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?


Kathryn said...

What a fantastic trip. I'm so jealous. This weekend, I get to go to...Virginia! Somehow, it's not a fair comparison. KJ

Elizabeth Ashtree said...

Wow, what a wonderful trip! Birds, snakes, ruins! Just awesome. Your photos are amazing, too. And now, there will be books set in these exotic locations, I'm certain. Can hardly wait.

Barb Han said...

This trip looks amazing. Wow! The pictures are fabulous. The last time I vacationed out of the country was Mexico, near Belize. It was so cool to snorkel with all that history/ruins around us. Definitely ranks as one of the best trips I've ever had.

Rebecca York said...

Snorkling w/ ruins around! That sounds lovely.

Toby Devens said...

Sounds wonderful! Especially impressed by the shot of you and the boa constrictor. I assume we share an unusual comfort level with snakes. I'm sure one will appear in a future story by Rebecca York. Murder by venom? Shape shifting into something slithering and deadly?

BJ Daniels said...

What a wonderful trip! Thanks so much for sharing.

I love to travel, especially to places like this.

Rebecca York said...

My first snake was 49 years ago when a friend had a small boa in her apartment. I thought--if I'm every going to hold a snake, this is it. I actually loved the way it felt. Not slimy at all. I've since held other snakes--under "safe" conditions. I mean, I figured they didn't want to kill any tourists at the Belize Zoo. I had to pick which photos to use. Too bad I couldn't include me w/ a bunch of iguanas.

nancy baggett said...

Wow, I am bowled over--a fabulous trip! Would have love to have done everything EXCEPT the boa constrictor--shivering at the very thought due to phobia...

Rebecca York said...

There are things that really scare me, like that platform at the top of Temple 4. But I can deal w/ a snake in a controlled environment. I mean, if I encountered one in the garden, that would be different.

Rebecca York said...

In fact, I am really mad at myself for not staying longer at the top of temple 4. Norman was way out there, and he couldn't hear me calling to him. If I could have held on to him, I could have negotiated all the crazy people milling around up there.

Anonymous said...

I love to travel but money is a tad tight so I have to watch it. If I could I'd hop in the car and take a road trip. But I have to think about refilling the car to get back home. Maybe one day I can just drive around and not worry about the cost of the gas.

Diane Kratz said...

So far, I've only traveled in the USA. As a child, we lived on a Army Base in Arizona. We traveled every weekend to Nogales, Mexico for shopping. But that doesn't count.

New York was my favorite and I'd love to go back. We were there five days and I didn't get to go to Central Park, Coney Island or the Empire State Building.

But I did get to see the Twin Towers being rebuilt, Wall Street, Stock Exchange, Statue of Liberty and I even rode the subway about six times.

I had a wonderful time just examining the architectural aspects of all the wonderful buildings there.

For a small town Kansas gal, it was amazing!

Someday Rebecca, I'll get to go to Ireland and New Zealand-those are my fantasy trips! Until then I'll have to live with green-eyed envy through you!

It looks like you both had a spectacular time!

Rebecca York said...

In fact, I am really mad at myself for not staying longer at the top of temple 4. Norman was way out there, and he couldn't hear me calling to him. If I could have held on to him, I could have negotiated all the crazy people milling around up there.