Author: Yoko Lu
I was travelling in Guatemala during the Christmas break of 2019 while I was doing an internship in Belize. Since it is a neighbouring country, I crossed the border on road without trouble. I took the bus from the capital Belmopan to Benque, a city right next to the border. Then I took the taxi to the border, then went through the immigrant control, and that’s it. There was no machine for scanning the passport – the passport was just passed to the officer, stamped, and returned to me.
I was in Guatemala for 16 days, with some of these days being ‘stuck’ in Antigua because of no shuttle busses on holidays. Antigua is the main hub where there are various connections for long-distance shuttle bus travel. I could have taken chicken busses but that meant spending the whole day transiting in local busses which would stop at anywhere on the road where there were passengers who wanted to board or get dropped off. On one of those days, I went to Copan, Honduras from Antigua, to specifically visit a well-known Mayan archaeological site. There is one sculpture in the picture above that is slightly different from other objects. Can you guess which one? This sculpture is from Copan.
While most of these souvenirs are oriented towards tourists, they are nevertheless connected to biodiversity and nature. The two masks, for example, represent the Mayan history and wildlife. I am guessing what the orange mask with cheetah-like design may represent, but as I was netsurfing through the Internet, I would say that it is a margay. It resembles an ocelot, but with smaller body, longer legs, and tail. Margays are monkey-cats that thrive in trees. They reside in Central and South America.
Conservation-wise, margay (Leopardus wiedii) was widely hunted illegally for wildlife trade, until the 1990s. The animal is listed as Near Threatened (NT) on the Red List of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In terms of the recent issues, its population is believed to be declining due to habitat loss, specifically deforestation, as the cat relies on the forest for survival. Other threats are: illegal pet trade, killing for poultry protection, and low reproductive rate. Currently, the cat is fully protected; however, in Ecuador, Guyana, and El Salvador, its protection status is not set. There is a high probability that the margay will be listed as vulnerable in the future. Status and abundance of the animal is poorly known; therefore, more research is necessary.
While the wildlife – flora and fauna – is the primary focus for biodiversity, Mayan culture is important as well. Tikal, for example, is one major archaeological site in Guatemala, and it is also along the border crossing between Belize and Guatemala. Tikal was the first destination I went after entering Guatemala through Belize. Tikal can be reached from Antigua via flight as well.
Selva Maya is a forest region that covers Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico. It is the largest rainforest in Mesoamerica, which ranges from Central Mexico to northern Costa Rica. Within the Selva Maya, there are 20 unique ecosystems that make up different categories of protection, including National Parks, Forest Reserves, and Biosphere Reserves. Tikal itself is dated to being 600 B.C. and A.D. 900, flourishing as an ancient city that consists of over 20 major pyramids. This means that ever since ancient times, ancient people have been utilizing the nature for survival, and used nature as a religious form of worshipping the nature gods. It is thought that there were at least 166 deities, known as the Mayan pantheon. Within the pantheon, some religious figures included animals of Maya, relating to biodiversity being important in both ancient and modern times. For example, the Jaguar Sun God refers to: “Almighty God the Sun dwells in the highest levels of heaven. When he traces the path of the sun across the sky in the daytime, his name is Kinich Ahau. When the sun falls into the West Door and enters the Underworld, he becomes the fearsome Jaguar God.” Tikal Temple I is known as the Temple of the Great Jaguar, as shown as the highest temple in Tikal (left, image below). Another animal god, called Itzam-Yeh, the Celestial Bird, is represented as the Serpent Bird or Seven-Macaw. Four corners of the world are associated, with the world represented as the temple, creating the summit of the sacred temple.
Link: Air Pano (Can be viewed as 360° panorama view by scrolling the mouse)
There are two music instruments that are visible in the assemblage of souvenirs: flute and shaker (placed right of the flute). They are not directly connected to the biodiversity, but they are well-represented as Mayan (or Guatemalan) music culture.
There is a band of crafted dolls in front of larger objects. These reflect the unique Guatemalan textile style as well as relation to the social culture.
Below the band are two belts. I am not sure what the design means, but I was so fascinated by the designs, I decided to purchase in addition to my collection of souvenirs.
Below all the objects placed on the table, there lies a blanket. This is not a blanket; it is a poncho. I have always wanted to be part of the nature and culture; therefore, I was fortunate to have bought it.
P.S. I ran out of space, so I ended up buying an extra luggage in Mexico City to hold all these souvenirs, on my way back to Belize. I carried all these souvenirs on my latter half of the trip, through most of those days, I stayed in Antigua. I was not planning to go to Mexico City, but I had to, because of passport stamp problems (I couldn’t go to El Salvador nor return to Belize via Guatemala – I had to go back to Belize via Mexico or the U.S.).
TRAVEL TIP: If you end up traveling to Antigua, and if you wish to buy souvenirs, Nimpot (Nim Po’t) is the best place to buy souvenirs because their prices are set as minimal. If you buy on the street or at any other stores, the prices are typically much higher, as much as twice the price you find in Nimpot.