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    Adventure Travel  --  Central America

    Learning About Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Location: Central America

    Cultural Travel

    San Andres, El Salvador

    Exploring and learning about ancient cultures is one of the most rewarding things about travel.  Cultivating an understanding of the powerful communities that came before our own, helps us appreciate both historic and modern-day social structures.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Joya de Ceren, El Salvador

    It’s one of the reasons I so often encourage travelers to seek out these experiences and adventures.  Sure, go to the beach, enjoy that Margarita, go snorkeling.  But don’t miss the opportunity when traveling to grasp something about the majesty of the ground you are standing on and the hundreds of generations of people who have walked it, worked it, became part of it in their end.



    Cradle of Civilization

    Caracol, Belize

    Xunantunich, Belize

    We have spent the last four months in Central America, where several amazing cultures played a significant role, long before the Spanish arrived.  One of the most ancient of these was the Maya people.  Considered one of the six “cradles of civilization” world-wide, the Central American countries of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador were home to this fascinating civilization.  To clarify the term Cradle of Civilization, here is Wikipedia’s explanation;

    “The term cradle of civilization has frequently been applied to a variety of cultures and areas, in particular the Ancient Near Eastern Chalcolithic (Ubaid period) and Fertile Crescent, Ancient India and Ancient China. It has also been applied to ancient Anatolia, the Levant and Iranian plateau, and used to refer to culture predecessors—such as Ancient Greece as the predecessor of Western civilization.”

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Altun Ha, Belize

    Our travels have taken us to ancient lands of Egypt, Jordan, India and Bangladesh.  We have also learned fascinating ancient history about Eastern Europe, Northern and Eastern Africa, China, Southeast Asia, and Greece.  And so it was with great interest that I began to understand that right here in Central America another great civilization thrived.


    The Maya People

    But before I go on please understand that Maya is a living culture. More than half the population of present day Guatemala are Mayan.  Though the ancient civilization communities are no more, the Mayan people continue their traditions.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    The oldest Mayan findings are in Belize, dating back to 2600 BC.  Ruins of great civilizations are strewn all around this

    Tikal Guatemala

    region, some excavated, many not.  Archeologists don’t all agree as to what caused the demise of the massive Maya communities in approximately 900 AD (well before the Spanish arrived).  But warfare between cities, over production of the land and drought are all thought to have contributed.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    The Maya people, like many other ancient civilizations, had an advanced calendar, written language and hierarchical social structure.  They were known as great architects (hence so many temples and entire cities still standing), artists, weapon developers and cultivators of the land.  They used the local raw materials in remarkable ways.  In Guatemala the cultivation of the cacao was (and is) important and cacao was used as currency.

    In addition it is known that they believed cacao offered both a cure and a sacrifice, and drinking cacao mixed with blood was a common ritual as was bloodletting.

    Visiting Mayan Ruins

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    During our time in Central America we visited many interesting ruins; two in El Salvador, four in Belize and the granddaddy of all, Tikal (outside the town of Flores) in Guatemala.  Each offered its own perspective on the rich and powerful Maya tribes.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    Today Maya people in these countries can trace their ancestry back to these ancient societies and be very proud.  Many local Maya work hard to preserve the culture, arts and traditions and share them with visitors.  However, the Maya, particularly in the poorest countries like Guatemala, struggle. During the Spanish occupation and more recent political unrest the Maya have been continually pushed out of their lands…many to the mountainous regions no one else wanted.  Today you will find them subsisting in agricultural communities in the hard-scrabble rocky soil, or in the more populated cities such as Antigua selling crafts or food products.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Colorful Mayan women at market

    I was particularly struck by the beauty of the Maya women, the colorful traditional clothing they still maintain today and the sense that family, hard work and religion is their life’s priority.

    During my short time in beautiful Central America I have been intrigued and surprised by the beauty of the people and the geography and especially intrigued by the history of the ancient people. Muy Bien! A fabulous experience when visiting Central America.



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    Central America

    Simply Surprising El Salvador

    See it Before the Secret Gets Out

    Location: El Tunco El Salvador

    We have spent the past two weeks in tiny and surprising El Salvador.  So unexpected; the ocean, the mountains, the people, the food.  Simply surprising El Salvador.

    Why El Salvador

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    The rock at Playa El Tunco

    ElSalvador gets a bad rap.  In the American media you only hear about the bad things.  Currently the bad thing in El Salvador is gang violence.  The civil war is over, but gang violence  plagues certain parts of the country.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Playa El Tunco

    But not everywhere.  Most places are safe and welcoming to tourists, locals are happy to have you here to enjoy this developing country they love.  But most Americans haven’t ventured here…which is unfortunate.  Americans still flock to Mexico, a place plagued with violent gangs, cartels, kidnappings and corruption…and yet El Salvador remains elusive to American tourists. I don’t get it?

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Playa El Tunco

    We spent two wonderful weeks in El Salvador,  a tiny country about the size of Massachusetts, with about the same population (6 million).  It’s the only Central American country without a Caribbean coast (Belize the only one with out a Pacific Coast).  El Salvador’s coastline on the Pacific is about 307km, and the visitors who do find their way here are mostly surfers, drawn to the beautiful warm waters and spectacular swells.

    Fabulous El Tunco

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Surf’s up

    Luckily for us we chose to stay in Playa El Tunco, though we didn’t know much about it. We were looking for ocean beaches, and found them here, where surfing is king.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Welcome to El Tunco

    Even though we don’t surf, we found plenty of ways to enjoy Playa El Tunco and were able to explore further afield from this location.  Given El Salvador’s tiny size, it’s easy to stay on the coast and take day-trips inland and to the mountains.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    layers of ash at Joya de Ceren

    The best decision we made was booking an airbnb room at Balance Yoga Retreat, right in El Tunco and walking distance to everything we might need.  Balance does daily yoga classes, as well as retreats multiple times a year.  While we were here we were one of just two guests staying and I took advantage of yoga every day (read more about that here). We enjoyed the beautiful little oasis with the pool, hammocks and flora. Owners (and Americans) Lindsey and Adrian were wonderful to us and we would certainly come back here again someday.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    San Andreas Mayan Ruins

    Adrian and Lindsey helped us set up a driver for two different day trips.  First we visited Joya de Ceren village.  It was fascinating to learn about this lost pre-Colombian Mayan village, discovered beneath 14 layers of volcanic ash from nearby Santa Ana volcano. The
    site is now an archeological UNESCO site. We continued on to the San Andreas Mayan Ruins, one of several Mayan Ruins found in El Salvador dating back to 900 BC.  The Mayans ruled much of what we now think of as Central America from about 2600BC (oldest finding in Belize) until about 1000 years ago, long before the Incas or the Spanish conquistadors. Archeologists believe the culture died out due to a historic drought that plagued the region for years.

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    Mural in Ataco


    Our second day trip was to the mountainous villages north and east of El Tunco, scattered in the coffee growing region of El Salvador.  El Salvador is known around the world for rich and delicious coffee, and on this trip we made sure to pick up some coffee, as well as several other wonderful locally made crafts for gifts for family and friends.  Three mountain towns (Ataco, Apaneca, Juayua) along La Ruta de las Flores have weekend festivals where you can buy just about anything from socks to ceramics as well as taste a wide variety of El Salvadoran  specialities.  Our favorite food find on this day were the delicious riguas, a corn dough  pancake filled with cheese, wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf and then fried crispy on the griddle. Riguas are a speciality of this mountain region of El Salvador. (see a recipe here).

    Things We Loved

    There are other day trips easily done from El Tunco that we did not do, such as hiking the volcano or swimming in waterfalls or going to a mud spa.  But we actually really enjoyed just hanging out in the tiny village, which has a surprising variety of restaurants and fun things to do.  Our favorites included;

    • Balance Yoga – possibly the best yoga classes I have ever taken and very reasonably priced
    • Exploring the El Tunco caves just south of town at low tide
      Simply surprising El Salvador

      El Tunco caves

      – you can only go here at low tide and we were lucky enough to have some really low tides while we were here. It was so fascinating we went twice.  Just beautiful.

    • Watching the sunset over the Pacific with a $1.25 beer at any of the half-dozen beach front bars.  Our favorite bars were Casa Miramar and La Bocana.
    • Sitting on the rocky beach and watching the surfers do their thing.  It’s like watching a ballet on a freeway…in a storm!
    • Eating pupusa, the national dish of El Salvador at either Nancy’s Pupusa or Christy’s – both tiny mom and pop shops. See a pupusa recipe here.  Christy’s also has a variety of other items on their menu including delicious tacos and sopa de pollo.  You can also get your laundry done at Christy’s! A one-stop-shop.
    • One of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had was at Mopelia, where you can find a nice selection of American and European craft brews
    • Dinner at El Tunco Velos was a nice surprise, where I had a fabulous salad of lettuce, strawberries and feta that was so delicious. Lettuce as usual is hard to find in grocery stores, so I was very happy to find this salad.
    • Lots of little shops cater mostly to surfers, but I bought a t-shirt at Get Up Stand Up, where they
      Simply surprising El Salvador

      Yummy pupusa

      manufacture everything they sell including darling reversible swimsuits.

    • My other favorite shop was La sirena, a hole-in-the-wall gift shop of unique and inexpensive souvenirs locally made.
    • Surf lessons are big, for beginner to advanced.  We didn’t tackle this but it looked fun.  Or try renting stand up paddle boards or take a guided SUP tour.
    • We tried to find a memorial in La Libertad that is dedicated to two US Nuns and two missionaries who were raped and murdered in 1980, a few months before the murder of San Salvador Arch Bishop (now Saint) Oscar Romero.   These murders (by El Salvador National Guards) launched the long civil war in El Salvador.  Unfortunately no one we asked knew where this memorial was, so we did not see it.  The history of these murders and how it launched the bloody war is fascinating.  You can read about it here.


    Add It to Your Bucketlist

    Simply surprising El Salvador

    $1.25 beers

    If you decide to come here (and you should) be sure to be in Playa El Tunco beyond a weekend.  The tiny village swells in population on weekends, as El Salvadorans (known as guanacos) come here from San Salvador (one hour) and La Libertad (20 minutes) for the day or the weekend of sun, surf and fun.  From Monday – Friday afternoon the town is mostly local, quiet and serene. That’s when I liked it best.

    Simply surprising El Salvador


    During our two weeks here I have met so many lovely people, mostly young (20’s and 30’s) surfers from the USA, Canada and a few European countries.  I have met no-one my age or even close.  Which needs to change.  El Tunco and El Salvador really should be on your bucket list, no matter your age, or if you surf.  It’s a wonderful place, a beautiful culture and a friendly country.  Simply surprising El Salvador. We will be back.


    See it before the secret gets out.

    Next stop. Belize.





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    Central America  --  Inspire

    Yoga as Part of My Fab Fifties Life

    Yoga Everyday

    Location: El Salvador

    Yoga as part of My Fab Fifties Life


    Yoga as part of My Fab Fifties Life

    Costa Rica

    We have just arrived in El Salvador, in a small beach town on the Pacific Coast called Playa El Tunco.  We will be here at Balance Yoga Retreat for two weeks.  Although this place does group retreats, we are staying in one of their beautiful units and just doing individual yoga. Hoping to expand my knowledge of yoga as part of My Fab Fifties Life during this relaxing two weeks.

    yo-ga /’yogeh/

    A Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific body postures, is widely practiced today for health and relaxation around the world.

    Yoga as part of My Fab Fifties Life

    El Salvador

    I am really enjoying it so far.  Yoga has become such an important part of nearly every day of My Fab Fifties Life.  I do my version of yoga, a pieced together practice from all the different classes I have taken over the years, as well as many poses I learned from my past physical therapy sessions.  I hope to expand my yoga knowledge during our time here at Balance.  There are many different kinds of yoga, of which I am most familiar with four.

    1. Hatha Yoga (easiest and my favorite)

    The term is derived from the Sanskrit ha, meaning “sun,” and tha, meaning “moon.” Practitioners of Hatha yoga use physical alignment and breathing control to achieve an equilibrium between the active body and its universe. The resulting harmony manifests itself as physical strength, physiological health and emotional well-being.

    Yoga as part of My Fab Fifties Life

    Costa Rica

    As a fabulous fifties travel diva I have grown to love my morning yoga.  It has improved my agility, cured many of my aches and pains, lengthened my muscles and spine and given me both strength and a way to quiet my mind.

    2. Vinyasa Yoga (my second favorite) 

    A type of yoga that links movement and breath to attain balance in the mind and body. From the Sanskrit “to place in a special way,” vinyasa aligns a deliberate sequence of poses with the breath to achieve a continuous flow. Inhalation is usually connected to upward, open movements, while exhalation is often tied to downward movements or twists.

    Some of you are probably thinking that my life, a full-time travel life, is stress-free.  Why does she need yoga as part of My Fab Fifties Life? Well here’s the thing;

    Yoga as part of My Fab Fifties Life

    El Salvador

    Yoga as part of My Fab Fifties Life

    Costa Rica

    I feel better. Period.  That is the most important reason.  Yoga has made it possible for me to start a running program again, after almost two years of not being able to run due to sciatic pain.  Yoga helps my digestion. It expands my lung capacity and strengthens my core. It gives me strength and stability.  When I’m practicing regularly I (almost) never have heart palpitations anymore.  It clears my mind and makes me present and appreciative of my one fabulous life.

    And usually it’s free.

    3. Iyengar Yoga (a form of Hatha and my third favorite)

    Iyenga often makes use of props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets, as aids in performing asanas (postures). The props enable students to perform the asanas correctly, minimising the risk of injury or strain, and making the postures accessible to both young and old.

    Yoga as part of My Fab Fifties Life


    There are still people out there who think yoga is a weird meditative Indian guru activity for hippies.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  My Fab Fifties Life has benefited tremendously from practicing yoga nearly everyday.  I cannot do every pose.  Many poses I will never be able to do.  Perhaps if I had started earlier in my life.  But I am very happy with how I have improved and I can stretch farther and do more difficult poses every day. And I feel good.

    I’ve learned to breathe deeper, stand taller and be present.  And most of all, I’ve grown to love my one and only body and treat it kindly – something I never did during most of my life.

    4. Bikram Yoga (not my favorite)

    Also a form of Hatha but Bikram is done in a hot room and the same 26 poses are done every time.  No variation.  So you always know what is coming next and you learn to perfect these poses.

    Yoga as part of My Fab Fifties Life


    You don’t need to be young, thin or even fit to start a yoga practice.  You can do it alone or in a group and know that you are not being judged. You can use yoga for stress relief, digestion issues, metabolism boost, respiratory and circulatory health and mental clarity.  To each his own.  For me, and usually my husband who practices with me, it is the best way to start or end my day.

    Any day around the world. But for the next two weeks, here at Balance

    Yoga as part of My Fab Fifties Life

    Balance Yoga Retreat

    Yoga Retreat.


    Yoga everyday. How fabulous.




    Note – thanks to Wikipedia, and for information used in this blog. Click on any of these links to see more styled and variations of yoga other than the four I have listed here.




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