on March 10, 2013
We wanted to visit a chocolate making factory and check out a Mayan village whilst we were in the area, so I spoke with Ian about the options. He was quick to point me away from an "expensive organized tour" and suggested that we try a local one that used local transport and local people. With this proposal we would be hands-on and all try the different skills used by the cottage industries and would also be able to see how the locals lived. It sounded good to me so I took a recent newspaper article with to explain the trip to my wife and friend. It was a goer so Ian confirmed the arrangement. He would get us to the bus station in PG where we’d take the James Bus service and on dis-embarkment we’d be picked up and start our experience.The Living Maya Experience (LME) is a 45 minute bus journey from Punta Gorda (PG) in the village of Big Falls and the trip on the local bus is, at $1.50 US, part of the day’s experience. We set off at 9.50 and got off the bus at the other side of the bridge in Big Falls to make our way, following the signs to the LME. We were met by a very friendly daughter of Cristobal and Anita Cal. Amina is currently working alongside her mother and father and hope to study tourism management when she goes to University next year. She’s had to take a year out to enable the family to save up enough money to finance this part of her education, but she doesn’t mind because she wants to help develop this new family business. Cristobal Cal sounded really passionate about this new venture as he wants his culture with its traditional ways and knowledge to be recognized and to continue to flourish. He has therefore created a traditional Mayan home as it would have been before the onset of modern technology. The local schools are able to visit this traditional home and learn about the Mayan way of life and Cristobal is hoping that more tourists will visit their village. We started off with a tour of their garden with every plant having a use. The soapberry tree with its berries which are used to cleanse the skin, the Yam and the coconut tree were present in his garden and his young boys were real pleased to be able to shin up the tree to collect 4 coconuts for us to drink from. It’s years since I drunk coconut milk and I really enjoyed it.Christobal was a member of the Kek’chi – Mopan are the other group in this area – and he is ever hopeful that some of his family will retain the Maya ways. However, for all of his commitment to the Maya way of life, he does have a separate dwelling to the one we saw (concrete with a thatched roof) which contains all the trappings of modern day living. Still the country kitchen that we saw is where they spend most of their working days and it is here that we saw their demonstrations of how it used to be.In the hut we were shown a bed with a mattress made from the rolled out bark of the moho tree and a comfortable (although I’m not sure I could relax on) bench seat from the trunk of the balsa tree. The demonstrations started after we’d been told that the family grow 4 types of corn (white, yellow, red and black) and the corn is ground on an ancient Maya grinding stone. We’ve seen these before as we travelled through Maya Sites but this was the first time we could put it to the test. It isn’t easy and soon I had more corn on the floor than I did on the grinding stone. To strains of "don’t give up your day job" I retreated to the bench to give the rest a go. Needless to say they didn’t perform much better!After our disastrous grinding of the corn we settled down to make Tortilla. I have to say that this looked real easy as we watched Amina and her sister. They could have done it with their eyes closed and each thin doughy mixture was thrown onto the griddle for a perfect grilling. Let me state here and now that Tortilla making is not easy and three out the four of us made a right hash of it. Ours looked sorry specimens on the grill and to make it worse we were going to have to eat them later!Next we watched Amina’s grandmother grinding cocoa beans. Basilia performed this task effortlessly and I suspect you know what I’ll say next... Yes it was not as easy as it looked. It was hard work but I’m sure with practice we could have got the action and rhythm to sort out the beans that we had jumping all over the grinding stone. Basilia continued grinding the beans in order that we could sample the fresh cocoa after our lunch.Talking of lunch.... Well I’ll try anything once, but I’m afraid that the preparation put in front of me was not compatible with my taste buds. I struggled with the first mouthful and decided to smile politely and admit defeat. None of this bothered my friend who tucked into the meal as if he hadn’t eaten for days. I reckon that he has the stomach of an ox as he suffered no stomach "unrest" as a result of this strongly tasting meal. Indeed he devoured it quicker than Amina could!The cocoa that we were served after the meal was a pleasant contrast and this sweet drink, made entirely of water and the results of the cocoa grinding, went down a treat.We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Cal household and were impressed with their openness and aspirations. They do have a simple life, which they are happy with, and the look forward to spreading the word about the Maya way of life. I’d recommend a visit if you’re in the vicinity.
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