A travel memoir of journeys in the jungles of Central America and encounters with the Lacandón people, descendants of the ancient Mayans.
Journalist McConahay has covered the Middle East and Central America for a variety of publications, but her fascination with Mayan culture predates her career. It began in 1973, when she visited the National Museum of Anthropology during a vacation in Mexico City. As an adult, she traveled 700 miles south to San Cristóbal, joining a fellow tourist and a guide to visit a Lacandón village at the border of the jungle. The inhabitants spoke a Mayan language, and while they had some acquaintance with Spanish culture, their way of life was traditional. Fish and beans were a mainstay of their diet, and the men used bows and arrows to hunt. Women pulled their long hair back into knots from which dead birds hung as ornaments. On her return trips, McConahay journeyed further into the jungle, looking at ruins and meeting an archaeo-astronomer who explained the Lacandón’s ancient calendar to her. The author ponders the decline of Mayan culture from its height 2,000 years ago, imagining a parallel between their destructive power struggles and wars today. She also chronicles the Guatemalan civil war, the current encroachment on the rain forests by peasant farmers looking for land, large tourist destinations and the $40 billion drug trade through the region. She writes that since her first trip, the tropical forest has changed more than it had “in the entire five hundred years since the European conquest.”
A layered examination of a place and a people whose ancient culture is rapidly disappearing.