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April 14, 2003

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Central America is where old, yellow school buses come to die. We sit in one and chug across the border from Belize into Guatemala. The bus company charges $1 per hour of travel time (the bus sputters along at 30 kilometers per hour). With time on our hands we brush up on our Spanish because few locals hablan Ingles. Eventually we make it to Flores. Travelers come to Guatemala because it offers Central America on steroids: the most dramatic geology (active volcanoes, muggy jungle), the most authentic Mayan ruins, the most tumultuous history (the region's longest civil war, 30 years), and the worst in banana republic dictatorships. Guatemala is the Mayan heartland. Ironically, Mayans take top billing in Guatemalan travel brochures yet suffer the hardest repression from the Spanish descended power cliques.
This toucan is a living cartoon yet even with an improbable proboscis it carries an aloof and condescending air, as if you're ridiculous for not having an oversized beak
Flores thrives as a jungle capital. It's built on an island on Lago de Petén Itzá. Santa Elena, the sister city, stands on the opposite lakeshore. Flores has an organized layout, with its church and government building arranged around a plaza that tops the hill in the center of the island. At the end of the Mayan empire, Flores remained as the country's last functioning Mayan ceremonial center. Spanish soldiers destroyed the city's pyramids, temples and idols and drove the Mayan citizens into the jungle. Could this be the place known in myth as the 'lost' Mayan city?