In 2005 I was honored to visit Takalik Abaj, the site of early Mayan culture from the time when they were still influenced by the Olmecs. In general, these sites on the Pacific side of Guatemala are all evidence of this influence: when you see large statues of stone, usually round, you can see that Olmecs influence.

About El Baul, I heard by reading some books about that specific Pacific culture. Scientists have determined that the direction of the coming of culture to Central America went along the Pacific coast. I think there is a climatic reason: the Atlantic side is less comfortable, exposed to the hurricanes. It is obvious that the climate has been changing over the centuries, since when we talk about the Maya it stretches over a long period of time, from 6th century BC. up to the 10th century AD when Mayan culture produced large cities marked by huge temples and pyramids, terrains for the ceremonial ball play and a number of other large stone buildings.

El Baul | Guatexplorer

There are other localities besides El Baul that speak about those early Mayan days: Bilbao, El Castillo, and a very small Golon. But that's not all. To the south, about 20 km, lies the site La Democracia, and four kilometers further away Monte Alto, a place that is a true mystery because of the huge stone heads, most of which were - stolen.

It is not so hard to find the rests of El Baul: just come to the town of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa from Escuintla or Mazatenango, follow the signs for the newly-built Ciudad Espana. By the way, the road can be getting worse in that area, but they told me that soon there will be the major repair done. You have to find old sugar cane mill and then ask to be let into the parking lot.

There is lovely decorated museum setting in the open with the findings from the site of El Baul. Circa 50-60 stone sculptures, each duly tagged with an explanation. The museum also offers a lecture hall and a toilet. Nothing more. Beautifully worn heads of ancient people of power in various sizes. Then, people-fish, and people-coyotes.

I read among other things: "Today's Cotzumalguapa was most likely the seat of a powerful state that had political control over the vast Pacific Coast. The diffusion of their sculpting style gives the scale of their influence. This style is encountered along the 200 km of Pacific Ocean coast, from Southeast to today's Guatemala and El Salvador borders. We also find its strong presence in some parts of the Middle and East Highlands, especially in the Antigua Guatemala and Kaminaljuyú regions (today's Guatemala City). Some elements of style are noticeable in sculptures from various locations around Chimaltenango, the western Guatemalan Pacific, and in the valley of the Motagua River. "

This artistic style is characterized by a more realistic figurative fashion, with the attempt to create stelae filled with inscriptions, hieroglyphics, and by introducing death as the main theme and as the very nature of these sculptures.

Today's El Baul does not seem to exist. Namely, the North Acropolis (as I said previously that is located on private land) is the only rest of the site itself, while the southern acropolis was destroyed in 1997 when it was most likely used for the construction of Ciudad Espana and surrounding settlements. Neighboring (1.5 miles away) Bilbao was robbed by the Germans. At the end of the 19th century, the Royal Museum of Berlin sent a team that simply carved out its heads and removed the relief from the building. And everything was moved to Berlin museums. Luckily, those items had survived the WWII.

Guatemala is a country of history, of mostly Mayan history. But during the centuries various conquering nations had either destroyed or looted many of the goods that had survived the age. It is a very sad destiny for those priceless pieces of art and culture. Yes, Guatemala is one of those countries, like Egypt and India, that ask for the return of their heritage. So far, mostly in vain.

The good side of the production was that the infrastructure of communication and transportation was necessary to take the product to the distribution centers and consumers, helping the development of the country. It also helped to develop the rum industry in the times when rum was literary a currency. Sugar cane was a new hope for a new colony, later for a new independent state, the source of the income in hard times and source of joy through rum as well.

Guatemala has good competition with other countries that are sugar suppliers, but because of the quality, low cost of refining, Guatemala manages to be competitive. Of the total sugar production,  about 30% is consumed in the local market. A rise in the production of rum, soda water, sweets, and cookies will make this percentage bigger, but Guatemalan producers look for new markets around the world.

Sugar cane | Guatexplorer

There are 17 active sugar mills, located mostly on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, in the south of the country. Likewise, the sugar cane is cultivated in Petén, Huehuetenango and San Marcos. At this moment Guatemala produces 2,5 % of all sugar produced in the world. Here nobody can compete with Brazil that produces around 40 %. Guatemala is number 7 in the world with around 600 million $ worth of its sugar export. It is 50 % more than sugary famous Cuba!

Travelling around Guatemala you’ll most likely bump into some sugar cane plantation or see the sugar cane transports on the Guatemalan roads. Stop for a while, or even better, look for sugar cane plantations that permit a visit. You’ll be taken into the landlord’s mansion, taste some rum or sweets, see the harvest or production and get familiar with that side of Guatemala.

Sugar cane | Guatexplorer

Sugar cane | Guatexplorer

Sugar cane | Guatexplorer

Sugar cane | Guatexplorer

Retalhuleu | Guatexplorer

In 1968 system built by FECA was taken over by the state. But, still, there was no luck for trains. Today, several relics can be found – railroad museums in Guatemala City and Xela, as well as abandoned train stations all over the country. This one is in Retalhuleu, far from being a tourist attraction. There are some rumors that Koreans want to invest in railroads of Guatemala, but it is still just a vague future.

Active & Adventure Guatemala | Guatexplorer

Culture & Heritage Guatemala | Guatexplorer

Urban & Metropolitan Guatemala | Guatexplorer

Religious & Spiritual Guatemala | Guatexplorer

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