It had been a two hour journey. I had taken a bus through dirt roads in Belize to a Mayan village just five miles from the Guatemalan border. After a quick motorbike ride and a walk through a small creek, I entered the village to a strange moaning sound and the villagers standing around a white animal with crimson pouring from its throat. I had just arrived to a freshly slaughtered pig and a man bent down stroking it gently as it took its last dying breaths.
This was San Jose, a small town of 1000 people close to the Guatemala border. This was where I was to immerse myself for the next two nights, living with a Mayan family and learning about the Mayan way of life.
There are three different groups of Mayans; the Yucatec Maya, the Kekchi and the Mopan Maya who originated from the Peten area of Guatemala, my hosts for the next two nights. I was led past the commotion into a wooden hut, still slightly shocked by what I had just witnessed.
‘Sit,' said the grandmother, one of the ten families who took part in the home stay, beckoning me to a hammock hanging within the kitchen. Within minutes I had fallen asleep, knocked out by the fresh air, amongst the chickens roaming around beneath my hammock.
I awoke to the smell of freshly cooked fish placed before me, intact and wrapped in leaves. I could hear people singing in the church below as the sounds of hymns drifted up the hill. I had been told not to expect electricity but overhead a fluorescent light lit up the room and the sound of Punta; a fast Belize reggae beat came from a modern stereo.
As night fell, I played matchstick games with the young children and danced with the teenagers then I slept and was awoken in the morning by the Mayan grandfather as he prepared himself for the three mile walk to the Cocoa field to harvest the chocolate seeds.
In the modern world he would be retired but in the Mayan culture there was no rest for an ageing worker. This was their livelihood and once a week they took their fresh produce to the nearest town to sell. I would be accompanying them on the 5am bus in two days time.
After a breakfast of beans and tortillas, I followed the Mayan women to the river. Their water supply to the village had broken and their daily routine was now one of washing in the nearby river.
I washed the dishes, washed the clothes and followed them back to the kitchen to help prepare the lunch, making fresh tortillas from the corn they produced whilst the grandmother prepared the pork for lunch.
As much as I was a carnivore, eating the meat of an animal I had witnessed taking its last dying breaths was literally hard to swallow and put a new dimension on eating fresh food.
As we prepared lunch I observed their way of life and the simplicity of their homes; the tiny make-shift hammock where they placed the baby to sleep, the puppies that were being shooed out of the kitchen, the small boy sat in a wooden box playing with a rusty nail, whilst listening to the women as they spoke in their native tongue conversing with one another as one big happy family.
The grandmother beamed with pride as she introduced me to her children (11 in total), her grandchildren (45 of them, not all present), her 15 dogs, 75 chickens and 2 horses. This was a typical Mayan family.
Then it was time to sleep ready for our 4am start.
The grandmother wearing just flip flops was as nimble as a mountain goat carrying my daypack uphill and across the river as I shone the light of my torch in her path to the spot where the bus would stop.
I felt privileged to be witnessing their lives, to be escorting them to the local market where our paths would then separate; mine to continue my travels and theirs to earn enough money to feed their families.
It had only been a brief glimpse into their sustainable way of life and their basic way of living. Family and faith play a large part in the Mayan culture and although modern day living is beginning to influence their lifestyle with mobile phones and electricity, I have no doubt that they will continue to maintain their rich Mayan heritage far into the future…
I took part in the Mayan Immersion programme through Belize Travel Services. All proceeds go towards the Mayan community to help sustain their way of life.
If you're looking to travel to Belize as a solo traveller, check out the Solo Travel in Belize destination guide.