All travelers have favorite destinations that they revisit time and again. One of my favorites is the Mayan areas of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. In the 1970s I visited Chichen Itza and Tikal, two spectacular sites with towering temple-pyramids. My wife and I took another trip there in the ’90s. Since my first visit, I have had a fascination with the Mayan civilization, which dominated the Central America region for over a thousand years until precipitously falling into decay in the 9th century.
Recent satellite images have uncovered thousands more pyramids. Only a fraction of the Mayan cities has been uncovered; most languish covered by the jungles. John Stephens, an explorer of the region from the 19th century, describes the Mayan ruins he uncovered as “…unique, extraordinary, and mournfully beautiful.”
The civilization that created these city-states and architectural wonders had a sophisticated mathematical and astronomical knowledge and science, far beyond that of the same time in Europe. The Mayans created these complexes despite the lack of metal tools. Their calendar was based on astronomy, and was more accurate than what we use today, with a zero date, which corresponds to August 13, 3114 BC. They had the only complete writing system in the New World, which was a mixture of ideographic symbols (pictures), and phonetics.
When I first visited the area, much of their writing had not been translated. Since then many more of the steles and carvings on buildings have been translated. Although most of their codices written on bark paper were destroyed by the invading Spaniards in the 16th century, some have been rediscovered in Spanish museums or found in newly opened tombs and translated. These recent translations give us new insights into this ancient civilization of the New World.
Judy and I visited six different Mayan sites in March and April this year. The most spectacular are the ruins of Tikal, located in the center of a dense tropical jungle area of Guatemala. From the top of the largest temple one can see miles and miles of other triangular jungle peaks – still unexplored pyramids. It is truly awe-inspiring.If you haven’t been there, or haven’t been for several years, I would recommend a visit to this intriguing part of the Americas.
−Ronald L. Endeman, President