maya-2012-140Maya 2012: A Guide to Celebrations in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras
by Joshua Berman (Nicaragua 1998–2000)
Moon Travel Guides
128 pages
$7.99 (paperback)
October 2011

Reviewed by Lawrence F. Lihosit (Honduras 1975–77)

TRAVELERS WHO PLAN TO EXPLORE the Mayan world this coming year need this book! Even the seasoned trekker with a worn and patched backpack, creased boots, frayed hat and a passport bulging with extra pages will want to buy Maya 2012 before it’s sold out. It has it all: great maps, background information, descriptions of tours, transportation and discount hotels. It also contains conversion tables, an index, Mayan words and phrases, interesting interviews with important Mayan scholars and even a suggested reading list. This ain’t no guide to overpriced hotels and do-dads, but a book written for us serious wayfarers.

For those with only a whiff of Mayan history, this book will convince you that the place to be on December 21, 2012 is standing within the shadow of a Mayan pyramid. That is the date when a 5,126 year Mayan era ends and a new one begins. That’s right — a new one, which means the world ain’t going to end just yet. Real estate prices have to increase first. Mayans predicted that this new era would be of “transformation” or possibly “movement.” Scholars disagree on the translation. Across four nations, there will be celebrations. I’ll be there too, doffing my cowboy hat to pretty girls, smiling and talkin.’ “Bax ka’ wali?” If they don’t smile, I’ll add in Spanish, “¡Qué linda! Ven por acá bonita.” Course I’ll only do this while my wife is off buying a soft drink. She has no sense of humor, but quite a good sense of revenge (like Lorena Bobbitt). Being an Aztec, you can’t be too careful, especially when you’re sleepin’.

If you are a Central American novice, the Mayan people created a great civilization between 1800 B.C. and about 900 A.D. (about when Rome fell). Over a three-thousand-year span, they became great mathematicians (inventing the zero centuries before the Europeans discovered it in the Middle East), wonderful astronomers (who correctly predicted that our solar system would pass through the center of the Milky Way on December 21, 2012), as well as a practical people. They built great cities aligned with the southern cross, created a calendar more accurate than that of the Europeans five centuries later and authored a written language which we can now read. The Greeks of the New World, they cultivated corn, vanilla, chocolate, squash, beans, chili pepper, manioc and onions. They also grew cotton and wove cloth. They traveled hundreds of miles by long canoe, collected salt and also mined and processed copper into half-moon shaped blades used with a handle. They mined and traded turquoise. They also used natural rubber to create a ball and invented an interesting sport played on stone courts. Rumor has it even they could beat the pumas. Like the Greeks, they were lords over city-states which vied for power, sometimes in confederations. Today, scientists believe that their great cities were abandoned after long droughts that led to starvation and war.

The book is printed with dual columns, color photos and maps. Normally, I buy three different guide books with a credit card, run to a photocopy joint, copy the good stuff, paste it on paper and then ask the clerk to put a binding on it. Once accomplished, I return the book for credit, most naturally. But not this one! Heck this book not only has everything but also fits into your cargo pants’ leg pocket! That’s right — forget the backpack. The book slides right into your pocket. There’s climate data, information about tourist seasons, recommendations for shots. Whew! Baby, it don’t get better than this. Lorenzo sez five stars.

The author is another former Volunteer, por supuesto. He’s been guiding folks around these four countries for more than a decade and it shows. He’s also written two other guides: one for Belize and one for Nicaragua. Buy a book written by a maestro.

Lawrence F. Lihosit is the author of four books about or inspired by the Peace Corps including: Peace Corps Chronology, 1961–2010; South of the Frontera — A Peace Corps Memoir; Whispering Campaign — Stories from Mesoamerica; and Years On and Other Travel Essays.