Destinations: Guatamala, Belize, Honduras, and Mexico
Book: Royal Cities of the Ancient Maya , text by Michael D. Coe and Photographs by Barry Brukoff (NEW October 2012)
Is the end of the world near? According to some, we only have one month left.
Ancient Maya allegedly predicted the end of the world would happen on December 21, 2012. If you believe that, you’ve been misled. Archaeologists have indeed found ancient hieroglyphs that indicate that the 5000-year cycle of the Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012, and the Guatemalan government has capitalized on the “end of time” sensationalism as a tourism draw. But an alliance of Maya in Guatemala would like you to know that the meaning of the hieroglyphics discovered by archaeologists is quite different than a doomsday date. In an article from Discovery on line, you can get the scoop, including this quote:
In a statement released by Oxlaljuj Ajpop, the end of the cycle simply “means there will be big changes on the personal, family and community level, so that there is harmony and balance between mankind and nature.”
So what is the kerfluffle all about?
1. We humans are magnetically drawn to any story that says “The End is Near.” We love doomsday predictions.
2. The Maya, a civilization that began developing from the Olmec people in what we know as Central America more than 2000 years ago, put a lot of effort into counting time and predicting future events.
3. In fact, according to a footnote to Allen J. Christenson, a translator of the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Maya, “Calendars are a vital part of the highland Maya culture and ritual because passages of time are believed to be manifestations of deity.”
4. The date calculated as the end of the Maya 5000-year calendar falls on December 21 on our calendar, which also happens to be the Winter Solstice. Solstice dates attract a lot of esoteric believers in various forces of nature. In other words, you can find a lot of woo-woo explanations about the New Age that will be ushered in next month.
So all these elements have guaranteed lots of articles and headlines and special ceremonies and tours and preparations for December 21st.
We’re always looking for a good excuse to travel, aren’t we? And having our attention drawn to the ancient Maya may inspire some exploration of those Royal Cities of the Ancient Maya so beautifully portrayed in the book by that name.
It is such a gorgeous book that I wanted to tell you a bit more about it.
The photographer’s introduction explains that some of the photos show a view of a temple that no visitor will actually see. Because of scaffolding cover parts of a temple, or because a long mural may have been impossible to photograph as a whole because you can only get 8 feet away from it, Barry Brukoff had to perform some technological magic of stitching together hard-to get shots. The results are seamless and convincing. The two gatefolds that stretch out for the length of three 11″ x 9″ pages will make you say, “Wow!” (Brukoff previously published the book, Temples of Cambodia).
Yale professor-emeritus Michael D. Coe‘s introductory section sketches the history of the Maya and lets you know that this is not a “lost people”. In fact, he says at least eight million people speak one of the many Mayan dialects. In his short section on each of the cities photographed, Coe fills in information about the ruler who built that particular city and also about the archaeologists who discovered the ruins.
You may be too late to join the rush that the Guatemalan and Mexican governments are encouraging to visit their temples–and that is probably a good thing. Whether you decide to stay home and contemplate a new age of harmony and balance, or you decide to book an expedition to explore the royal Mayan cities on the ground in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize or Honduras, you’ll find Royal Cities of the Ancient Maya to be a valuable addition to your traveler’s library.
Note: The publishers sent me a copy of this book in hopes that I would review it, but my views are always my own. Use the links from book titles to Amazon if you want to buy directly and at the same time benefit A Traveler’s Library. In fact, why not do all your holiday shopping through my Amazon links and ads? It costs no more, and helps support your favorite book site.