There is something reverent about ancient archaeological sites. The hush of spirits long gone still whisper in the trees and structures that were dedicated to the gods stand weathered against the toll of time. You can’t help but picture the world that once thrived where you now stand and marvel at the formations that have been coaxed from the choke of the jungle. As if this setting isn’t magical enough, imagine the mesmerizing song of a flute, floating as thick as the humid air, the intoxicating scent of earthy incense burning and the rhythm of words chanted from a Maya priest who welcomes the solstice of summer. The 82 year-old shaman, who is from the far southern Toledo District of Belize and has never set foot on the island of Ambergris Caye until days before the ceremony, raises the palms of his hands to the heavens and in the only language he knows calls upon his God to bless the sacred grounds of his ancient ancestors. Even in the heat of the day, it’s enough to give you goose bumps…
And so it was on Saturday, June 21st when Maya priest Martin Choc, by invitation of site director Jan Brown and the Board of Directors, held a summer solstice ceremony and blessing of the Marco Gonzalez Maya Site located five miles south of San Pedro Town. Renowned flautist and musician Pablo Collado’s ethereal music captivated the guests as they arrived for the 10AM ceremony. With more than 40 people in attendance, and half as many participating in the ceremony, people from all corners of the earth stood shoulder to shoulder in a circle around an urn of burning incense and the demure, weathered man who spoke in his native tongue of Q’eqchi Mayan. Choc first blessed the area, fanning it with holy water using a palm frond while he walked around the Main Plaza where the ceremony took place. Then, holding candles and enchanted by his words, the circle stood silent, with only the sounds of birds, the burning incense and his blessings to be heard. After the ten-minute ceremony each person was asked to return their flaming candle to the burning incense urn, and the group was told that the vessel must remain there for three days, undisturbed. The ending ritual was punctuated with the soft drumming of Collado.
Following the ceremony Choc’s grandson (and traveling companion) paraphrased the blessing into English, saying, “He [the priest] blessed the site first and then when he came back into the circle he prayed for Ms. Jan…so that she can stay here among where the Maya used to live before and he prayed that nothing would happen to her…he also prayed for San Pedro that nothing would happen to anyone or anything…that they can live in peace …and he also prayed that he didn’t know how the Maya ancestors came here but he is so grateful, so surprised to see the Maya site here…he doesn’t know how they came here but yes it is true they lived here…and he says thank-you.”
Guests were invited afterwards to enjoy cold beverages, tamales and to explore the site, where many volunteers were stationed to inform people about each area.
Although Marco Gonzalez has been legendary with locals for decades and explored by archeologists in the 1980’s and 90’s, it wasn’t until 2007 that the site was taken seriously, (thanks to the coaxing of Ms. Jan) and limited excavation began. Yielding exciting finds that included dozen of archeological structures, burial sites complete with human remains, jewelry, pottery, artifacts and 49 specific sites, the area was designated a National Reserve in 2010. In 2011 the Belizean Government recognized Marco Gonzalez as the first Maya Site National Park on an island, Ambergris Caye.
Many mysteries of the Marco Gonzalez Site remain concealed by the embrace of the jungle and below the layers of time. The site does not compare to the majestic ruins on the mainland, but stands testimony to an amazing population of people who once thrived on our island. Evidence of trading from Maya sites on the mainland, to as far away as Mexico City can be found, suggesting the people conducted business with the Aztec. The ground is littered with pottery shards where ever you walk and just poking around is a fun past time. Of course all artifacts must remain at the site! The area is surrounded by jungle and the exotic vegetation attracts birds and critters that add to the ambience. Walking the makeshift boardwalk into the site is alone an adventure, and there is interpretive signage along the way that points out the birds and creatures who call the area home. Guided tours are available and highly recommended to get the full Marco experience.
For more information and to book a tour of the site, please contact Ms. Jan at 226-2059 or 662-2725. You can also visit their website at http://marcogonzalezmayasite.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Marco-Gonzalez-Maya-Site.