Sunday, July 14, 2013


Arriving home to Syracuse, Ny was in fact bitter; not sweet. I had the time of my life on this Study Abroad trip to Belize and Guatemala. It is an ineffable experience. However, I will make an attempt to convey what I learned. The sole reason I enjoyed this trip so much was due to the class I took prior to going.
The online class: The Maya Sacred Landscape and Cosmology
Professor: Lee Stanton
                    ^^^Awesome professor

                                                                    Kelli, Me and Lee
We are posing with the textbooks from our class that we found in a shop in Guatemala, right on the border.
Taking this class for the trip made ALL the difference in the experience as a whole. The text book I am holding delves into the research of many professors, archeologists and scholars that have stayed in the Maya country-land and communicated their experience in this text; enormously useful. Kelli and myself were very  knowledgeable because of this course.We easily applied what we learned in class to the Mayan ruins.

Kelli, Lee and myself 

Before I continue, I want to express a huge thank you to our tour guide Jake Martinez for making this trip an experience of a lifetime. Without your guidance we wouldn't of nearly had such a wonderful time. Thanks Jake!

Jake Martinez

Me, Jake and Kelli

All the Maya myths have to do with their many stores of Creation. From rituals, dances, farming, sacrifices and games, Maya would make these everyday practices sacred by inviting the vision of Creation. All year round you can find the Maya story of Creation displayed in the Cosmos!
Specifically, Paddle into Xibalba; which is depicted in the piece of slate art above. Stingray Paddler is the creature to the left and Jaguar Paddle to the far right; the Maize God in the middle.
These Paddlers are the central actors in the celestial play of Creation. The Paddlers bring the Maize God to the place of the three stones of Creation so that he can be reborn and and create the new universe.

Well, our group got to re-enact this Creation story by paddling into Xibalba cave! (Where the Maize God was brought as a sacrifice) This was one of my favorite experiences of the trip.

Entrance of the cave (150 ft tall cave system)

Exiting cave

The stalactites protruded down from the cave ceiling about 90 ft; you could almost touch them. Our guides told of the ancient Maya myth: the gods planted the Tree of Life above the cave. Therefore the stalactites were the roots of the tree. They told how, if you were lucky to receive a cold drop of water upon you, you were blessed with eternal life; if it was a warm droplet.... it was bat guano!

The cave system seemed endless. As I said this cave was used to sacrifice for the gods. So, we did see skull remains and pottery as offerings. This was a very sacred place. OUr guides stressed the importance of remaining calm and not disturbing the peace within the cave. We turned off all our lights and sat in the still darkness for quite sometime; I will never forget that moment. I've never been exposed to such silence.

Random shots!

Belize city

Belize city

Guatemala - Uaxuctum Village. Walking to our camp.

When we arrived in Guatemala, we stayed as guests in the village of Uaxuctum. This village was NOT a tourist site. It was in the middle of Maya ruins. Carlos, our guide there, only allows guests in his village at his choosing; not frequent. We were lucky to have a real village experience. We stayed in tents in the middle of the jungle. Our tour guide Jake shared mystical, supposedly real, stories with us around the fire at night; a few went to bed terrified.

Best meal I have EVER had! Farm fresh, courtesy of Maya village community. It was rude to get seconds; the villagers would wait till we were finished and eat whatever we did not. The village was very poor, but the lived, farmed and shared life together; it was a true community, everyone did their part. You couldn't help to see the sheer joy within this village. I learned a lot from them. Mainly, "want what you have". Most didn't have shoes and only a couple weathered shirts. Yet, they did their part without complaining. We weren't even allowed to give the kids anything. Carlos explained: "then they might expect to receive, instead of giving".

Guatemala - Uaxuctum Ballcourts. Ancient Maya arena.

Me and the village kids


A lot of kids in the village. My buddy Abel on the right.

Tikal - By far the most amazing ruins we saw.

Contemporary Maya still hold these temples sacred. Woman performing rituals. We weren't allowed on this temple.

Still in Tikal. Atop the highest ruin. Those are other temples in the distance protruding from the forest. Tikal is so vast, it takes over 2 hrs to fly a helicopter over the city of Tikal.

Welcome to San Pedro! 

San Pedro Town

San Pedro

This was an experience of a lifetime. I am eternally grateful to have gone with Columbia College on this trip. The classes provided, along with the professors on the trip, made this not only fun, but you were able to learn something as well. I look forward to trips to come. If you are thinking of studying abroad for a semester or a summer, I highly recommend it. You will not regret it. Don't miss an experience of your life!  Thanks CC Travelers!

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1 Response
  1. Robert Says:

    Scott, great post. Love all the pictures. Nice to remember what a varied and diverse trip we had. I enjoyed those caves very much. Wish we could have had archaeologists guide us into some of the farther reaches, though not sure the Mayan ghosts would welcome that.

    Yes, that Guatemalan village was a rare experience, not a regular tourist stop at all. Carlos is doing an amazing thing, both helping his village connect with the world, and protecting them at the same time.

    later, bob, sometimes Jaguar Paddler

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