Saturday, May 20, 2017

THE GRANDEUR OF THE MAYAN RUINS OF TIKAL, GUATEMALA








































Welcome to Mexico and Beyond: Laura’s Photo Journey. As many of you might already know and some of you will soon find out, I simply ADORE pre-Colombian Mayan archaeological ruins! My husband and I have lived full time in Latin America for over twenty years. During those many years I have never passed the opportunity to visit the ruins of the “ancient ones” whenever they were nearby. My husband has never had the same passion, but has graciously indulged me whenever possible. I believe, however, he will agree with me that the Mayan Ruins of TIKAL in Guatemala are simply awesome. So without further introduction, let’s visit Tikal.


For those of you who need a sneak preview
:  TIKAL AND EL REMATE PHOTO ALBUM


A VERY TEENY TINY BIT OF HISTORY TO GET US STARTED:


“Tikal, located in the north of the Petén region of Guatemala, was a major Mayan city which flourished between 300 and 850 CE. The city, known to the Maya themselves as Mutul, is one of the grandest in Mesoamerica. Among the first Maya cities to gain prominence in the Early Classic period (250-600 CE), Tikal built its wealth by exploiting its natural resources and geographical location to become a Maya superpower, a status it also enjoyed in the 7th century CE when some of the site's most impressive later monuments were constructed.”
For history nuts like me and with thanks:  http://www.ancient.eu/Tikal/








Tikal is one of the largest pre-Columbian Mayan cities and is one of my personal favorites. The spectacular ruins of this ancient city are found in the Guatemalan rain forest located in the province of El Petén in what is now northern Guatemala and only two hours away from the border with Belize (just in case you are in need of a Caribbean beach fix).


What makes Tikal so special to me are not only its large and amazing pyramids and temples with their fantastic Mayan architecture, but also the biodiversity to be found in this spectacular rain forest jungle environment. Whenever you turn around a corner you can expect something new and exciting. Although archaeologists have been working at Tikal for decades, only a fraction of the buildings has been uncovered. You will still find plenty of structures covered by jungle. The archaeological ruins of Tikal are part of Guatemala’s TIKAL NATIONAL PARK and were declared a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE in 1979.










SOME INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE TIKAL MAYAN RUINS: 


Tikal National Park in Guatemala measures more than 220 square miles (575 square kilometers) in size, most of it pristine jungle. The park is also home to thousands of ancient Mayan ruins including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal that is roughly 6 square miles (16 square kilometers) in size and contains more than 3,000 buildings! 






Tikal reached its height during the Classic Period (200 to 900 AD) when it was a major political, economic, and military center, and one of the most important archaeological complexes left by the Maya civilization. An inner urban zone of approximately 900 acres (approximately 1.5 square mile) contained the incredible principal monuments which included palaces, temples, ceremonial platforms, small and medium sized residences, ball-game courts, terraces, roads, large and small squares.






Tikal was the capital of a conquest state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya. Though monumental architecture at the site dates back as far as the 4th century BC, Tikal reached its height during the Classic Period (200 to 900 AD). Following the end of the Late Classic Period no new major monuments were built at Tikal and there is evidence that the elite palaces were burned. These events were coupled with a gradual population decline which resulted in Tikal being abandoned by the end of the 10th century. 






By the time the conquistador Hernan Cortes entered the area in 1525 few people remembered the great city lost in the jungle and the Spanish warriors never realized that they had passed so closely to Tikal. It wasn’t until 1848 when an archaeological expedition dispatched by the government of Guatemala officially rediscovered the city.







Among the many interesting finds at the site were dozens of stone pillars each matched with a circular altar. Archaeologists have determined that these were used to record the history of the rulers of Tikal. It is also believed the pyramids of Tikal were used as astronomical observatories by the Maya in order to calculate their extremely accurate 260-day calendar that meshes with modern 365-day calendars every 52 years. 





In the 1950's and 1960's the government of Guatemala in conjunction with the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania in the United States of America cleaned and restored the site to its current condition. In 1979 Tikal was honored and declared a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE.


                            


Tikal National Park in Guatemala measures more than 220 square miles (575 square kilometers) in size, most of it pristine jungle. The park is also home to thousands of ancient Mayan ruins including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal that is roughly 6 square miles (16 square kilometers) in size and contains more than 3,000 buildings!






Archaeologists have determined that the Maya first arrived in the area of Tikal around 3,000 years ago. Since its humble beginnings, the mega city state became an important commercial, cultural, and religious center. The world-famous temples were built around the year 700 when Tikal rose to become the most important city in the Maya world with a population of approximately 100,000 people.


Most importantly, slow down and take your time. Look up not only at the ancient stone remains, but look up at the beautiful nature surrounding you. You may see toucans, parrots, rare hawks, and plenty of monkeys. It is not often that you find such an incredible Mayan site which combines the man-made legacy of the Maya with the magic of nature. Take advantage and enjoy! 











I don’t know about you, but I am pooped from our visit to Tikal! I believe it’s time to return to our base in El Remate for some much needed R&R. So come along for a peek at this small and charming town on the shores of Lake Petén Itza.





El Remate is a small, relaxed little village on the eastern shores of Lago Petén Itza. We were looking for a place to stay which was peaceful and quiet and El Remate was perfect for us. It is also the closest jumping off point for visits to the ruins of Tikal.






The village has small Eco-friendly hotels, art workshops, and offers visitors a visit to the lake. Central El Remate is small and very walk able, but if you're staying along the north road on the lake you may want to find a bicycle to rent.






El Remate is visited by many buses as it is only approximately 1.5 miles from the road that takes you to Melchor de Mencos, Flores, Guatemala City, and the airport. 




Our lodging was great in every way including wonderful lake view with sunsets, a comfortable and large cottage, a quiet pool for reading, colorful peacocks strolling the lovely grounds, a tasty breakfast, and friendly hospitable hosts!





Having El Remate almost to ourselves and enjoying our stay at the
THE MANSION OF THE PLUMED SERPENT were a bonus while visiting Tikal.




Looking for a bus in bustling and busy Flores is something of a challenge and I am definitely ready to get back to El Remate!

Before leaving I would like to share some information in regards to the Mayan writing system of glyphs since you may be as interested as I was.




                                   MAYAN GLYPHS

The Mayan script, also known as Mayan glyphs or Mayan hieroglyph, is currently the only Mesoamerican writing system that has been substantially deciphered. The earliest inscriptions found which are identifiably Maya date to the 3rd century BCE in San Bartolo, Guatemala. Maya writing was in continuous use throughout Mesoamerica until the Spanish conquest of the Maya in the 16th and 17th centuries. For more detailed information you may go to the above link.







I also highly recommend you take the following very cool virtual tour of Tikal until you can visit the ruins in person. After opening the link go to the menu and click on TIKAL and then click on the lower right corner icon which reads VER INTRO/VIEW INTRO. Have a wonderful time!


A VIRTUAL AERIAL TOUR OF TIKAL

I hope you have enjoyed our visit to the legendary ruins of Tikal in Guatemala. I have certainly enjoyed sharing our visit and memories with you. For me this blog posting has rekindled a personal desire to return to these amazing Mayan ruins. Until then I will just have to be patient and keep on blogging!



When locals refer to their buses as chicky (chicken) buses it's for a good reason.  I didn't have the nerve to ask Felipe what his chicken's destiny was for that night!



For those of you who still have the energy, you may proceed to visit my previous postings on the following Mayan ruins.  If you recall, I did warn you that I simply adore Mayan pre-Colombian ruins!  


MAYAN RUINS OF PALENQUE, UXMAL, AND TULUM


MAYAN RUINS OF COPAN, HONDURAS


TIKAL AND EL REMATE PHOTO ALBUM



Everything grows gigante in the jungle and I appreciated this giant's support while taking a time out at Tikal.



Many thanks for your company and I very much look forward to seeing you again soon.   Laura from Tikal and El Remate, Lago Petén Itza, in Guatemala.




                                 And lest we forget:  memories are only a click away!

Friday, May 5, 2017

WHAT'S CINCO DE MAYO IN MEXICO ALL ABOUT?




The fifth of May (cinco de Mayo) commemorates the victory of the Mexicans over the French army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It is primarily a regional holiday celebrated in the Mexican state capital city of Puebla and throughout the state of Puebla, but is also celebrated in other parts of the country and in U.S. cities with a significant Mexican population. It is not, as people might think, Mexico’s Independence Day which is actually September 16.
 
Setting the Stage

The battle at Puebla in 1862 happened at a violent and chaotic time in Mexico’s history. Mexico had finally gained independence from Spain in 1821 and a number of internal political takeovers and wars, including the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the Mexican Civil War of 1858, had mostly wiped out the national economy.

During this period Mexico had accumulated heavy debts to several nations, including Spain, England, and France, who were demanding payment. Similar debt to the U.S. was previously cleared after the Mexican-American War. France was eager to add Mexico to its empire at that time, and when Mexico finally stopped making any loan payments, France used the debt issue to establish its own "leadership" in Mexico by installing Napoleon’s relative, Archduke Maximilian of Austria, as ruler of Mexico.






Mexico Confronts the Invasion

France invaded the Gulf coast of Mexico and began to march toward Mexico City. Although American President Abraham Lincoln was sympathetic to Mexico’s cause and for which he is honored in Mexico, the U.S. was involved in its own Civil War at the time and was unable to provide any direct assistance.


Marching toward Mexico City from the coast, the French army encountered strong resistance at the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. Lead by Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, a small poorly armed militia of about 4,500 were able to stop and defeat a well outfitted French army of 6,500 soldiers which halted the invasion of the country.





The victory was a glorious moment for Mexican patriots and is the cause for the historical date’s celebration. Unfortunately, the victory was short lived. Upon hearing the bad news, Napoleon had found an excuse to send more troops overseas to try and invade Mexico again against the wishes of the French populace. Thirty thousand more troops and a full year later, the French were eventually able to depose the Mexican army, take over Mexico City, and install Maximilian as the ruler of Mexico.

Maximilian’s rule of Mexico, however, was also short from 1864 to 1866 and ending as the United States of America began to provide more political and military assistance to Mexico to expel the French. Cinco de Mayo honors the bravery and victory of General Zaragoza’s small and outnumbered militia at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.



Today’s Celebration

For the most part, the holiday of Cinco de Mayo is more of a regional holiday in Mexico celebrated most vigorously in the state of Puebla for historical reasons. Though there is recognition of the holiday throughout the whole country it is nothing like that found in Puebla.





Commercial interests in the United States and Mexico have also been very successful in promoting the holiday with products and services focused on Mexican food, beverage, and festive items. Cinco de Mayo has turned into an excuse to enjoy Mexican beer and eat tacos as if anyone needed any more of an excuse! Source: Vallarta Tribune





Wishing all a wonderful Cinco de Mayo from Mexico wherever you may be.













Saturday, April 8, 2017

A FASCINATION WITH PELICANS





I am enamored with pelicans. This is not the first fascination I have developed in recent years, but it is certainly unexpected and a delightful one. Very few birds attract attention like pelicans do. They soar high in the sky in flocks forming a near perfect “V” or a razor sharp straight line and then they abruptly dive straight down within a school of fish to scoop up their meal. I think they are are simply amazing.

LINK TO PELICAN ALBUM




My fascination with pelicans certainly does not come from a background with much interest in birds. My exposure to the feathered species was pretty much limited to childhood parakeets, a pair of peach-faced lovebirds I named Peaches and Herb (remember the pop singing group from the 70's and 80's) that were part of my office “decor," and the ever-present seagulls that inhabited the southern California beach environment where I grew up. The idea of belonging to a “Bird Watchers” group was beyond my comprehension or desire.


It was probably inevitable, however, that this fascination with pelicans developed since we both share much of the same environment on the Bay of Banderas in México where we now call home. Our local Brown pelicans have become a constant source of entertainment and fascination and I am happy to be able to introduce you to my feathered “amigos.” Here is a brief introduction to our local Brown pelicans which I hope you find as interesting as I do.




LET'S MEET THE BROWN PELICAN AKA PELECANUS OCCIDENTALIS 


The Brown pelican is a permanent resident of the coastal marine environment from central North America southward to northern South America. Whether perched atop a piling, panhandling at a fishing pier, resting in the trees, or gliding above the surf, this conspicuous and popular seabird is instantly recognizable by its large body, long bill, and enormous gular (the large pouch located under the throat).




The Brown pelican is the smallest of the eight species of pelican although it is a large bird in nearly every other respect. The Brown pelican has a wingspan between 6 and 8 feet and weighs between 6 and 12 pounds. Like all pelicans, this species has a very large bill ranching in length of 11 to 13 inches with a pouch under its throat for draining water when it scoops out prey.




Pelicans are very gregarious birds and they live in flocks of both sexes throughout the year. They are exceptionally buoyant due to the internal air sacs beneath their skin and in their bones, and as graceful in the air as they are clumsy on land. In level flight pelicans fly in groups with their heads held back on their shoulders and the bills resting on their folded necks. They may fly in a "V", but usually in regular lines or single file, often low over the water's surface.




Webbing between all four toes on each foot makes the Brown pelican a strong swimmer, but an awkward walker. In flight, however, the species comes into its own. Long wings gracefully carry individuals to and from their fishing grounds, and flocks often fly in lines just above the water's surface, slowly rising and falling in a wavelike pattern. Fantastic fishers, Brown pelicans are noted for their spectacular head-first dives to trap unsuspecting fish in their expandable pouches.




Brown Pelicans are highly social and breed in colonies of up to several thousand pairs. They typically nest on small estuaries or offshore islands where they are free from disturbance and predation by terrestrial mammals, including humans. Pairs build nests on the ground or in trees, depending on the surface available. Brown pelicans incubate their eggs under their foot web and feed their small young “chicks” predigested fish that they regurgitate.




By three to four weeks of age the young chicks are large enough to swallow whole fish which they obtain by thrusting their bills into their parents' throats forcing them to disgorge. The young are able to fly and begin to fend for themselves by eleven to twelve weeks of age, but do not reach sexual maturity until three to five years of age. The Brown pelican is a long-lived species with the oldest individual on record dying at forty-three years of age.


SOME MORE COOL PELICAN FACTS

While the Brown Pelican is draining the water from its bill after a dive, gulls often try to steal the fish right out of its pouch sometimes while perching on the pelican's head. Pelicans themselves are also not above stealing fish as they follow fishing boats and hang around piers for handouts.




Pelicans incubate their eggs with the skin of their feet, essentially standing on the eggs to keep them warm. In the mid-twentieth century the pesticide DDT caused pelicans to lay thinner eggs that cracked under the weight of incubating parents. After nearly disappearing from North America in the 1960s and 1970s, Brown pelicans made a full comeback thanks to pesticide regulations.




The closely related Peruvian pelican lives along the Pacific Coast of South America from southern Ecuador to Chile. It is a little larger than a Brown pelican with fine white streaking on its underparts and a blue pouch in the breeding season. These two species are the only pelicans that plunge dive for their food.




During a dive the Brown Pelican tucks its head and rotates its body to the left. This maneuver is probably to cushion the trachea and esophagus which are found on the right side of the neck from the impact when they enter the water.




The male pelican selects a site on the ground or in an exposed treetop and performs head-swaying displays to attract a female. Ground sites are often covered with dense vegetation or surrounded by low shrubs. Pelicans prefer an area with nearby perches and enough open space for them to land, take off, preen, and loaf when not on the nest.




Ground nests range from depressions lined with grass to bulky structures of sticks, grass, and seaweed, while tree nests are usually well-built platforms of sticks lined with grass or leaves. The female builds the nest in 7–10 days as the male gathers progressively smaller sticks for her. The male brings new material for the female to add throughout incubation and he may rearrange the nest while inside. Nests measure up to 30 inches across and 9 inches high on the outside with an interior space up to 12 inches across and 4 inches deep.




The beautiful Los Arcos National Marine Park which is commonly referred to as "Los Arcos" (the arches) is located in the Bay of Banderas south of Puerto Vallarta and has been protected as a National Marine Park since 1984.  These small beautiful granite islands include caves, deep tunnels, arches, and a striking reef. The local Brown pelicans are especially fond of this location which just goes to show that our pelicans know a good place when they see it!  





Blue-footed boobies are also often seen near pelicans. The male booby has a smaller pupil and slightly lighter feet and is smaller in size than the female booby.  Don't you love their colorful feet!




Pelicans usually forage during the day, but may feed at night during a full moon. The brown pelican is a plunge diver dropping from the air with its wings partly folded and dives into the water to catch its prey. It uses its bill and pouch like a net scooping up fish and water. It strains out the water from the sides of its bill, tips back its head, and then swallows the fish it caught.




Brown pelicans do not carry fish in their pouch. They only use the pouch to scoop up fish. Sometimes gulls will try to steal fish from the pelican's pouch. In fact, gulls may even perch on the pelican's head and wait for just the right moment to grab a fish. The Brown pelican eats menhaden, herring, mullet, smelt, anchovies and other fish. It also eats crustaceans.




When grown the Brown pelican has a brown and gray body and a white head with a light brown crown. Its neck is dark brown during breeding season.  Males and females look the same. Young pelicans, however, are all brown until they mature. And finally, the pouch of the Brown pelican can hold close to three gallons of fish and water which is two to three times more than its stomach can hold.  Wow!


MY LAST WORD ON MY BROWN PELICAN AMIGOS





Some Baja California pelicans found their way into this blog.  Long time no see and welcome my amigos!

Here on the Bay of Banderas in México it is very unlikely that you will not find an area where pelicans can be found. They are just about everywhere you look from perching on a fisherman’s boat, hanging out in a tree or on a dock, or floating in the water near the shore. Pelicans are truly special to me and I hope you have the opportunity to personally observe this remarkable species wherever and whenever you can.  Until we meet again, wishing you happy trails and safe travels.  Laura

LINK TO PELICAN ALBUM


                         Memories are only a click away with thanks to both of my friends!