Mundo Maya Blog
About this blog
Travelers to Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras in 2012 can expect a yearlong celebration of Maya culture, past and present—and Moon Maya 2012 author Joshua Berman is blogging about all of it.
- Maya 2012: A Round-up of Celebrations in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize & Honduras
- Reporting for National Geographic on Maya winter solstice in Belize
- Maya calendar cycle celebrated throughout Central America
- Feliz B'aktun! The New Dawn is Here: The First Sunrise in Caracol, Belize
- Maya Calendar 101: What Does “December 21, 2012” Really Mean?
- Gifts for Mayaphiles
- Books on the Maya: Suggested Reading for 2012
- Izapa Sunrise Story by Mary Jo McConahay
- Tranquilo Radio Tour 2012: Seven hours straight of talking about travel
- Tune in this Wednesday! Maya 2012 author Josh Berman on a radio show near you!
- End Maya-Aztec calendar confusion now!
- Q&A with Maya Experts on Satellite Imagery of Archaeological Sites
- Maya response to 'doomsday' 2012 stories
- Only a couple of rooms left for "The Great Return: Copan 2012" tour of a lifetime!
- 5 Questions about Traveling in the Mundo Maya for Rafael Garcia
An Interview with Macduff Everton, Photographer of the Maya People
Photographer Macduff Everton's latest book, The Modern Maya: Incidents of Travel and Friendship in Yucatán (University of Texas Press, 2012), was 40 years in the making. It is no mere coffee table showcase. It is, as has been reported by a number of reviewers, nothing less than a magnum opus, and a serious tribute to the people he has met and befriended during his decades traveling in the Maya region.
Everton is a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler, and his editorial clients include Condé Nast Traveler, Gourmet, House & Garden, Life, National Geographic Traveler, LA Times Magazine, NY Times Magazine, Outside, Smithsonian, and Town & Country.
There aren't many documentary photography projects that, like The Modern Maya, span more than 40 years, especially working with the same families. The book, says the author, is their stories. "While most history chronicles the famous, this book is about the lives of ordinary people who are the soul of their culture. History only exists if someone documents it."
Joshua Berman: When did you first travel to a country in the Mundo Maya? Where did you go and how did it impact you?
Macduff Everton: I first traveled to Mexico in 1967 when I was 19. I was offered a job to go to South America for an educational film company to create college level anthropological and archaeological filmstrips primarily as a photographer, but I also did my first ethnographic survey. I never got to South America for them — I couldn’t believe how incredible Mexico was, and by the time I got to Guatemala, I got a telegram explaining they’d ran out of money, but felt confident that if anyone could get back by themselves, I could do it. It was on this first trip that I visited Yucatán, including walking out to the Maya archaeological site of Cobá from Chemax. That first trip changed my life — I keep returning to visit my Maya friends.
JB: What advice do you have for someone traveling to a Maya village or archeological site for the first time?
Macduff Everton: I like to know as much about an area as I can before I arrive. I find that people appreciate it if you aren’t completely ignorant of their culture. I often travel with more books than clothes. Some of my books I have to tie up with twine - their bindings are ancient history. For anyone traveling to the highlands of Chiapas, a great book to read is Carter Wilson’s Crazy February. Along with Peter Matthiessen’s Far Tortuga, I think it is the best example of anthro fiction. It has been in print since first published in 1966, and now available in paperback. Ronald Wright’s Time Among the Maya is wonderful, and also now available in paperback, and Mary Jo McConahay’s Maya Roads is a thoughtful and personal account of some of the horrors of Guatemala’s vicious war.
[When visiting a village,] trying to find a hammock maker, or a guide, or a huipile maker is a great way to visit a village and get invited into homes. There are so many things to say about this. Sometimes I’d ask where I could buy a meal, or where I could hang my hammock, and that would open up all sorts of adventures. And when I first went down to Mexico, I didn’t speak any Spanish. For many Maya, Spanish is a second language, so they are more forgiving of impertinent verb tenses. I find that just talking to someone, showing interest in whatever they are doing, is a great way to start a conversation.
When visiting an archaeological site, read up on the site and the ancient Maya. Travel guides are an excellent source of practical information and there are a lot of books on the ancient Maya, reading that you can start weeks or months or years before you actually see your first Maya site. And then there are the books about by/about earlier archaeologists and travelers — starting with the classic Incidents of Travel in Yucatán by John L. Stephens and illustrated by Frederick Catherwood. And then Paul Sullivan’s books — Unfinished Conversations and Xuxub Must Die are excellent.
JB: What advice do you have for photographers who are traveling in the Maya region?
Macduff Everton: Patience. The title of Ronald Wright's Time Among the Maya also refers to the flexibility of time among the people of time. Relax, because events unfold on their own schedule. If you promise someone a print/photo, be sure that you honor it. It used to take me more than a year to process and develop film, make a print, and return. Now, with digital cameras, you can photograph someone, and after downloading your file at a COSTCO or graphic center, return the same day and give them prints. This will often lead to more photographic possibilities.
JB: What do you think "responsible tourism" means when traveling in the Mundo Maya? How do you make sure that inviting tourists to the heart of the Maya world does not somehow dilute, demean, or damage that culture? How do we make sure everyone benefits?
Macduff Everton: People are making billions of dollars every year off the Maya. There is the Mundo Maya, Riviera Maya, Playa Maya, Ruta Maya -- but the Maya aren't profiting from this -- they are the employees rather than the owners. Any time that you can support local Maya -- a village restaurant, guide service -- it helps. And any support that shows that preserving Maya culture and customs has a value and can lead to sustainable tourism is a plus. Today there are few local jobs - the Maya must look for work in Cancún and along the Riviera Maya. Anything that allows the young Maya to stay and work in their towns and villages is a plus. Why aren't the Maya the owners rather than the employees? I talk about this a lot in my book.
JB: What about on December 21, 2012? Do you think people will or should try to visit a main temple site on this date? Do you have any special travel plans?
Macduff Everton: I don't have special plans yet, although Anabel Ford, the archaeologist working at El Pilar (Belize), has invited me to her site that is an excellent example of archaeology under the canopy. I'd love to spend the holidays in Yucatán, or Belize, or Guatemala, but I don't think the coming 21 December 2012 is a special date. I think that any chance, any time, any date, that I can return is special.