Monday, March 18, 2013

Research and Fun in Central America

       The next book I’m writing for Sourcebooks, BETRAYED, features a heroine from Central America, and I picked up some fantastic background material for her while on a trip to Central America a few weeks ago.  I learned about the educational system, the drug trade, health care, and political corruption.  And I watched the military men striding around with their automatic weapons at the ready.

       There’s so much to recommend this part of the world that I keep going back.  I love the people, the birds and animals and the amazing flowers.  And I especially love tramping around Mayan sites where thriving cities flourished more than fifteen hundred years ago.

       In Belize we started our trip at a zoo Harrison Ford helped establish when he was filming Mosquito Coast. All the animals there are native to Belize, including this boa constrictor I’m holding.

We also visited Mayan ruins in the country, including  Cahal Pech and Xunantunich.  Although the stone carvings at Xunantunich are a reconstruction, they make a very impressive presentation.  And getting there was half the fun---crossing a river on a cool ferry that the operator worked with a hand crank.

       The most jaw-dropping ruins we saw were at Tikal in Guatemala, which we had visited 19 years ago.  We loved coming back and seeing how much more of this “New York of the Mayas” that archaeologists have uncovered.  Here’s a picture Norman took from the top of temple 4, which is 212 feet tall. I climbed up the switchback staircase that’s been installed so you can get to the top relatively easily, but I hate heights; and with a whole bunch of people milling around on the narrow ledge up there, I didn’t stay long.

      Another highlight of our trip was beautiful Lake Atitlan, formed by a gigantic volcanic explosion and still ringed by volcanoes that belch smoke and ash.  Our hotel was right on the water, and we took a boat trip from their dock to several villages where we visited a weaving cooperative and a street market. As we motored into one village, we saw how the level of the lake is rising, swallowing trees and buildings along the shore.

And here are vegetables at the indoor market in a village called Chichicastenango.  

       Our next stop was Antigua, a World Heritage city, where we stayed for three days, exploring the cobblestone streets, the ruins, the markets, and several museums, like the Mayan music museum.

       One of the highlights of the trip was an abbreviated Mayan ceremony, where we purified ourselves with bunches of rue and cast colored candles into a fire in a metal cauldron.  It was the dry season, but as we tossed blue candles symbolizing water into the fire, a light rain began to fall.

  Here’s an Antigua street scene near our hotel.

 I loved the macaws at the entrance to Copan. 

The carved stelae inside the ancient site are spectacular.

And here’s a replica of the temple that archaeologists found underneath another temple–so that the coloration on the exterior was preserved. 

And look at Norman providing a perch for some parrots.

       We had a fantastic time exploring Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. In fact we liked it so much that we’re planning another trip in January–to two of the places we liked best, Antigua and Lake Atitlan.

       Do you like to travel.  And if so–what’s your favorite destination?