By , August 24, 2011 11:43 am

Ashley and I have been living in a hotel room on the 4th floor of the San Francisco Hotel in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala for the last 3 weeks. San Pedro is located on the beautiful Lake Atitlan, which I believe to be the caldera of an ancient volcano. To illustrate the beauty of this place, I wanted to share a few photos I took from our balcony. For those that are Interested, I tried out a few new photographic techniques: the first two are stitched panoramas, and the next three are HDR images.

One last thing, all our photos are for sale, if you see something you would like to hang on your wall anywhere on this site, please use the contact us form and we’ll work out the pricing.






And finally,

Images of our balcony and our hotel room.  It’s just larger than our bed, but has a private (hot) shower!


By , August 21, 2011 5:52 pm

Despite the fact that we left Mexico a little “ruined out” (6 different ruin sites in only two weeks will do that to a person)  we couldn’t pass by Flores without a day trip to the Mayan ruins of Tikal.

Tikal Ruins

We booked a 4 hour English tour (the tour actually lasted 5 hours) from one of the many tour companies in Flores for 110 Q per person plus an additional 15 Q for an open return time.  It included door-to-door transport from our hotel to Tikal and back.  It did not include the entrance fee to Tikal which was a hefty 150 Q per person.  At this time, $1 CAD = 8 Q

Tikal turned out to be well worth the expense, especially the tour guide.  We thought we were going on a sunrise tour, since we were picked up at our hotel at 4:45 am, but by the time we arrived at the gates it was already 6:00 am and the sun was well up.  Our tour group was large (somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30 people), but we weren’t disappointed when it came to animal sightings.

Our guide expertly dug a tarantula out of it’s ground nest and beckoned for me to come over for this lovely photo op:

When your tour guide is holding a tarantula, points at you, and says “come here and open your mouth,” you know what’s coming…

When we heard the distinctive howls of some howler monkeys, he tracked them down with his own calls.  Mike managed to record the actual monkey’s cries:

Howler Monkey

He also spotted spider monkeys, coatimundis, a grey fox, and an emerald toucan, among numerous other flora and fauna.  As much as Mike and I try to be aware of our surroundings, we would have missed out on most of this if it weren’t for our fabulous guide, Luis.

Spider Monkeys

The ruins themselves are worth a mention.  It rained for most of the morning (it is in a rainforest, after all) and the cloudy, misty surroundings were a nice backdrop to see the ruins.

According to Luis, our experience would not be complete without capturing this jumping picture… I think he was right

Luis asked for the guards permission to climb a few of the structures that were off limits to visitors, so I think we got to see a little more of Tikal than the average person (then again, maybe every tour guide tells their group that).

Mike passing over the “Do Not Pass” barricade

One of the steep temples we climbed

By , August 17, 2011 12:26 pm

Flores is known as the town of painted doors (maybe just to us?) and is located on an island that was supposedly once occupied by the Itzas after they abandoned Chichen Itza. Today, there is absolutely no sign that the island was ever occupied by the Itzas. Instead, the place is filled with expensive hotels, restaurants, and travel agencies.

Mike and the Green Door

Mike dressed like a door. Sorry for the animation, scroll down and it'll go away

Getting There

To get to Flores, we booked a tour from Palenque Mexico which included a bus ride to the river that serves as the natural border between Mexico and Guatemala, a boat ride up the river (in the most unstable boat I’ve ever been in), and a bus ride from the Guatemalan side of the river directly to Flores. I suppose it’s possible to book all this transit individually, but going through the tour agency sure saved a lot of hassle, and wasn’t really that expensive.

A very long and narrow boat

What Is There To Do?

There’s not much going on in Flores itself. The town was built for the express purpose of shuttling tourists out to the Tikal Ruins. We’ll write more about Tikal in an upcoming post.

You can swim in the lake, but be warned the water is warm… bordering on hot. We jumped in one afternoon trying to escape the heat and were somewhat disappointed. On a cool overcast day, it would be awesome though.

Ye Old Swimming Hole

There are boat shuttles that will take you to a small island with a museum, a beach, and an animal rehabilitation centre. We didn’t do any of these, but the option was there.

At the very top of the island exists a church overlooking a park. The church itself was by far the tallest structure built at the highest point on the island. After asking around in our really bad Spanish, we managed to find the priest and ask him if we could go to the top of the church to take some photos. He agreed, and the three of us, along with a local parishioner who had apparently never thought of asking to do the same, made our way up. The view was the best on the island. And we had a good time trying to converse with our two companions.

View from the Church

We only spent two nights in Flores, and that was enough for us. It was a nice enough, but if we were to do it over again, we probably would spend only one night in Flores, and the second in Tikal. As it turns out there are a few places offering accommodation in Tikal for a lower price than we could find in Flores. There is also the possibility of finding late night or early morning tours through the Tikal Ruins outside of the peak tourist hours when the park is closed to the public. Watching a sunset or sunrise from the top of the ruins would have been impressive.

By , August 14, 2011 4:05 pm

When Mike and I finally transitioned from “we should really travel some day” to “we are definitely going to do this thing,” our first step was to break the news to our friends and loved ones. We were a little nervous about telling everyone, because we weren’t sure what their reactions would be. Now, more than a year later, we’re introduced to new people as the couple that quit their jobs to travel the world.  And we’ve pretty much got the reactions figured out:

“So you’re traveling, eh?  That’s…”

Excited1.  “…exciting!” – Most people seem genuinely happy and excited for us when we tell them about our trip plans.  They wish us well and that’s that.

2.  “… incredibly interesting.” – While this response is tied closely to #1, some people are so intrigued that they want to know every detail… Why did we quit our jobs?  Why did we decide to do this?  Was it a hard decision?  InterestedWhere are we starting?  What’s our itinerary?  Why don’t we have a solid itinerary?  How long will we be gone for?  Will we come back at all? And so on, and so on.  We may not always have the answers, but since travelling is pretty much all that we think about lately, neither of us mind going on and on about the trip.

3. “…something I’ve always wanted to do” – It seems that the majority of the population have considered travelling long term at some point in their lives and many still haven’t given up on their dream.  Having said this, many Always Wanted Toalso seem content to live vicariously through our travels (or at least, so they say).  I’m actually surprised by how many people I meet that have done one-year stints in various countries, and yet don’t consider themselves to have traveled much.  Personally, I think spending a year working in a single foreign country is still traveling – it’s just slow traveling… the best kind!

Just Like4.  “… just like my friend/cousin/niece/nephew/daughter/son” – Everyone we talk to knows someone that is currently traveling or has recently traveled for at least a year.  Like #3, most of these travelers have spent a year or more working in a foreign country.  The biggest theme among these travelers?  They all seem to be 18 – 24 years old… which kind of makes me feel old.  Better late than never, I guess!

Scary5. “… scary!” – The prevalence of this reaction kind of took me by surprise.  I had no idea there was so much fear of new places out there.  A lot of people view travel as a series of beach resorts and have a genuine fear of what’s beyond the tourist path.  Whether it’s the latest violence in Mexico to hit the headlines or a story about friends that traveled to Colombia a decade ago and found it too dangerous, there’s no shortage of fear out there.  And we hear all about it.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are a lot of scary places out there.  But some of them are in my own neighbourhood… there are areas of Regina that I wouldn’t walk through alone at night, and I’m sure there will be areas of cities or entire regions that it won’t be safe to travel through.  I’m not going to be stupid, but I’m not going to let fear unnecessarily limit my trip either.

Crazy6. “…crazy!” – Sometimes people flat out tell us we’re nuts and other times they express it with more subtlety.  Some of the people we know can’t get over the fact that we left our debt-free lives, sold our house and belongings, left our stable careers with pensions, and are traveling this young.  Others think we should be committed for wanting to spend a year or more living out of a backpack and staying in hostels.  Regardless of how “crazy” it might seem for others, this is the right time for Mike and I to travel so we have no regrets.

Jealous7.  “… great for your guys.” Hmmm… I could probably use a SarcMark here.  You know… the punctuation mark used to emphasize a sarcastic phrase.  But I’m not sure if it’s Linux compatible.  So, instead, I’ll just point out that this is a sarcastic response.  Sometimes we encounter people who are downright jealous of our plans.  So jealous that they can’t help but point out how not everyone can afford to do what we’re doing and we should consider ourselves lucky.  But luck has nothing to do with it.  We’ve worked for what we’ve got and made conscious decisions to save the necessary money.  Sometimes it’s the little decisions that count… like choosing not to eat out even though we don’t feel like cooking or telling yourself you don’t need that new shirt, DVD, CD, etc.  And traveling doesn’t have to cost a fortune – you can travel to the same city (for example, Cancun… our starting point) and spend a few dollars on accommodation and food or spend several hundred in the same time frame.  I refuse to feel bad about my travel plans and I refuse to admit that we are where we are in our lives because of dumb luck.

Sad8.  “… sad : ( ” This response often comes after the others and, to be fair, was quite expected.  I’d be a little concerned if no one I knew felt a little bit of sadness about my departure for an undetermined length of time.

Regardless of whether the people we know and meet think we’re fascinating, exciting, inspiring, enviable, certifiably nuts, or reckless, the one overwhelming response is support. SupportWhether or not they agree with us and our reasons, our friends and family are incredibly supportive of our plans (or lack thereof).   I truly feel loved and know I have a great group of people to return to.

What do you think of our decision?  Or, if you are traveling or have traveled long term, how did people react to you?

By , August 10, 2011 1:34 pm

When Mike and I originally booked our flights to Cancun, we thought we would land, hop on a bus to Guatemala, and that would be it for Mexico.  Mexico was never really on our radar… it’s a good thing we decided to stay here a while, because we would have missed out on some great culture and history (not to mention the beaches).

Mexico Summary:

Length of Stay:  22 days
Average  Cost per Day for Two People (excluding transportation to Mexico):  $51.80 CAD
Cities Visited:  6
Distance Traveled:  1735 km in 13 automobiles and 4 boats
Days Sick:  9 for Ashley, 0 for Mike
Number of Items Lost:  2 (Ashley’s hat and Mike’s water bottle)
Biggest Tourist Traps:  Isla Mujeres (especially La Tortugranja), Parador Gastronomico de Cockteleros in Campeche
Exchange Rate:  $1 CAD = 12 MXN (Mexican pesos)

Our Route:

Cancun (Isla Mujeres) – Isla Holbox – Valladolid (Coba, Chichen Itza) – Merida (Uxmal, Kabah) – Campeche (Edzna) – Palenque

Mexico Route


  • Isla Holbox, without a doubt.  We nearly looked for jobs  just to stay on this  little piece of paradise.
  • Whale Shark tour – to be honest, I hadn’t even heard of whale sharks before I got to Cancun.  But this experience was worth the hefty price tag.  The whale sharks were massive and swimming along beside them was an incredible feeling.
  • Mayan Ruins – especially Chichen Itza, Edzna, and Palenque
  • Fresh corn tortillas – there’s nothing quite like buying a steaming stack of corn tortillas from a tortilleria for 3 pesos
  • Discovering the parks/plazas in the cities – these were always the first thing we sought out.  They had the best street food and we could often find free music, dancing, or other entertainment here.
  • Mexican pastries for breakfast… we never had the same one twice, and they were all delicious!
  • Mexican Tang… a.k.a. Zuko.  This was a cheap way to flavour some of the water we had to stay hydrated with.  There were a billion different fruit flavours and they all tasted like the real fruit (not an artificial fruit drink knockoff like we have in Canada).


  • 8 days straight of Montezuma’s Revenge (a.k.a. traveler’s diarrhea) for Ashley
  • The hour long second class bus ride to Coba that Ashley had to stand for since all the seats were full. 

It was almost worth standing to hear a fellow passenger ask why I was standing when my husband was sitting… good question.

  • The heat and humidity… it’s just a little too much at times
  • Wandering around for an hour and a half at 8:00 a.m. in Campeche looking for a colectivo to Edzna.  We stopped and asked directions every 5 minutes or so, but were always pointed in different directions.  Eventually, we found out that they don’t run until 11:00 on Sundays and were lucky enough to find a shoe shiner that for 10 pesos gladly led us to the super secret back street location.
  • Street vendors.  They come to you while you are walking, eating, reading… and their sales pitches are relentless.
  • Mosquitoes.  Just about everywhere we were, there were mosquitoes.  And not just a few.  Deet hardly seems to deter them sometimes and heaven forbid you leave an arm hanging out of the sheet while you’re sleeping!


  • For two people that never nap, we sure have grown to love them.  In fact, we mastered the art of the siesta in Mexico.  It’s a great way to get out of the heat from about 12 – 3, and keeps you going late at night since most places don’t get lively until about 9:00 pm.
  • Parks are a great place for a family to take children to play after dark.  In Canada we would already have our kids in bed, and we’d be afraid of a mugging in a park after dark. Not so in Mexico.
  • The pork store, chicken store, fish store, and beef store are all separate stores.
  • Apparently we have turned into morning people.  Take away the jobs and the alarm clocks, and we start getting up at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. on our own.
  • You have to throw your toilet paper in the garbage, not the toilet… this one took some getting used to.
  • Mexican Coca Cola is actually quite good… much better than what we’re used to!  Apparently it’s made with real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup like the stuff at home.

Lessons Learned:

  • It’s possible for two people to share every meal, snack, and drink… and for only one of them to get sick from it.
  • We probably should have taken the Spanish CDs more seriously before we left… a little more Spanish would go a long way.
  • Unless you’re worried about availability, don’t book more than one night at a hostel until you’ve stayed there.  We thought the hostel in Campeche that was located in a mansion from the 1500’s would have tons of character… it actually had tons of dirt, cockroaches, no drinking water, no door on the dorm, and some sort of large Mexican boy band staying there.  I mention the boy band because they would pull out their guitars about the time we went to bed and sing the same song over and over again into the wee hours of the morning.
  • If someone’s being friendly, watch for the sales pitch.  We got caught by this our first night in Merida.  A man came up to us and asked where we’re from and how long we’ve been traveling.  He started telling us the “real” history of Merida and the Spanish conquistadors.  Before we knew it, we were in a store looking at jewelry, carvings, and hammocks.  The merchandise was some of the nicest we’ve seen and we still felt like we had seen something special until we went back to our hostel and met a group of travelers that had fallen for the same ploy the night before.

Mexican Journal

Cancun – 3 Nights
Cancun was our starting point. After an interesting first evening that included hiding out from masked military guys with guns while we waited for our couchsurfing host to arrive at his home, we spent two days checking out the beaches at Isla Mujeres and in the hotel zone. We found Isla Mujeres had nice beaches, but was full of drunk 20 year olds racing golf carts down the streets. The hotel strip kind of reminded us of a beachy vegas. The vendors were pushy, but the beaches themselves were beautiful.

Isla Holbox – 5 Nights
We had heard about Isla Holbox from a guy we met on the airport shuttle in Cancun. Holbox is a small town on the end of the island, with white sand beaches and white sand streets. It didn’t feel super touristy, though there were a lot of tourists about. The culture was dominated by locals, and everything felt very laid back. We decided to relax there for a while we figured out some sort of plan of where to go next. We met Morgan and Andy at the bus station in Cancun, where we shared our mutual ATM woes. They convinced us that we HAD to go swimming with the whale sharks… so we did! The experience was unforgettable and we’re glad we splurged on it. Tribu hostel was an amazing place to stay and we were both sad to leave this island (but not the ferocious mosquitoes) behind.

Valladolid – 2 Nights
Valladolid is a colonial city that we used as a home base for visiting the Coba ruins (about 1 hour away by bus) and Chichen Itza (about 45 minutes away by bus). The city itself was beautiful and we probably could have spent more time here. We explored the Convento San Bernardino de Siena and then cooled down in Cenote Zaci. Swimming in the cenote (sinkhole) was a highlight of our time here. If we returned, we would definitely check out the ruins at Ek’Balam, which are just outside of the city.

Merida – 6 Nights
When we went to Chichen Itza, we were able to bring our backpacks with us and leave them in a luggage room at the entrance.  From there we caught a bus straight to Merida. Merida is another beautiful colonial city. We stayed here much longer than anticipated due to Ashley’s stomach troubles, but never found ourselves tired of the place. Merida has a great market to buy groceries, a main plaza that had something happening every night (including Mayan dancing, street performers, and musicians), streets that close down for restaurants to move outside at night, and a free zoo to check out. The city is full of history and their were numerous buildings and museums to explore. If you are looking for a really nice hammock, you need to check out Merida (though try not to get swindled into paying three times its value, which is common). Our hostel had a pool, which was almost a necessity in the heat. We splurged on a tour to Uxmal and Kabah from our hostel, since we thought we should pay for a guide at some point to get a bit of the history behind the Mayan ruins. The tour was okay, but our tour guide seemed like a bit of swindler and we ended up feeling pressured into paying extra to visit a Mayan shaman (not worth the 50 pesos per person). We also felt rushed at the ruins… though we were happy to hear the stories about the Mayans, we would have appreciated more time to wander and take pictures.

Campeche – 4 Nights
Campeche is yet another colonial city in Mexico. It’s downtown area was walled in to protect it from pirate attacks in the 18th century. Not all of the wall remains, but downtown Campeche has been painstakingly restored and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We visited many museums in this city and learned that a mansion built in the 1500s is not necessarily the best place to stay. Our day trip to Edzna was well worth it for the beautiful ruins.  As a bonus, we got to experience hitchhiking with 7 other people in the back of a pickup truck for the 70 km trip from Edzna back to Campeche.  We spent one more night than planned here because we didn’t book bus tickets to Palenque in advance and the only bus leaving on the day we first wanted to go was sold out.

Palenque – 2 Nights
Palenque was the cheapest place we visited in Mexico. We stayed outside of the town in a cabana in the jungle, and woke to the sound of howler monkeys each morning. We only stayed here long enough to visit the ruins (if you want a cheap tour guide, turn down the guys outside and hire one of the guys inside… the adults charge about 100 pesos per person and the kids charge about 50 pesos). The ruins were some our favourites. You could actually go inside one of the palaces, see various bedrooms, and walk out the other side. Most of the other ruins we’ve been to either forbid you to go inside of them or only have entrances to single rooms. We could have stayed longer, but were anxious to get to Guatemala to learn Spanish. We booked transport through a tour agency in Palenque to take a bus, a boat, and another bus to Flores, Guatemala.

By , August 7, 2011 4:40 pm

As mentioned in my last post, Ashley and I have been spending a lot of time visiting Mayan Ruins and Museums. I wanted to write down some of the odds and ends that I’ve put together, partly so I don’t forget, and partly because I find it really interesting and don’t mind sharing.

Before I get too far, here’s my disclaimer. Everything I’m writing here could be (and probably is) entirely fiction. It’s mostly information I’ve put together myself after talking with tour guides, visiting a lot of ruins, and visiting several museums each having their own varying qualities of English translations. Please take everything here with a great big grain of salt.

Who Were the Mayans?

The Mayans are a distinct race insomuch as there are distinct races of human beings. As a race, they are characterized by their dark skin, their large noses, and short stature. I’ve also been told that their men do not grow facial hair.

As a people, they formed several distinct civilizations throughout history. The one responsible for the majority of the ruins we have to admire today began around 250AD and lasted for 650 years before a complete collapse around 900AD.

It’s important to note that very little documentation survives today that describes ancient Mayan society.  The two biggest reasons for this are that the Mayans lost the ability to read and write their own language when their civilization collapsed, and that the Spanish, as much as possible, destroyed all writings and carvings that they could find during the time of the Conquistadors.


The Mayans believed that the gods created man from a mixture of their own blood and corn. They believed that the reason they were created was to worship and honour their creators. Thus was the purpose of man.

Sacrifices were made of variously coloured liquids obtained from trees, of animals such as jaguars and in rare cases of men. Two notable cases where humans were sacrificed were the ball courts found at all sights we visited, and the cenote (sink hole) at Chichen Itza.

Coba Ball Court

Little is known about the ball game played by the Mayans. It’s generally understood that the game was played with a heavy rubber ball, and that the players were only allowed to touch the ball with their hips and elbows.  The goal of the game was to pass the rubber ball through one of the two hoops on the walls of the court. It is believed that the game was not a game at all, but more of a religious ritual. At the end of the ball game a sacrifice was made, though it is not known if the sacrifice was someone’s life, or only a small mutilation such as a pierced tongue or scarification. It’s also not know if the subject of the sacrifice was a player for the winning team, the losing team, or if they were even players in the ball game.

As for the cenote at Chichen Itza, the Mayans believed that cenotes were a gateway to the underworld where there resided many important gods, such as the rain god. At times, human sacrifices would be made to the rain god by throwing children and men into the cenote. When the cenote at Chichen Itza was excavated, hundreds of human remains were uncovered.

Cenote at Chichen Itza

The Mayans worshipped many gods, each reigning over their own dominion. One interesting aspect of these gods was their ability to be combined and broken apart many times. Thus when all the gods were combined, the Mayans worshipped a single all powerful being. But, when they were broken apart, they worshipped a wind god, a rain god, a blister god (yes a god of blisters) and many more.  Each of these specific gods were aspects of the one god yet individual in their own right.

Unfortunately for the Mayans, the makeup of the gods most commonly worshipped were confused by the Spanish to be Christian devils and demons. For example, the Mayans believed in one all powerful god, divided into 3 main gods of the heavens. This paralleled the Christian belief of a single God who can be expressed as the father, son, and the holy spirit. So in the eyes of the Spanish, the Mayans knew about the Christian god. Here’s the catch, the Mayans also believed in an underworld with 13 gods that were popular to worship. For the Spanish 13 was an evil number and they called gods of the underworld demons. Thus, the Mayans were branded as demon worshippers by the Spanish and every effort was made to destroy all of their temples and writings.  There’s no doubt that this contributed to the poor treatment the Mayans received from the Spanish.


So man is one part blood of the gods and one part corn. Why corn? Corn was probably the most important factor in allowing the Mayan civilization to come into existence. By farming corn, the Mayan people were able to spend less time in the pursuit of food than would otherwise be required without the aid of agriculture. This free time allowed them their civilized pursuits of trade, war, worship, science, and temple building. Without corn, we wouldn’t have called the Mayans civilized, and they themselves were well aware of their reliance on corn.


The Mayans were very gifted in science. In mathematics, they were the first group on earth to discover the number zero. In astronomy, they were able to accurately track the movement of the Earth and several planets around the Sun. This allowed them to create an accurate calendar containing 365 days in a year. They were also gifted in engineering, as demonstrated by their great buildings, and hydraulic water systems. Some of their palaces had indoor toilets and running water, something many other civilizations had not yet developed.

Subjugation of the People

The ruling class of the Mayan civilization claimed to be direct descendents from the gods, and thus ordained to govern the affairs of men. They also claimed to be in communication with the gods.  They claimed to convey the problems of the people to the gods and to determine for the people what appropriate sacrifices were required for the gods to be satisfied and ease their hardships. No doubt this was perceived as an essential service by the general populace.

To back up these claims, the royal family undertook several drastic steps. Here’s a few examples:

  • They deformed their heads as children so that they would appear to more closely resemble an ear of corn. This would have set them apart as a visually distinctive race, and helped convince their subjects of their divine origins.
  • They studied the calender and were able to determine when the rainy season would start each year. Keeping this information secret, they would hold rituals where they would spill their own royal blood in a public and gruesome way, claiming that their blood was payment to the gods for the rain needed to grow the corn. Within hours or days of this ritual, the rainy season would start thus proving their divinity once again.
  • Using their knowledge of engineering and astronomy they caused their temples to be built in such a way that the sun would shine through small windows and give flashes of light or display symbolic shadows at important times of the year. The general populace would take these signs as acceptance from the gods for the sacrifices ordered by the royalty and would thus again be confused.

Elongating the skull to look a little more like corn

To keep up this trickery, only the royal family and their closest servants were allowed to study the arts of astronomy, and science. When a system of writing was developed, again, only a select few scribes living within the palace were taught how to read and write. In this way, the knowledge of astronomy and science could be passed down through the generations without the common people becoming aware of it’s existence and thus believing the above trickery to be divine.

One down side of this “keep it in the family” approach was the inability of the royal family to bring commoners into the family for fear of them revealing their secrets. For this reason, incest was quite common, resulting in many strange physical deformations in the ruling class. As they claimed to be of divine origin, these deformities were sold to the populace as proof of divine favour and the Mayans came to worship dwarfs, albinos, and those who possessed more than 10 fingers.

Temple Building

Having thus subjugated the general populace by feigning to be divine, the royal families ordered the construction of great palaces, tombs, temples, markets, and other buildings as they required. The commoners would not have lived in these buildings, but would have spent a great deal of their lives contributing to their construction.

Though there is evidence that the Mayans kept slaves, these great constructions would have been gladly built by commoners without the need for mass enslavement. It was likely considered a great honour to be able to devote one’s life to the glorification of the gods, and the royalty would have had little trouble in convincing the number of people required for construction to work long days with minimal reward.

Previous to my visits to these Mayan ruins, I had imagined that the Mayans lived in harmony with nature, living among the animals and trees of the jungles. The reality is that this was not at all true. In constructing their great buildings, it was necessary to cut and burn the trees of the jungle to supply mortar and plaster. This was prepared by burning limestone and combining the result with wood-ash and water. It is said that when the Mayan cities were in their peak, they would have been cleared of trees as far as could be seen.  In their place would be great buildings, humble dwellings, and vast corn fields.


The Mayans had developed a trade network that reached far north into today’s USA and far south.  Between their own cities, trade was done on a large scale and was very important. The royal families established their cities for specialized purposes, for example one city may have been established for corn production while another existed to worship the fertility god or to study astronomy. The fruits of each city’s labour were then exchanged between them.

To facilitate this trade, raised roads were constructed stretching up to 100km through the jungle. The roads were raised 3-4 feet above the grade and were roughly 10 feet wide. The tops were covered in a smooth white plaster (which today is quite slippery when wet as we discovered). It’s not known why the roads were built in such dimensions as the Mayans never made use of beasts of burden nor wheeled carts.

War and Slavery

As with any other great civilization occasions of tension would arise between various cities as a result of unfair trade. The royal families would also, at times, seek to extend their sphere of control or to elevate their position against their brothers and sisters. This led to campaigns of war. Little is known about the extent of the wars, but there is evidence that cities would be occupied by forces from other cities for years at a time, the victors of these wars would carry off slaves, and the royalty would be disposed or enslaved.


This is probably the most interesting aspect of the Mayan civilization. For one reason or another, the whole of the Mayan civilization ceased to exist around 900AD. Although the cities themselves were abandoned en masse the Mayan people themselves never disappeared and still survive today along with their spoken language.

My best guess as to why is that a large portion of the region inhabited by the Mayans underwent a period of drought. The result of which would have been catastrophic to the rulers. The populace must have discovered them to be the frauds that they were, when they were unable to produce the necessary rain, or would have considered the ruling class to have done something to offend the gods and thought the solution was to rise up against them.

Other suggestions have been put forward to me, including mass disease, a poisoned drinking water supply (from dumping sacrifices into it for hundreds of years), and overpopulation (Tikal had around 200,000 residents in it’s peak, other cities around 50,000.) This would have had a great demand on food and drinking water). The reality is, nobody really knows why the Mayan civilization ceased to exist so abruptly.

By , August 3, 2011 1:13 pm



Stop at Mayan Village between Uxmal and Kabah










Want to check out more photos from the Mayan ruins we visited in Mexico?  Check out our photo gallery!