "tree of life," the ceiba tree supporting the heavens.  So the cross gained ready acceptance when the friars explained that it was the sign of God, who had died on the Tree of Good and Evil and now resides in heaven.  In addition, the Maya already practiced baptism in water fasting, confirmation, as well as sexual abstinence before rituals, and they already were accustomed to dressing their idols and bathing them in incense.

THE MAYA TODAY:  As the Chiapas revolt in December 1993 made clear, today's Maya are second class citizens in an area they once controlled.  Condescended to and persecuted, Maya live in Guatemala and Mexico.  Human rights violations are numerous.  Some 140,000 Guatemalans (largely indigenous) have been killed during the three decades of Guatemala's civil war, and government troops have been known to burn entire villages.  In Mexico, eleven Maya were tortured following their arrest in a land dispute in 1990, and a few years ago some 1000 Maya were beaten and locked up for 30 hours without medical attention or food.  Today, in Chiapas, only around half the population can read (compared with literacy rates of 88% for all Mexico), 70% lack access to potable water, and infant mortality is 500 for 1,000 live births - 10 times the national average.


MAYA CULTURE AND TECHNOLOGY:  One major cultural quality was an obsession with the passage of time.  Although, the Maya did not measure time in smaller increments than European cultures they invented a sun calendar more accurate than the Gregorian calendar used today, recorded the rotation of Venus, and predicted eclipses of the sun and moon.  Conceiving the notion of zero, they were able to calculate numbers to over a million and in their vigesimal (base 20) numeration system, a system of dots and bars represented numbers from zero to 19.  Symbolized as a shell, the Maya zero didn't appear in Europe until the 12th C., and the bar-and-dot notation was superior for mathematical calculations, as compared with the more awkward system of Roman numerals employed in Europe at the same time.  The Maya counted by twenties, four hundreds, and eight thousands, and their words for numbers reflect this system of enumeration.  Indeed, they were so mathematically focused that little is known about Maya society itself, because most of the glyphs translated thus far relate to calculations of time and astronomical events.  In some ways they were far ahead of their time.  Modern astronomy has determined that the solar year has 365.2422 days.  The Maya calendar has 365.2425 days!  One of at least five calendars, the Haab has 18 20-day months (uinals) which make 360 days, leaving 5-5 1/2 wayeb or unlucky days left over.  The other two calendars are a mysterious one of 260 days - which is interlined with the other - and the "long count," an extension of the Haab, leading back to a mystical date of 3113 BC.  The other two calendars were lunar and Venusian.  Their society is believed to have been ruled by a hereditary theocracy.  They knew how to build roads and make mortar.  They also developed the corbel vault as an arch.  Still, despite these advances, they used only the most primitive of agricultural methods, never discovered the wheel, and fashioned Neolithic style tools from polish stone.

WRITING:  Maya writing is built on glyphs generally grouped into glyph groups, which are predominately squared or oval in shape.  There are about 800 glyphs known, and they are usually referred to by their catalog numbers or by nicknames such as "upended frog."  Maya centers each have their own emblem glyphs which are unique to the site concerned and only found at another when the inscription refers to contact with that center.  The writing system is generally agreed to be logosyllabic - a combination of pictographic and ideographic scripts - and is thought to have become more and more phonetic over time.

AGRICULTURE:  One of the oldest forms of cultivation was swiden agriculture (more popularly known as slash-and-burn), in which fields were burned and planted with crops ranging from beans, maize, chilies, and squash to manioc and sweet potatoes.  After the land is cultivated for several years, it must lie fallow and new tracts have to be cleared.  Fertilized by garbage, the household garden provided produce.  As any visitor to a contemporary Maya community will soon realize, these practices are still in use today.  Methods no longer or rarely found in use today include raised fields and agricultural terracing.  Raised fields allowed high-yield use of poorly drained or swampy tracts.  With crops raised on interesting or parallel ridges of fertile, well-drained soil built up from the surrounding swamp, the low areas between fields provided rich soil as well as drainage.  If underwater, fields may have been used to raise fish and other marine life. Many of the raised fields of northern Belize are thought to have been planted with both maize and cacao.  Used for ceremonial or burial offerings, maize formed an important decorative and symbolic motif in Maya art and was regarded as the gods' greatest gift to mankind.  It was (and still is) planted with a digging stick, which makes a hole into which a seed is dropped.  The Maya venerated a maize god and the plant itself, considered an attribute of the earth god.  Today's Maya continue to address the plant as "your grace."  Another important crop was cacao which - when roasted, ground, and mixed with maize an water - formed the favorite drink.  Prized as an article of trade, cacao also served as a currency.

SEASIDE SETTLEMENTS:  Although thoughts of the Maya world bring to mind images of ruined temples in the jungles, settlements which were on the shore played an important role in the economic structure because of their access to the sea's wealth.  In addition to marine life - such as shellfish, fish, manatees, seals, and birds - which provided food, shells were used in tool making and jewelry.  Stingray spines and shark teeth had their own ritual uses.  The coastal Maya began harvesting salt, an important export, some 2,300 years ago.  In addition to its nutritional value, salt was used to preserve meat and fish, for barter, and in a number of ritual and medical procedures.  Basalt, jade (jadeite), obsidian, and other resources from the interior were traded for salt, cacao, cotton, feathers, jaguar pelts, and spices.  Maya would travel the coasts in large dugouts, which could hold 40-50 people.  They settled Cozumel and Belize cayes such, as Wild Cane, at least 2,000 years ago and are thought to have ventured as far as the Turneffes, 18 miles from the coast.  Important Belizean settlements include Cerros (near Sarteneja) and Marco Gonzales (on Ambergris Caye).


COSMOLOGY:  For the Maya, the supernatural permeated every aspect of society regulating all aspects of daily life up to and including trade and competition.  The treath of supernatural retribution kept people in line.  Shamans evolved into a priestly class, transforming the society into a theocracy in which priests were rulers and rulers were priests.  The world was governed by a cosmological order transcending the distinction between natural and supernatural realism.  All objects, animate or inanimate, were infused with an invisible force.  Such a power was formless where spirits occupied rocks, trees, or other objects.  But in other cases the power was embodied in a zoomorphic or anthropomorphic deity.  The universe was viewed as an ordered place in its natural state, and the sun, moon, planets, and stars - each thought to be animate - marked the passage of time.  The kin, the basic unit of time, is the time it took the sun to rise from the underworld, pass across the sky, and be swallowed by the underworld at sunset.

RITUALS:  During the Classic era, the elite practiced ritual blood-letting.  Penis piercing and the passing of a cord through the tongue are shown on Maya painted vases, and the ceremonial blood-letting instrument used to cut the penis is also widely depicted.  The two types of blood-letting were self-imposed bleeding, and the blood-letting or sacrifice of a captive.  Blood was offered to express piety and call the gods.  It is thought that the intense pain brought on hallucinatory visions, which have been represented on stelae by a serpent monster rising out of a plate holding blood-soaked ritual tools.  Such tools include a rope with thorns that was pulled through the tongue and pieces of paper used to catch blood from penile or ear incisions.  It is well known that endorphins, chemicals related to opiates and produced by the brain in response to massive blood loss, can induce hallucinations.  Adding to the effect was the use of balche, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey combined with the balche tree bark, and of wild tobacco leaves - much more potent than today's anemic varieties.  When these were smoked in gigantic spliffs, they induced a trance-like stupor.  Miniature stone figures of mushrooms have also been found, pointing to their ritual use as hallucinogens, and depictions of enemas appear on glazed pots.  Blood-letting is considered to have been fundamental to the institution of rulership.  The main occasions for blood-letting and sacrifice were ceremonial ones that dealt with the mythology of world order; marriage, the dedication of buildings, planting of crops, birth of children, and burials.  Because of its ritual importance, the lancet itself was ordained as a sacred object.  Many were ornately carved, but stingray spines were employed as well.

DEITIES AND MYTHS:  Creator of the universe as well as god of harvest, sun, earth, and rain, Itzamna is the principal Maya deity.  Ix Chel is the goddess of the moon, and Kinich Ahau is the lord of the sun.  Gods of rain, the Chacs, enjoy continued popularity with today's Maya.  The jaguar god of the underworld can be identified by his jaguar ear, a tau (shaped like the Greek letter T) tooth, a cruller (ring-shaped cake) in his forehead, and gathered hair.  All told, there may have been thousands of other deities.  Ritual acts and their details were governed by the calendar.

HUMAN SACRIFICE:  One of several techniques, the most popular method, according to an account by Bishop Landa, was to pull out the victim's heart.  Stripped, painted blue, and wearing a peaked headdress, the victim was grabbed by four chacs (priests), also painted blue.  Then the nacom (executioner priest) plunged a flint knife into the victim's ribs just below the left breast.  Pulling out the still-beating heart, he handed it to the chilan officiating priest, who smeared its blood on the idol.  If the victim had been executed atop a pyramid, the chacs threw the corpse down to the base, where low-ranking priests skinned it, putting the hands and feet aside.  After removing his ceremonial zoot suit, the chilan donned the victim's skin and danced solemnly.  If the unfortunate one had been a soldier, his body was sometimes eaten, and his hands and feet were reserved for the chilan.  Another method of sacrifice was to shoot at the heart with a bow and arrow.  Other methods included disembowelment (as portrayed at Tikal) and throwing victims into the Cenote of Sacrifice at Chichen Itza.

THE BALL PARK:  One of the features you'll notice at many Maya sites is the ball park.  A combination of modern volleyball, basketball, jai alai, and soccer, the game was played by two competing teams, of two to 11 members.  Weighing an average of about five lbs., the rubber ball could be hit with all body parts, save hands, feet, or calves, and it could be bounced against the court's side wall.  Players scored by forcing the ball into the opposing team's end zone or by striking the side markers.  Protective clothing fashioned from leather or wicker shielded them from impact.


VISITING MAYA RUINS:  Unlike Mexico and Guatemala - where manicured Maya ruins have been rebuilt as the archeologists believe they may have once been rather than necessarily as they actually were - the Belizean ruins have been left intact much as they were found.  If something's been broken or fallen over, it's left that way.  This has its attractions: the ruins have an aura of authenticity, and the lack of gawking crowds makes it easier to lose yourself in the magic of these places.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL HISTORY:  The presence of these ghost cities amidst the hot and humid and nearly impenetrable jungle has long balled archaeologists.  The first explorers deemed it preposterous that the impoverished peasantry residing near the ruins might have any connection with these sophisticated structures.  Thus, they invented a mythic race of "Noble Maya," believed to have been descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, Greeks, Phoenicians, Vikings, Egyptians, or residents of Atlantis.  Published in 1822 in London, the first book about the Maya, Description of the Ruins of an Ancient City, was a 1787 report by a Spanish army officer, Captain Antonio del Rio, who, visiting the large site of Palenque, had taken down all of the partitions and cleared blocked windows and doors.  He maintained that the Romans - or perhaps the Phoenicians or Greeks - had arrived and taught the Indians their construction techniques.  American John Lloyd Stephens and his English companion, artist Frederick Catherwood, rediscovered Copán in 1839 and purchased the site from a local farm for US$50.  After visiting Palenque to the north a few months later, Stephens hypothesized that the two centers belonged to the same culture.  Together they visited over 40 sites.  Published in 1841, Stephen's Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan caused quite a stir in its time.

In the 1860s an old manuscript, Account of Things in the Yuatan by one Father de Landa, was unearthed in the Royal Library of Madrid.  As the first Catholic Bishop of Mérida, the Spanish capital in the Yucatán, Landa had torched irreplaceable sacred painted Maya texts.  Ironically, his account - which contained drawings of glyphs used by 16th C. Maya - still stands as one of the basic informational sources relating to the early Maya.  The manuscript was found by French Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg, who also discovered a portion of one of the extant pre-Conquest Maya codices.  Succumbing to the delusions of the day, Abbe Brasseur came to believe that the civilizations of the Old World and Egypt stemmed from the New World to which they had been brought by colonists from Atlantis.  University research boomed during the last two decades of the 19th C.  the foremost scholar of the time was Englishman Alfred Maudslay who spent 13 years studying ruins, producing five volumes in the process.  At the same time, Austrian-born naturalized American, Teobert Maler, had arrived in Mexico in 1864 as an Austrian army officer serving with Emperor Maximilian.  He carried out work for Harvard's Peabody Museum for two solitary but extremely productive decades.  During the same time frame, P.T. Barnum presented to Queen Victoria a pair of microcephalic dwarfs claimed to be the last degenerate descendants of a caste of high priests found in a lost Maya city.  At the end of the 19th century, a major break though came with Dresden librarian Ernst Forstemann's deciphering of the Maya calendar, which permitted scholars to read the calendrical inscriptions.  In this century, archaeological excavations have increased the amount of knowledge available, but many secrets remain under the cover of the jungle.  During the 1950s, the most prominent archaeologists were Sylvanus Morley and J. Eric Thompson.  Many of their suppositions are known to be incorrect today.  For example, they maintained that the Maya were a peaceful people, that inscriptions never dealt with historical events, and that Maya city centers were used only for ceremony and never for residence.  Undoubtedly, some of today's "truths" will be found to be fallacies as well.  Today, there are a number of archaeologists operating in Belize, and new discoveries are constantly emerging.  In addition to the looters and the rainy season, a lack of funding hinders archaeologist.  Accordingly, many sites in Belize remain unexplored, and excavations are going forward at a slow pace.   

LAYOUT:  Most Maya settlements contain a main plaza surrounded by several lesser plazas, each surrounded by temples atop mounds of pyramids and neighboring lesser structures such as sweat baths, ball courts, and palaces.  It is believed that the temples were inhabited by priests and nobles, while the plebes lived in surrounding huts.  No doubt Maya priests spent many an evening atop a pyramid, conceived as a "link between the earth and the sky," charting the course of the sun, moon, and stars.  Typically found in the vicinity of the temple and facing an altar, the stelae is a sculptured stone monument, usually an upright monolith.  Bearing glyphs and emblem-glyphs, it generally records the lives of a ruler.  Stelae were erected at the end of every katun, a 20-year interval.  At times, Mayas demolished their monuments, building new structures on top of the old.  According to Maya beliefs, every building has its life span.  Once calculated to have reached its end, the building had to be partially destroyed and then rebuilt, a practice which has given many an archaeologist attempting to date a site any number of grey hairs.  Offerings (obsidian chips; flint pieces shaped like tridents, half moons, and discs; seal shells; jade fragments; and pearls) were set out under the base of stelae, in temple foundations, and inside buildings under construction.  Human remains have been found in the foundations of demolished buildings ready for reconstruction, leading to the supposition that the structures were destroyed upon their deaths.  The sacbe ("white way") - remnants of long roads found at the sites - must have been used for ceremonial processions.  Constructed on the base of large, roughly-shaped stones and topped with gravel or limestone chips, the roadways were pressed by large and heavy stone rollers.  Another notable feature of the sites is that there are no defense systems - one the reasons that Maya were initially supposed to have been a peaceful people.

CONSTRUCTION TECHNIQUES:  Amazingly, these cities were constructed without the use of the wheel!  Carried on the backs of humans, rubble was dumped and faced with limestone blocks joined together using lime mortar.  The landscape was sculptured to suit the builders' needs: hilltops were leveled and, in areas lacking a steady water supply, plazas were cleverly sloped to secure runoff to their reservoirs.  The most important structural element is the corbel arch.  Also known as the false arch, the corbel is made by building up layers of stone on the side of the room: each layer protrudes further inward until they can be joined at the top with a single stone.  Since these arches can support only a short wall, rooms are claustrophobic.  The structure contained two or three narrow, dark chambers - each 60 square feet in area.  As their function was to support the temple, Maya pyramids were always flat-topped.  The temple was decorated with "roof comb," a masonry backdrop for front-facing mosaic or stucco decorative elements.  Most of these gables rise above the midline of a building, but others are supported by the front wall, lending a "flying facade" effect to the building.  The best of these are found at Tikal.


The most spectacular of the 102 Maya sites found in the Petén, and one of the oldest Maya sites, Tikal ("Place of the Voices") rises from the Petén jungles.  Set some 40 miles from Flores and surrounded by 230-square-mile Tikal National park, the ruins are dominated by five steep-sided granite pyramids that rise 120 feet from the ground.  So astounding are the ruins to the eye that Director George Lucas used Tikal to represent the hidden rebel base on the fourth moon of the Planet Yavin in the classic film, Star Wars.  Originally, the city was stuccoed, and plastered red-painted temples with blue trim rose from the white plazas.  Today, as there is little ornamentation and the stelae have been almost completely eroded, the imposing size and quantity of the structures is what impresses.  Amazing as it may seem to the sore-footed visitor, only a small part of Tikal can be visited: over 3,000 structures and 200 monuments still lie under the forest.  Still, stripped of their gaudy grandeur of yore, the temples have little of the ornate carving that makes Quiriguá and Copán so awesome.  For some, the best part may be hunting for howler monkeys in the jungle or watching the parrots, toucans, or other birds.  Crenellated turkeys stroll the lawn in front of the café near the museum.

GETTING THERE:  The Tikal bus leaves at 7 from the front of the Hotel San Juan in Flores.  Unfortunately, the bus company consistently overcharges foreigners - about US $2 instead of US $1.  Pay only the correct fare, which will be reluctantly accepted if you insist.  Slightly faster minibuses are available for about US 3.50 each way.  Taxis may also be chartered from the town or the airport.  A paved, fairly smooth road from El Cruce, the crossroads, leads up past Laguna Petén Itza to the park entrance, where you are ordered out of the bus with the gruff pronouncement that foreigners must pay 30 quetzles (around  US $6) to enter.  Guatemalans pay US $2, but they generally remain on the bus.  A final way to reach Tikal is to charter a minibus from the border (bargain hard!).  You can also take the Flores bus and get off at El Cruce, but you risk getting stuck.  Realistically, if you have the time, Tikal should be more than a day trip, and you should be prepared.
Tours:  Many of the lodges in the Cayo District and elsewhere offer package tours. By air:  While there is no airport at Tikal itself, many visitors first fly to Flores and then travel from there.  Tropic Air (02-45671, 026-2012, 800-442-3425) runs an excellent day tour for US $200; this rate includes ground transport, guided tour, and lunch, but does not include departures taxes (add around US $20).  The flight alone costs US $58 OW and US 116 RT.

PREPARATIONS:  Be sure to wear good shoes, be prepared for rain, and take something along to eat and drink.  As there is no water on site (only expensive soft drinks) and the lodges are reluctant to give you water (even with your lunch!), it's better to bring along a good supply.  Bottled water is pricey but available from hotels.  Bring a good supply of quetzals.  You may have difficulty in changing a traveler's check here unless it's being used in payment for a hotel room.

HISTORY:  Tikal's historical roots are fuzzy, to say the least.  Its beginnings have been placed at 750 BC, during the middle Preclassic Era (ca. 1000-300 BC).  Although inscriptions and burial paraphernalia provide information only after 300 AD, it is believed that Tikal's rulers migrated from the area of Kaminaljuyu some 2,000 years ago.  The names of a number of rulers (including Curl Nose, Story Sky, and Ah Cacaw, and Chitam) have been identified with certainty.  Others are more speculative, and there are undoubtedly a number who have not been identified.  In any case, the names of the rulers are based on the shapes of their glyphs, as their actual names are not known.  For example, Curl Nose has a curly nose, and Chitam is named after the Maya word for peccary because that animal appears on his glyph.  These rulers were believed to be living gods, and their forefathers were venerated as gods in turn.  It is believed that this essentially feudalistic society operated from the Central Acropolis - specifically from Group G, and the Palace of the Windows.  Jaguar Paw, the first ruler, was followed by Curl Nose and then Stormy Sky.  From the period between the death of Story Sky in AD 457 to the accession of Ah Cacaw in AD 682, little is certain. A Cacaw ushered in the Golden Age of Tikal which was continued by his son, Ruler B (Half-darkened sun) and grandson, Chitam.  During this period most of the great pyramids were constructed.  It is believed that the city of Tikal declined around 900 AD.  After that all goes dark until Tikal was rediscovered in 1848 by a government expedition under Modesto Mendez and Ambrosio Tut.  Later in the 19th century, an expedition led by Gustave Bernoulli removed some of the lintels from Temples I and IV to Basel.  Visiting in 1881 and 1882, Alfred Amundslay was the first to photograph the site.  Work continued by Teobert Maler in 1885 and 1904 on behalf of Harvard University's Peabody Museum.  Next to visit were Sylvanus Morley, who studied the hieroglyphic texts, and then Edwin Shook of the Carnegie Institution, who discovered Group H and the Maler and Maudslay Causeways.  In 1951, the Guatemalan military cleared an airstrip, making the area truly accessible for the first time.  The Tikal Project, initiated by the University of Pennsylvania's University Museum in 1956, has been continued since 1970 under the auspices of the Guatemalan government.

ORIENTATION:  Entering the area you will pass the hotels and the museum on the way to the entrance.  There are a number of places to eat, and there's a large market behind the museum.  The museum has a lot of weathered stelae with descriptions of them on the wall.  It also displays photographs and has a number of rubbings on rice paper, metates (grinding stones for corn), jewelry, and stone tools.  It's easy to spot a crenellated turkey strolling the grounds.

The ruins begin at the end of a path that cuts to the left of the Jungle Lodge.  At the entrance to the ruins, you present you admission ticket (good for that day only) and enter the grounds.  Be sure to note the large ceiba tree on the right, just before the guard house.  Enclosed on the east by Temple I (the Temple of the Giant Jaguar) and on the west by Temple II (The Temple of the Masks), the Great Plaza is the center of the present-day site.  To its west is Temple III (the Temple of the Jaguar Priest) and still further west is enormous Temple IV; the unexcavated Temple V lies to the south of the Great Plaza, and to the southeast - all by itself - is Temple VI (the Temple of the Inscriptions).  From the top of the stairway flanking the plaza's southern side, the stelae and Northern Acropolis are in front, Temple I is to the east and Temple II is to the west.  Most of these restored structures date from the late Classic Period (AD 700-800).

EXPLORING THE RUINS:  While in Tikal try to imagine the city as it was a thousand years ago.  See it in the morning before 10, when the fog sometimes makes the landscape resemble an East Asian painting, or savor the damp, faintly tart odor of the forest after an afternoon rainfall.  Be sure to bring food with you and plenty to drink; vendors do sell pricey soft drinks at scattered intervals, but they don't bring them to the top of pyramids.  It's worth bringing a compass, as the routes are largely unmarked.  Keep an eye out for wildlife (best seen early in the morning and in later afternoon), as well as for the lowly leafcutter ants.

Routes:  The best way to enter is to pass by Complex Q and R, and then either take the Maler Causeway around past Group H and down to Temple IV, or cut straight across and down to Temple IV.  From Temple IV you can visit the Plaza of the Lost World, Temple III, the South Acropolis, the Great Plaza, the North Acropolis, and the Central Acropolis.  From the Central Acropolis, it's a pleasant walk southeast to the Temple of Inscriptions.  Visitors with less time may want to visit the Great Plaza first and then visit other locations as time permits.

TWIN-PYRAMID COMPLEXES Q AND R:  The first major structures you come to heading into the park are these which were built to mark the beginning of a katun, a two-year period.  These two complexes, part of a total of nine found at Tikal so far, were probably used in conjunction with large public functions relating to cosmic order and the passage of historical time.

TEMPLE IV:  Measuring some 212 feet to the top of its roof comb, this magnificent structure incorporated some 250,000 cubic yards of rubble in its construction.  Built by the order of Ruler B, the temple is thought to have been finished somewhere around AD 740.  Its six lintels have now become naturalized Swiss citizens and reside in Basel.  Climbing to the top of this temple is a true adventure: you grab hold of a couple of branches and head up wooden ladders.  From the first level - which affords an amazing view - you must head around the corner and climb a steel ladder up to the uppermost platform.

LOST WORLD PYRAMID:  To get here follow a path leading south from Temple IV on the west side of the Palace of the Windows.  Built before AD 300 and stripped and stabilized in the 1980s, this Late Preclassic 100-foot-high truncated pyramid once had four stairways flanked by masks.  Unlike many other temples, it was not created as an ancestor memorial but functioned as part of a calendar ceremony complex.  Just north of the Lost World Pyramid, the unfortunate Temple 5C-49 or Lost World Pyramid Plaza was being stripped of trees and readied for reconstruction in 1979 -80, when it collapsed after a series of heavy rainstorms.

TEMPLE III:  Unrestored, this temple is known as the Temple of the Jaguar Priest after the lintel which depicts an unknown personage thought to be either a pregnant woman, the leader Chitam, or his brother.  It may have been the last temple built.  Right in front of the temple, Stela 24 and Altar 7 are also believed to be some of the last of their built.  The altar depicts a woven mat (a symbol of authority) flanking each side of a deity head, depicting the God of the Eccentric Flint which rests in a bowl.  Extending out from the bowl are strips of paper used in the blood-letting ceremony.  Entering the temple, you will see a passage going off to the side.  Using a flashlight, you can follow the passage to see the Preclassic area inside.

THE GREAT PLAZA:  Although today this is the most impressive part of restored Tikal, it was not the City's center.  That lies to the east in the unexcavated E Plaza at the intersection of the Mendez and Maler Causeways.  Instead, it appears to have been an elite ceremonial area erected on behalf of the ruling nobility.  In its center are Temples I and II with the North Acropolis in the center background.  To the south, the Central Acropolis, a huge palace complex, housed the elite and held their offices.  Temple I (The Temple of the Giant Jaguar) was built around AD700 by Ah Cacaw, as was Temple II which it faces.  Temple I displays Ah Cacaw at its top; he was once painted a vividly contrasting red and cream.

The best known silhouette of any Pre-Columbian monument, the Jaguar Temple is a symbol of the Guatemalan nation  Its nine terraces have horizontal grooves on their portions, along with inset or recessed corners - architectural techniques used to create a shadowy chiaroscuro effect extending vertically and horizontally, thus enhancing the visual impact of the 145-foot pyramid.  The steep climb up is well worth it.  From its top, the Northern Acropolis is to the right, Temple II is across the plaza to the west, the Central Acropolis is visible to the left, and the Great Plaza's 70 stelae and altars, spread out across an area the size of two football fields, lie below.  Underneath the pyramid, a vaulted grave chamber (now reconstructed in the site's museum) held Ah Cacaw's remains, along with a roof comb featuring a massive face with earplugs on each side, Temple II (The Temple of the Masks) takes its name from the two enormous masks set on each side of the third terrace's stairway.  They flank a platform thought to have been used as a reviewing stand.

Lying between Temple I and the Central Acropolis Palace, the great Plaza's Ball Court was built during the Late Classic era.  Only partially excavated and stabilized, it is similar to others found in the Petén.  Originally comprising some 42 structures, extending 700 feet east to wet, and covering some four acres, the Central Acropolis or Palace Group, was built over a 500-year period.  While the buildings facing the Great Plaza appear to have been used for administrative functions, the layout and construction of the rest make the term "palace" appropriate, and the most palace-like structure of all is the Great Eastern Court Palace or Court 6, 5D-46.  Dating from 200 AD, the Northern Acropolis is a group of funerary structures built to honor the ancestors of the elite.  They have been rebuilt time and time again.  In total, it contains as many as 100 structures and Jaguar Paw, Curl Nose, and Stormy Sky were buried here.  Once partially painted a garish red, it was an impressive as any other monumental structure anywhere before 700AD.

THE EAST PLAZA:  Just to the north of the Central Acropolis and to the rear of Temple I lies the East Plaza, which features a large rectangular conglomeration of buildings (Structures 5E-32) to 5E -36).  This plaza functioned as a central market area.  It's well worth our time to explore this area.  At the entrance to the"Maler Palace" as the building facing the plaza is known, you can distinguish three masks - one over each entrance.  Maya graffiti (a carved sketch of a head) can be seen inside, and archaeologist Maler's signature can be seen on the side of a doorway.  Structure 33 here provides the chance to view a wide variety of different layers and see how the structures have been built on top of one another.  Note the false arch you can see here.  The pigeon holes here serve unknown purposes.  Just to the west is a ball court.   You can view the remains of the reservoir - now lined with lush vegetation - to the rear.

TEMPLE VI (THE TEMPLE OF THE INSCRIPTIONS):  Thought to have been completed around 736 AD and later renovated, this temple is at the end of a path heading off to the right from the path leading from the Great Plaza back towards the entrance.  The temple's glyphs, found on the east side of the roof comb, record a series of dynastic successions which began in Olmec times.  Many of the rulers are probably mythic.  Stela 21 here is believed to represent Ruler B; the drops falling from his hand are thought to depict blood flowing from his incised penis.  As the stela is not colored, it is impossible to ascertain if the blood is blue or not.