Do you know where the largest rainforest remaining on the entire continent of North America is? No, it is not in Costa Rica. The largest rainforest is part of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve in the Peten region of Northern Guatemala. This 6 million acre rainforest is home to a great diversity of plants, trees, and animals. It acts like an important 'lung' for the earth - helping to eliminate carbon dioxide and to add oxygen to the atmosphere.
After hearing from the rest of the team about the beauty of the ancient Mayan ruins and forest of Tikal, I knew I had to make the long journey to Peten. Instead of going to Tikal, I decided to keep heading north on the bumpy dirt road, deeper into this rainforest that not only contains the ruins of the ancient Maya, but also houses the villages and homes of their direct descendants.
Within this vast tropical rainforest reside three different cultures: the Lacandones on the western border with Mexico, the Itzaes in central Peten, and the Mopanes on the eastern border with Belize. These three cultures are directly related to the Mayans who once ruled the area.
This morning, I made the long journey to the beautiful village of Uaxactun, a village built upon ruins that date back earlier than the ruins of Tikal, perhaps as long ago as 2000 BC. When I arrived in Uaxactun, I was immediately greeted by a group of children, all of whom were curious about the stranger in the minivan. The road to Uaxactun is a seldom-used dirt road that turns into a river when it rains. Cars passing through are a rarity.
Deforestation is one of the most serious problems facing Guatemala today. In the past 30 years, the country has lost over 50% of its forest. Unfortunately, most of the deforestation is happening in the extremely fragile area of Peten. Even though the region has officially been established as the Mayan Biosphere Reserve, much of the forest is still being cleared for development and agriculture.
Since the establishment of the Mayan Biosphere, several governmental and non-governmental groups (NGO's) like Hilda's and ACOFOP (the Association of Forest Communities of Peten) have been trying to stop new people from moving to the forest and clearing the land. Furthermore, they have been working with the groups indigenous to the land to train them in useful skills so that they can sustain themseles in the forest.
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