Mesoamerica. About 1,000 years before the time of Christ, a consortium of autonomous city/kingdoms developed and flourished in a region now mapped as southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. They thrived until around the Fifteenth Century AD, leaving behind astounding monuments to the energy, industry, and ingenuity of their populations. They built temples rivaling those of Egypt... not as large but more extensive. A calendar more accurate than our own. Astronomical observations used in their building that reveal a surprising degree of sophistication and knowledge.
Today, the descendants of those ancient Maya still populate this same region of Central America. Many are still farmers. But some are cowboys. Young men still rope and brand cattle today in Guatemala much as it must have been done in the western US 150 years ago. They donít dress in the regalia standardized by Hollywood. They wear tee shirts and rubber boots, and they donít sport cell phones. They are hard working young men, rounding up and managing cattle herds still. Itís a job.
In some areas, Mennonite farmers have laid claim to the land... and are making it productive in their own way. In Belize, which is an English-speaking country, only German is spoken in one Mennonite colony. They are cool to outsiders, and also seem to have preserved some sense of still being in the Nineteenth Century. They travel everywhere by horse and buggy or carriage... or walk. A bride and groom may receive a new handmade buggy as a cherished wedding gift.
In the highlands of Guatemala, ancient rituals are still practiced, where chickens are sacrificed, rather than humans, to old Mayan deities. Christian beliefs are often mixed with those ancient and obscure practices in quixotic ways... sometimes on mountain tops... sometimes right on the steps of the Cathedral.
Copan in Honduras was found buried in the jungle in the 1830ís. It was actually purchased by an English explorer for $50. It is a magnificent complex of temples underlain by recently discovered tunnels. Here is the great Hieroglyphic Stairway of CopŠn, which is perhaps the largest single text in the world, certainly the longest text from pre-Columbian America.
The Barrier Reef of the Caribbean, along the eastern shore of Belize, is a contrast to the ancient Mayan world. Submerged with the fish, we get a chance to see a surprising variety of underwater life that thrives here, even though the reef itself faces a list of threats to its very existence.
Modern cities contrast with remote villages, and both are part of this thriving world today, that has emerged from a jungle beginning.