We left Puerta Dorada at around 9 in the morning, setting ourselves up for a long 10 hour car ride. In a large van that we traveled in, we were only accompanied by each other and Beatles as they played quietly over the speakers. We passed through town after town and city after city, the roads constantly twisting to the left and the right; car rides like this take so long because there are so few bridges in Guatemala, so people in cars have to go around the large hills and mountains in order to get anywhere.
Eventually we pulled over for lunch at the Mayan ruins. These particular ruins were of the Ixchime civilization. We met up with our tour guide, Don Balam, and he led us inside the museum next to the ruins. Inside the museum there was a large and impressively detailed replica of the ancient city. Don Balam explained that the city was just for royalty and only had around 200 residents who were all members of one of five families. He showed us an exhibit of skulls found in the ruins; the member of the royal family was distinguished from the servants by the crown he was found wearing. We then continued on to the actual ruins. Each family had their own plaza, or different section of the city. All of the plazas were effectivly the same; they all had temples, sacrificial altars, recreational areas and living quarters. They also all had a Mayan calander which is made of stone and looks like a plus sign with a square in the middle. Each corner of the calendar represented the days of the month which totaled twenty. There are 13 months in the moon cycle, and 18 in the sun cycle. In the sun cycle there is also an extra month which is only 5 days long, giving the sun cycle a total of 365 days. They used the sun cycle to keep track of the years and the rainy and dry seasons, while the moon cycle is more spiritual and would tell when plants where okay to be harvested in terms of keeping with their religion. The moon cycle also effects the energies of people, depending on which of the days of the month they were born.
Using an app on his phone, Don Balam told me that my Mayan sign was Tekaj (pronounced te-kash), the energy spirit corresponding to my birth date. Each energy sign comes with characteristics that define the person who receives it; characteristics like hardworking, well-organized, social, or a tendency to overthink. Then, he led us through the rest of the plazas, pointing out interesting buildings along the way. The 5th plaza wasn’t a plaza at all; it was a place for Mayan fire ceremonies. The fire ceremonies are a way for the indigenous people to communicate with their ancestors by burning things like chocolate, honey, and wax. Because the Maya believe their ancestors live in the wind, burning things are how a person keeps their late relatives happy and content.
Don Balam ended the tour after that, giving us the chance to explore the ruins ourselves more closely. While we didn’t have Don Balam’s commentary that explained the significance of everything, it was still so amazing to feel the history of such an accomplished people in the stones that millions have walked on before.