Drawing upon three decades of working, traveling, and living in Central America’s remote and dangerous landscapes, this memoir chronicles a journalist’s fascinating experiences with the people, politics, archaeology, and species of the rainforest, the cradle of Mayan civilization. The intense beauty of the forest, the fantastic locales, the ancient ruins, and the horrific violence of the jungle are brought to life through clear and compelling language. The author plays witness to archaeological discoveries, the transformation of the Lacandon people, the Zapatista indigenous uprising in Mexico, and increased drug trafficking, and she assists in the uncovering of a war crime. Great changes of the region, from a time when the jungle had virtually no roads and no visitors to the vacationers and adventure travelers who now arrive daily, are revealed in this unique exploration of the adaptation and resolve of a people.
Equal parts travel narrative and meditation on Mayan cultural history, McConahay's gripping memoir exposes the devastations of war. On a visit to Mexico City in 1973, McConahay saw an exhibit on the Lacand n Maya Indians that sparked an urge to find these last links to ancient Mayan culture. Over nearly four decades, she returned to Mayan sites in the vast rainforest spanning Mexico's southern state of Chiapas and Guatemala's northern state of Pet n while working as a journalist. She records a personal odyssey along the clay roads running through the rainforest in which she participates in an archeological dig, an exhumation at the site of a massacre by government soldiers, and a Zapatista national convention; interviews Mayan priests, missionaries, and survivors of civil war; visits caves, standing stones, and burial mounds; and illuminates surprising holdouts (indigenous women, adorned with dead birds, who speak the Lacand n language). McConahay expresses her reverence for the rainforest with graceful imagery, describing, for example, the act of creation while listening to the sounds inside a waterfall. As the end of the fourth Maya era, on December 21, 2012, approaches, attention has focused on Mayan prophesies of apocalypse. McConahay's insightful memoir suggests another story: Mayans' veneration of nature, respect for human dignity, and expansive view of time are powerful antidotes to the poverty, drug-trafficking, violence, kidnappings, and destruction that has plagued rainforest settlements for decades.