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Guatemala’s Petén Department: Sights Near Flores and Santa Elena

There are a variety of attractions in and around Flores and Santa Elena that work well if you have a day or half a day while awaiting connecting flights or onward travel. Several of these attractions—ARCAS, Petencito Zoo, and Tayazal—are a five-minute boat ride across the lake from Flores’s north shore near the village of San Miguel. A road also goes this way along the shoreline and is useful in this discussion for orientation only, as most visitors find themselves catching a boat when heading out in this direction. You can take in 2-3 of these destinations as part of a lake tour leaving from Flores, which should cost between $15 and $20. Colectivo boats ($0.50) leave from a dock beside Restaurante La Guacamaya, on the north shore of Flores, as they fill up.

Parque Natural Ixpanpajul

Covering an area of nine square kilometers and conveniently just off the highway toward Guatemala City, the main attraction at Parque Natural Ixpanpajul (tel. 5619- 0513 or 7863-1317, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. daily) is a series of six suspension bridges built over the forest canopy, giving you a toucan’s-eye view of the forest. The trip along the forest trail takes a little more than an hour and includes a stop at a lookout point to take in the astounding view from the top of the mountain. Other activities include a Tarzan Canopy Tour (zip line), Spot Lighting (nighttime wildlife-viewing), horseback riding, mountain biking, tractor rides, and ATV rentals. You can tour the hanging bridges (Skyway) for $30 per adult or $22 per child. You also have a choice of mountain biking, tractor rides, or horseback riding, ranging from $5 to $25. Packages allow you to combine the Skyway with the Tarzan Canopy Tour and/or the Spot Lighting tour for a full day of adventure. You can combine two activities for $55 or all three for $75.

There is a campsite on the premises ($5) and you can rent tents ($10) and other equipment, but you have to book at least one of the main activities at a cost of $30. There are now also accommodations consisting of comfortable cabins with bunk beds and private bathrooms sleeping up to 5 people.

The park can provide transportation from Flores or Tikal if you call in advance. A taxi from Flores should cost about $5.

Cooperativa Nuevo Horizonte

Seventeen kilometers south of Santa Elena on the road to Guatemala City lies Cooperativa Nuevo Horizonte, a community of returned refugees and former combatants from the Guatemalan civil war. The cooperative was formed in 1998, when the community was resettled near the town of Santa Ana following the 1996 peace accords.

Nuevo Horizonte offers a fascinating glimpse into Guatemala’s sociopolitics. Although each family retains individual ownership of their house and farm plot, the pasturelands, a 250-acre forest preserve, a lake, and plantations of pineapple, pine, and lime trees are collectively owned. The co-op provides free day care, primary and secondary education, adult vocational training, and operates a pharmacy and clinic. The community also keeps two pickups and a minivan for anyone’s use. Additional infrastructure includes a welding shop and two corn mills. In an effort to minimize dependence on outside sources, the community maintains its own seed bank.

Many of the community’s residents lived in the Petén rainforests during the war years, on the run from Guatemalan government forces. In time, the jungle became a source of food, shelter, and safety and these experiences provided insights into uses for medicinal plants and food.

Among the cooperative’s initiatives is community- based tourism. They are happy to show you around the village and share their stories, and also take great pride in their forest preserve and reforestation program. Rustic cabins and meals from the community are available for visitors.

Hotel Villa Maya

As you head east along the road to Tikal, an unpaved road cuts north toward the Petenchel Lagoon for about four kilometers to the excellent Hotel Villa Maya (tel. 2223-5000, $85 d), with its 56 comfortable, tastefully decorated rooms equipped with air-conditioning, hot water, and balconies overlooking the placid lagoon. There are also a swimming pool and an excellent restaurant. It’s a bit out of the way, but the exclusive feel of this jungle outpost only adds to its allure.

Petencito Zoo

Farther west along this same road leading to the village of San Miguel is Petencito Zoo (8 a.m.-5 p.m., $3), housing a collection of local wildlife, including jaguars, monkeys, and macaws. The intrepid can ride the concrete water slides here, though their safety is questionable and at least one death has been reported.


Continuing west, the road again connects to the larger Lake Petén Itzá to ARCAS (tel. 7926-0946), the Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Association, where an animal rehabilitation center harbors animals captured from poachers, including jaguars, macaws, monkeys, and coatis. Although the animal rehabilitation area is not open to outsiders, an Environmental Education and Interpretation Center caters to the casual visitor. There is a nature trail showcasing a variety of medicinal plants, a beach, a bird observation platform, and an area for observing animals that cannot be reintroduced to the wild. During turtle season there are public hatchling releases with informative lectures (tel. 4144-9762, 8 p.m. daily, $1.50).

Although the site is perfectly accessible by road, most visitors come by boat. Tours leave Flores on weekdays at 8:30 a.m. (Spanish) and 3:30 p.m. (English) from the boat dock next to Restaurante La Guacamaya on the north end of the island. A tour costs $7 per person for a group of 1-2 people. Call ahead to confirm availability. You can also take a tour 9 a.m.-3 p.m. for $1.25 but you’ll have to arrange your own transportation. Confirmation is not required if you choose to go this route.


Not to be confused with Tayasal, which once occupied the same territory as present-day Flores, the remains of this small site can be found up a hill near the village of San Miguel. Although the ruins themselves are not overly impressive, there is a wonderful lookout, known as a mirador, built into a tree atop a temple mound from where you have an exceptional view of Flores. The lookout is about two kilometers outside of town. Follow the signs for the “mirador.”

Related Travel Guide

Argentina’s Parque Nacional Iguazú

In the Guaraní language, iguazú means “big waters,” and the good news is that the thunderous surge of Iguazú Falls—perhaps the planet’s greatest chain of cascades—continues to plunge over an ancient lava flow some 20 kilometers east of the town of Puerto Iguazú. Its overwhelming natural assets, including the surrounding subtropical rain forest, have earned it recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The bad news is that Argentina’s APN, the state entity charged with preserving and protecting this natural heritage, has buckled to rampant Disneyfication. The falls, its core attraction, have become a mass-tourism destination that might more accurately be called Parque Temático Iguazú—Iguazú Theme Park.

They’ve done something right in limiting automobile access—cars must park in a guarded lot, and visitors enter the park on foot—but the concessionaire has turned the area surrounding the falls into an area of manicured lawns, fastfood eateries, and souvenir stands connected by a cheesy narrow-gauge train. Maintenance crews use leaf-blowers to clean the concrete trails near the visitors center every morning.

Around the falls proper, clean-cut youths with walkie-talkies shunt hikers out by 6 p.m.—the perfect closing hour for a theme park—unless you’re a privileged guest at the Sheraton, the park’s only accommodations. The exception to the rule is the monthly full-moon tour, which is well worthwhile.

That’s not to say commercial greed has completely overrun nature—the park still has extensive subtropical rain forests, with colorfully abundant birdlife along with less conspicuous mammals and reptiles. All of these animals demand respect, but some more so than others—in 1997 a jaguar killed a park ranger’s infant son; pumas are even more common, and poisonous snakes are also present.

In 1541 Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, one of colonial America’s most intrepid Spaniards, was the first European to see the falls. But in an area populated by tens of thousands of Guaraní Indians prior to the European invasion, he can hardly have discovered them, despite the assertions of a commemorative plaque.

The Natural Landscape

According to Guaraní legend, a jealous serpent-god created Iguazú Falls by collapsing the riverbed in front of fleeing lovers Naipi and Caroba; Naipi plunged over the ensuing falls to become a rock at their base, while her lover Caroba became a tree condemned to see, but unable to touch, his beloved.

A less fanciful explanation is that the languid Río Iguazú streams over a basalt plateau that ends where an ancient lava flow finally cooled; before reaching the lava’s end, small islands, large rocks, and unseen reefs split the river into multiple channels that become the individual waterfalls that, in sum, form the celebrated cataratas, some more than 70 meters in height.

At this point, in an area stretching more than two kilometers across the Argentine-Brazilian border, at least 1,500 cubic meters of water per second roar over the edge onto an older sedimentary landscape, but the volume can be far greater in flood. With the water’s unstoppable force, the falls are slowly but inexorably receding toward the east.

About 18 kilometers southeast of the town of Puerto Iguazú, and 1,280 kilometers north of Buenos Aires via RN 12, Parque Nacional Iguazú is a 67,000-hectare unit with a roughly 6,000-hectare Reserva Nacional—whose presence has led to rampant commercial development in the vicinity of the falls.

Flora and Fauna

Misiones’s high rainfall (about 2,000 mm per annum) and subtropical temperatures create a luxuriant forest flora on relatively poor soils. Unlike the midlatitudes, where fallen leaves and other plant litter become part of the soil, here they are almost immediately recycled to support a dense, multilevel flora with diverse faunal habitats. The roughly 2,000 identified plant species are home to almost innumerable insects, 448 bird species, 80 mammal species, and many reptiles and fish.

The tallest trees, such as the lapacho and palo rosa, reach 30 meters above the forest floor, while the guapoy (the appropriately named “strangler fig”) uses the larger trees for support and eventually kills them by asphyxiation. A variety of orchids use the large trees for support only.

Lesser trees and shrubs grow in the shade of the canopy, such as yerba mate, the holly relative that Argentines, Uruguayans, Paraguayans, and Brazilians consume as tea (grown mostly on plantations in Misiones and Corrientes). Ferns are also abundant in the shade thrown by the large trees.

For most visitors, the most conspicuous fauna will be colorful birds such as parakeets and parrots, the piping guan, the red-breasted toucan, and the lineated woodpecker in the trees, while tinamous scurry along the forest floor. The tufted capuchin monkey is a fruiteating tree-dweller.

The most commonly seen mammal, though, is the coatimundi, a raccoon relative that thrives around humans (do not feed it); the largest is the rarely seen tapir, distantly related to the horse. Like the tapir, the puma and yaguareté (jaguar) avoid human contact, preferring the forest’s denser, more remote areas; barely a dozen-plus jaguars remain.

The most common reptile is the innocuous iguana; venomous snakes, while they generally avoid humans, deserve respect in their forest habitat.

Sights in Parque Nacional Iguazú

The earliest written record came from Cabeza de Vaca, who saw the falls as an obstacle to his downstream progress and reported, with apparent irritation, that “It was necessary…to take the canoes out of the water and carry them by hand past the cataract for half a league with great labor.” Still, he could not help but be impressed by the noise and mist:

The current of the Yguazú was so strong that the canoes were carried furiously down the river, for near this spot there is a considerable fall, and the noise made by the water leaping down some high rocks into a chasm may be heard a great distance off, and the spray rises two spears high and more over the fall.

Most visitors come to see the falls, and rightly so, but try to arrive early to avoid the crush of tour buses from Puerto Iguazú and Brazil. The sole exception to the Disneyland entry hours are the monthly full-moon hikes, guided by park rangers.

Visitors pay the entrance fee at the Portal Cataratas, the gate to the slickly managed complex of fast-food restaurants, souvenir stands, and tour operators. The most worthwhile sight here is the park service’s Centro de Interpretación.

Traditionally, park visitors walk along three major circuits on mostly paved trails and pasarelas (catwalks) that zigzag among the islands and outcrops to make their way to overlooks of the falls. The Circuito Superior (Upper Circuit) is a 650-meter route with the best panoramas of the Argentine side of the falls, while the 1,700-meter Circuito Inferior (Lower Circuit) offers better views of individual falls and also provides launch access to Isla San Martín for exceptional perspectives on the amphitheatrical Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat), Iguazú’s single most breathtaking cataract.

Most visitors take the Tren de la Selva, the narrow-gauge railway, to reach the trailhead for the 1,130-meter catwalk to the overlook for the Garganta del Diablo; this means an unavoidable soaking while watching the vencejo de tormenta (ashy-tailed swift) dart through the booming waters to and from nesting sites beneath the falls. The view almost defies description, though the spray can obscure the base of the falls and even on the hottest days can chill sightseers—bring light raingear, plastic bags to protect cameras and other valuables, and perhaps even a small towel.

Far fewer visitors explore forest trails than the pasarelas, except for the 20-minute Sendero Verde, a short forest walk leading to a small wetland that’s home to birds and butterflies. The six-kilometer Sendero Macuco, a nature trail that starts near the train station, is the likeliest place to spot or hear the tufted capuchin monkey. Mostly level, it drops to the Salto Arrechea, a small waterfall, via a steep, muddy, and slippery segment. Mosquito repellent is desirable.

Tours and Recreation

Above the falls, the Río Iguazú itself is suitable for canoeing, kayaking, and other water sports; it should go without saying that there’s serious danger in getting too close to the falls. Below the falls there are additional opportunities.

The principal tour operator is Iguazú Jungle Explorer (tel. 03757/42-1600, ext. 582, tel./fax 03757/42-1696), which has an office in the Sheraton and kiosks at the Portal Cataratas and at the Garganta del Diablo trailhead. Offerings include a 30-minute Paseo Ecológico (US$9) through the gallery forests and islands above the falls; a 15-minute Aventura Naútica (US$20) that approaches the Garganta del Diablo from below; and the Gran Aventura (US$40) that includes an eight-kilometer forest excursion by 4WD vehicle, a motorized descent of the lower Iguazú including two kilometers of rapids; and visits to the various falls.

Explorador Expediciones (Perito Moreno 217, Puerto Iguazú, tel. 03757/42-1632) has similar excursions and some more active offerings, such as whitewater rafting and rappelling. It also has offices at the Sheraton (tel. 03757/42-1922) and a kiosk near the park entrance.

Other Practicalities

Panels at the APN’s Centro de Interpretación (tel. 03757/49-1444, 7:30 a.m.–6:15 p.m. daily spring and summer, 8 a.m.–5:45 p.m. daily the rest of the year) give vivid explanations of the park’s environment, ecology, ethnology, and history; there are also helpful personnel on duty.

For foreigners, the admission charge of US$16, payable in Argentine pesos only, is one of the most expensive to any Argentine national park; if you return the next day, your ticket is half price. Provincial residents pay US$2, other Argentines US$5, and residents of other Mercosur countries US$8. Entry fees include the Tren de la Selva and launch access to Isla San Martín. The concessionaire Iguazú Argentina has a useful website in Spanish, Portuguese, and English. From the Puerto Iguazú bus terminal, El Práctico buses (US$1.50) operate frequently between 7:15 a.m. and 8 p.m., taking 45 minutes to or from the park.

Related Travel Guide

Environmental Issues in Guatemala

Guatemala’s environmental issues, particularly in regard to tropical deforestation, can seem daunting at times. The country and its people seem to be caught in a vicious cycle that will end only when the environmental degradation reaches its peak and the consequences are fully reaped. It seems greed, apathy, poverty, corruption, ignorance, and neglect have all conspired against Guatemala’s precious natural resources. I do not mean to sound pessimistic in my introduction to this subject. I just think I’ve had the opportunity to see what’s at stake, having explored much of Guatemala during my teenage years and seeing firsthand the gradual encroachment of the agricultural frontier into what was once virgin forest. It is hoped that visitors to Guatemala, much like those to Belize and Costa Rica, will play a pivotal role in raising awareness of the abundant natural heritage with which Guatemalans been blessed, enabling the conservation of these resources to become a source of economic and moral value.

There is a long way to go to make environmental awareness a matter of national consciousness, as demonstrated by how frequently one sees garbage by the roadside or car and bus passengers casually throwing refuse out their windows. The problem of raising this consciousness is exacerbated when one takes into account the overwhelming lack of education of the general populace, with its alarming levels of illiteracy, and the fact that environmental protection always takes a back seat when it comes down to a question of preserving the forest or cutting it down to plant subsistence crops.

At the same time, there is much to be hopeful about, particularly in the three decades since Guatemala established its democracy, during which time the country has been governed by civilian presidents interested in environmental matters. In addition to establishing the Maya Biosphere Reserve, Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo pushed through congress much of the legislation serving as a basis for the protection of Guatemala’s natural heritage. Many valiant Guatemalans have likewise done their part to establish a genuine environmental movement in their country. Their courage is underscored by the fact that, in Guatemala, environmental activism necessarily entails standing firm in the face of death threats and intimidations. Environmental protection often conflicts with the interests of the still-powerful agricultural elites, among these: lumber barons; drug cartels using remote parks for illicit activities; cattle ranchers, some of whom have military ties; and land-hungry peasants. Environmental martyrs are many in Guatemala, much the same as the legacy of those campaigning for greater respect for human rights and better socioeconomic conditions. In these ways, environmental issues in Guatemala are largely circumscribed within the larger social issues of endemic poverty, power politics, and the rule of law.

Other Environmental Issues


In 2005, about 37 percent of Guatemala was still forested, down from 40 percent in 2001. Most of the country was at one time covered by forests, a fact attested to by Guatemala’s ancient Mayan-Toltec name meaning “land of the trees.” The once-forested Pacific plains have given way largely to sugarcane and coffee plantations while the forests of the Caribbean slope have been turned largely over to banana plantations. The highlands, for their part, have been under intense cultivation since preconquest times, though there are still substantial forests left in remote corners of Quiche and Huehuetenango. Most of the loss of forest cover in the past 40 years has been due to government incentives aimed at colonizing the northern department of Petén in an attempt to ease pressure for land by an ever-increasing population. The Petén thus became an escape valve from pressures for land reform historically thwarted by Guatemala’s agricultural elites. It is here that a modern-day battle is being waged over Guatemala’s remaining forests.

It is hoped that history will not repeat itself, as the ancient Mayans have a valuable lesson to teach about what happens when the forests are cut down. It is speculated that among the reasons for the Classic Mayan collapse is widespread drought caused by the overwhelming deforestation of the tropical lowlands the Mayans inhabited. This may have, in turn, led to widespread warfare among Mayan city-states as populations scrambled to assert dominance over dwindling resources. The southern and central sections of Petén have been almost completely deforested, leading to local declines in annual rainfall marked by prolonged and warmer dry seasons. The northern third of Petén remains mostly intact, for now, protected as the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Pressures against the reserve continue to mount, however, with illegal land grabs and clandestine logging continuing to make inroads. There is no guarantee that the reserve’s borders will remain inviolate or that they will stave off the advance of the agricultural frontier.

It bears discussing here the process by which seemingly endless tracts of forest become tropical wastelands resembling the dustbowl-era plains of Kansas. While the lowland Mayans practiced advanced farming techniques, including terracing and irrigation canals, what survives today is a simplified form of subsistence farming known as slash-and-burn agriculture. An area of forest will be felled and burned to the ground, with nutrient-rich ashes allowing crops to grow, though generally for a period of only two years. After that, a new plot of forest must be destroyed to grow crops again. The problem lies in that the soil of tropical forests is notoriously lacking in nutrients; the vast part of the ecosystem’s biomass is in the trees themselves, with forest topsoil only reaching about two inches in depth. The old plot is abandoned, with the soil having been compacted, and sold to cattle ranchers. And so, each year more and more land is deforested and turned into a jungle wasteland. The forests are particularly at risk at the tail end of the dry season, when slash-and-burn agriculture can get out of hand and burn uncontrolled into protected areas. Many times fires are set purposely inside park lands.

In addition to the activities of peasant farmers steadily encroaching on virgin forests, the activities of contraband loggers, looters of unexcavated archaeological sites, and wildlife poachers inside park boundaries constitute an additional threat to the forests. Adding insult to injury, contraband loggers, wildlife poachers, and peasants from neighboring Mexico have been scuttling the border separating their country from Guatemala to burn forest, kill wildlife, and plant crops in cleared lands. A now-famous Landsat image appearing in the October 1989 issue of National Geographic shows the once razor-sharp border between Mexico and Guatemala’s Laguna del Tigre National Park. The border is now dotted with burned-out land parcels along much of this boundary marker as a curious extension of the wide-scale deforestation in Mexico.

A recent development is the clearing of forest to build clandestine landing strips for drug-laden aircraft coming in from South America. With the virtual absence of local law enforcement and the aid of poor peasants eager for extra income, drug lords have found a haven for their illicit activities in Guatemala’s remote parks. They have even gone so far as to acquire property by buying lands from settlers and then registering them illegally in their own names. Whether through bribes or the falsification of documents, narcos have infiltrated Guatemala’s protected lands to suit their illicit operations. The existence of these “narco-farms” was brought to the attention of Guatemalan authorities after eight park guards were kidnapped and held hostage by armed men in June 2005 in Sierra del Lacandón National Park. The guards and members of a conservation group had decided to verify reports of clandestine logging inside the park. They were later released unharmed. The Public Ministry began a long process of expropriating the illegally titled lands while lawyers and land surveyors working the case faced intimidations and death threats. Meanwhile, the narcos reportedly moved their operations south to the Petexbatún region after a new military-trained environmental protection unit was created to destroy many of the clandestine landing strips and prevent further illicit activity.

Water Resources

Access to safe drinking water is a widespread problem throughout most of Guatemala. According to figures from the United Nations Development Program, roughly a quarter of Guatemalans still lack this basic necessity. This figure becomes even more dramatic in rural areas, where it is actually closer to 50 percent. The lack of potable water in turn leads to many illnesses, including intestinal parasites and amoebic dysentery, among others. Although most cities have sewer systems, wastewater treatment is virtually nonexistent—raw sewage often flows into rivers, lakes, and oceans. Guatemala City’s sewage, for example, is responsible for polluting the nearby Motagua River with human excrement, solvents, and metallic waste. Adding to Guatemala’s water woes is pollution from petroleum-based fertilizers used in commercial coffee, banana, and sugar plantations, which openly dump wastewater into nearby rivers and streams.

Air Quality

Guatemala City is notoriously polluted by old, recycled U.S. school buses, the basis of its public transportation network, which belch out diesel fumes in the form of black clouds. A promising recent development is a revamping of the city’s public transportation system to include newer vehicles and stop older buses from circulating in the city center. In addition to auto exhaust, pollution from industrial facilities and burning garbage from the city dump combine to form a thick haze often hanging over the city. The worst days occur when thermal inversions cause the haze to hang in a low-altitude pollution gulag, much like a pineapple-upside-down cake. Concentrations of particulates, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide often exceed World Health Organization safety standards, particularly on these days. During the rainy season, the haze is washed away by the afternoon rains, after which the atmosphere is amazingly free of pollutants.

Elsewhere, smoke and ash from occasional volcanic eruptions can make the atmosphere somewhat hazy, though the worst pollution comes from dry-season agricultural burning and forest fires. When one considers that more than half of all energy consumption comes from burning firewood, the reasons behind the thick haze hanging over much of the country during March and April begin to emerge.

Resource Extraction

Mining activities have made Guatemalan newspaper headlines in recent years, as mining interests have cast an interested eye upon Guatemalan lands. Although environmentalimpact studies are required by law, these often fall prey to government corruption in the form of payoffs in exchange for a favorable assessment. Threats and intimidation against environmental groups often attempt to quell any opposition to these projects.

Residents of the Western Highlands town of Sipacapa have demonstrated vehement opposition to the opening of a strip mine in the vicinity of their town, bringing the case directly to the president of the World Bank and officials of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private-sector lending arm. Among the arguments against the installation of mining activities is the conflict of an open-pit mine with Mayan belief in the sacredness of the Earth.

Residents of Sipacapa held a referendum overwhelmingly rejecting the presence of a mine on community lands. In early 2005, protests against the mine’s establishment, including roadblocks, were broken up by military forces, resulting in 11 people being injured and one killed.

More than 550 mining concessions now cover 10 percent of the country. Almost 20 percent of these are for open-pit mining of minerals such as gold, silver, nickel, and copper.

Petroleum extraction continues in the northern Petén lowlands and parts of Alta Verapaz, including the Laguna del Tigre National Park, although ecological organizations have long denounced its negative effects upon the environment. Oil exploration and extraction were present before the creation of the Maya Biosphere Reserve and have thus been allowed to continue, mostly in parts of the buffer and multiple-use zones. During the civil war, oil pipelines became a frequent target for guerrillas sabotaging the activities of multinationals involved in resource extraction. Occupations of oil-drilling facilities were also frequent. In addition to creating roads through sparsely populated areas, the oil extraction activities have come under fire because of oil spills in protected lands.

In 2005, the Guatemalan government opened new concessions in an area along the Petén-Alta Verapaz border said to harbor an estimated 200 million barrels of oil. Guatemala’s total estimated reserves amount to about 2 billion barrels. Guatemalan oil’s high sulfur content prevents it from being used in the production of diesel or gasoline, relegating it to use in the production of asphalt.

Soil Erosion

Unbridled deforestation on steep hillsides is responsible for much of the erosion of Guatemala’s soil. Already about one-third of all land cover is considered eroded or seriously degraded, a significant amount when one considers the high degree of susceptibility to erosion of Guatemala’s soil, which is composed largely of unconsolidated volcanic ash. Deforestation and soil erosion work hand in hand and are responsible for many of the tragic mudslides in the aftermath of tropical storms such as Hurricanes Mitch and Stan. Soil erosion has also contributed to greatly shortening the useful life of Chixoy Dam, which supplies about 15 percent of Guatemala’s electricity, through siltation of the dam’s reservoir.

Conservation Groups

Many grassroots environmental organizations operate in Guatemala in partnership with international conservation organizations. Among the best-known groups is Fundación Defensores de la Naturaleza (7a Avenida 7-09 Zona 13, Guatemala City, tel. 2440-8138 or 2471-7942), which administers Sierra del Lacandón National Park, Sierra de Las Minas Biosphere Reserve, Bocas del Polochic Wildlife Refuge, and the United Nations National Park just outside of Guatemala City. Through private land purchases, Defensores has been able to acquire large tracts of land in Sierra de las Minas and Sierra del Lacandón with help from The Nature Conservancy.

The Nature Conservancy also works locally with the Fundación para el Desarrollo y la Conservación (Foundation for Development and Conservation), or FUNDAECO (7a Calle “A” 20-53 Zona 11, Colonia Mirador, Guatemala City, tel. 2474-3645). Together, they have bought more than 9,000 acres of tropical rainforest in the Caribbean coastal mountain chain of Cerro San Gil.

Another organization working to protect local ecosystems is FUNDARY (Diagonal 6, 17-19 Zona 10, Guatemala City, tel. 2333-4957, 2366-7539, or 2367-0171), named after the late Mario Dary Rivera, creator of the CECON biotopes. FUNDARY has centered its efforts on the protection of coastal environments, particularly the Punta de Manabique peninsula, on Guatemala’s Caribbean Coast.

The forests of Petén are understandably the center of much attention from local and international organizations. ProPetén (Calle Central, Flores, Petén, tel. 7926-1370), an offshoot of Conservation International, began operating shortly after the creation of the Maya Biosphere Reserve and is credited with implementing innovative approaches to bridge the gap between the need for environmental conservation and the needs of communities living in or near the reserve. Among its successful programs are the establishment of a research station for the protection of scarlet macaws, forestry concessions with local communities in the Maya Biosphere Reserve’s buffer zone, and two Spanish-language schools owned and operated by local villagers.

Alianza Verde (Parque Central, Flores, Petén), for its part, has done an excellent job of promoting low-impact tourism in Petén as part of its mandate to aid in the protection and conservation of the region’s precious natural resources. In addition to marketing efforts, Alianza Verde certifies ecotourism operations and aids in the training of tourism staff to improve Petén’s tourism offerings and visitor experience. It functions as an association of businesses, organizations, and individuals who make their livelihood from Petén’s valuable tourism industry.

Another important organization is the Asociacion de Rescate y Conservacion de Vida Silvestre (Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Association), or ARCAS (4 Ave. 2-47, Sector B5, Zona 8 Mixco, San Cristóbal, Guatemala, tel. 2476-6001). It works to protect and rehabilitate wildlife, including sea turtles on the Pacific Coast and animals falling prey to poaching for the lucrative pet trade in Petén, including cats, monkeys, and birds.

Several organizations operate in Guatemala’s eastern Verapaces and Izabal regions. Working to preserve the endangered quetzal, Proyecto Ecoquetzal (2a Calle 14-36 Zona 1, Coban, Alta Verapaz, tel. 7952-1047) works with local communities to provide alternative income sources such as ecotourism and promote sustainable agriculture in the remaining cloud forests of northern Alta Verapaz. Asociacion Ak’ Tenamit (11 Avenida “A” 9-39 Zona 2, Guatemala City, tel. 2254-1560 Guatemala City, tel. 7908-3392 Lívingston) is a grassroots, Mayan-run development organization focusing its efforts on education, health care, the creation of alternative income sources and sustainable agriculture.

Finally, Tropico Verde (Vía 6 4-25 Zona 4, Edificio Castañeda, Oficina 41, Guatemala City, tel. 2339-4225) is a watchdog organization monitoring the state of Guatemala’s parks via field studies. In addition to local monitoring, it helps bring awareness of local repercussions of international environmental issues such as Guatemala’s participation in international conventions on whaling, to name just one example.

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Guatemala.

A Bad Feeling: A Short Story

Trigger-Happy Star Formation (NASA, Chandra, 8/12/09)Arthur held one finger up to his wife while he checked the number. “I need to take this.” He didn’t wait for her to protest, he just got up from the table and moved to the sidewalk in some vague notion of modern etiquette as he swiped his finger across the face of his phone and put it to his ear.

“This is Art.” He hoped his voice didn’t sound too anxious.

“I have Josh for you.” And then a few seconds later, “Arthur, how are you?”

“Good Josh. I’m good. How are you?”

“I’m returning your call.”

“You have to get me a meeting with George.” Well, that cut to the chase. He heard some shuffling on the other end of the line. Before Josh could answer, Art blurted, “Listen, you know I can get this job. You know it. Remember, Sarah? Remember when I said get a meeting with Sarah and I nailed that down with one phone call. I didn’t even have to go into her office. I just talked her through it and she pulled the trigger. Right then and there. Remember?”

“Art. That was six years ago.”

“Has it–? Well, I didn’t…”

“Sarah’s had a lot more work since then and she hasn’t called you back.”

“What’re you saying?”

“I’m saying people talk.”

“Sarah’s an idiot. That much was clear from the get-go.”

“I’m not disagreeing with you, Art, but you have a bit of a stink on you now.”


“You hired me because I tell it like it is. And I’m telling you, you’re toxic. George isn’t going to happen.”

Arthur looked at his wife still in the booth in the restaurant, drinking a black and white milkshake. Why’d she have to order the milkshake?

“You know what, Josh?” He looked up at the sky, gray and pitiless. He hung up the phone before he finished the sentence. His wife would ask him who that was calling and he rehearsed saying “nobody,” then went back inside the diner. Continue reading “A Bad Feeling: A Short Story”

You WILL Be My Friend!

You WILL Be My Friend!

By Peter Brown

Genre: Picture Book

Curriculum Subject: Character Education

Grade: PreK-1


Today is the day the exuberant Lucy is going to make a new friend! But she finds it’s harder than she had thought–she accidentally ruins the giraffe’s breakfast and is much too big for the frogs’ pond. Just when she’s about to give up, an unexpected friend finds her, and loves her just the way she is.


This heartwarming story offers a unique and humor-filled spin on the all-important themes of persistence and friendship.



2012 Irma Black Award Finalist


“Readers will be wone over by this witty, slapstick story of friendship found.” –SLJ





Substitute Creacher

Substitute Creacher

by Chris Gall

Genre: Picture Book

Curriculum Subjects: Personal Development: Lessons, Adventure: Monsters, Personal Development: Manners, Holidays: Halloween

Grade: PreK-1st


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The troublemaking students of Ms. Jenkins’ class arrive at school one day to discover a substitute creacher has come to put a stop to their monkey business! He regales them with mind-boggling stories about his former students who didn’t follow the rules: Keith the glue-eater, Zach the daydreamer, and Hank the prankster, to name a few. But even this multi-tentacled, yellow-spotted, one-eyed monster’s cautionary tales about the consequences of mischief-making can’t seem to change the students’ wicked ways until he reveals the spookiest and most surprising story of all: his own.



★ “This is a delicious little shocker of a picture book that ought to whip… crowd[s] of youngsters into a shrieking, laughing frenzy.” – Booklist


★ “Combines humor and a touch of magic…. certain to provide more than a few laughs.” – Kirkus Reviews


“Explosive, cinematic panels; retro Ben-Day dot patterns allude to classic funnies.” – Publishers Weekly


“Colorful and catchy… [a] gleeful cautionary tale.” – School Library Journal

Martha Doesn’t Say Sorry!

Martha Doesn’t Say Sorry

By Samantha Berger, illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Genre: Picture Book

Curriculum Subjects: Discipline, Character Development, Lessons, Manners

Grade: P-1


Adorably clad in her pink dress and matching headband, Martha is ready to do just about anything-except say those three little words: I am sorry. But when this sweet but stubborn otter learns that niceties like cookies, piggyback rides, and hugs are for people who apologize our mischievous heroine learns the ultimately rewarding feeling that comes with saying she’s sorry.


Parents and kids alike will embrace the hilarious watercolor illustrations and the irreverent humor throughout in this pitch-perfect picture book that offers the gentlest of lessons.


★ “Youngsters will recognize Martha’s struggle, and they’ll appreciate this additional perspective on the fact that, in life as in Elton John, “sorry” can be the hardest word.” —The Bulletin (BCCB)


Martha Doesn’t Share!

Martha Doesn’t Share

By Samantha Berger, illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Genre: Picture Book

Curriculum Subjects: Manners, Lessons, Friendship

Grade: P-1


Martha has a new favorite word.
  And that word is MINE!


Martha has officially mastered apologizing. Unfortunately, she still has a lot to work on when it comes to sharing. And while she doesn’t learn to love it, she does discover that having her toys to herself means having to play with them all by herself, too. Not so fun! 

This hilarious follow-up to Martha doesn’t say sorry! shows readers that sharing isn’t all that bad when you take it one (small) toy at a time–like Martha does. It gets easier every day. Well, almost every day.



Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington

Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington

By Jabari Asim, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Genre: Picture Book, Biography

Curriculum Subjects: African American Heritage, History

Grade: P-1


Born into slavery, young Booker T. Washington could only dream of learning to read and write. After emancipation, with only fifty cents in his pocket and a dream in his soul, Booker walked five hundred miles to Hampton Institute, taking his first of many steps towards a college degree. The young slave who once waited outside of the schoolhouse would one day become a legendary educator of freedmen.


Award-winning artist Bryan Collier captures the hardship and the spirit of one of the most inspiring figures in American history, bringing to life Booker T. Washington’s journey to learn, to read, and to realize a dream.


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2012 Kirkus Best Books for Children

★ “An inspirational life, memorably presented.” -SLJ

★ “An outstanding achievement and a life worthy of note. ” – Kirkus

★ “Asim’s lyrical narrative is succinct yet illustrative, and, combined with the artwork, makes an impressive addition to any biography collection.” – Publishers’ Weekly





Starry River of the Sky

Starry River of the Sky

By: Grace Lin

Genre: Fantasy

Curriculum Subjects: Magic/Fantasy, Folk/Fairy Tales: Magic, Europe/Asia/Africa

Grade: 3-7


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The moon is missing from the remote Village of Clear Sky, but only a young boy named Rendi seems to notice! Rendi has run away from home and is now working as a chore boy at the village inn. He can’t help but notice the village’s peculiar inhabitants and their problems-where has the innkeeper’s son gone? Why are Master Chao and Widow Yan always arguing? What is the crying sound Rendi keeps hearing? And how can crazy, old Mr. Shan not know if his pet is a toad or a rabbit?


But one day, a mysterious lady arrives at the Inn with the gift of storytelling, and slowly transforms the villagers and Rendi himself. As she tells more stories and the days pass in the Village of Clear Sky, Rendi begins to realize that perhaps it is his own story that holds the answers to all those questions.


Newbery Honor author Grace Lin brings readers another enthralling fantasy featuring her marvelous full-color illustrations. Starry River of the Sky is filled with Chinese folklore, fascinating characters, and exciting new adventures.




★ “That the book celebrates the significance of storytelling is especially gratifying, conveyed as it is through such an enthrallingly told and handsomely illustrated tale.” – The Horn Book


★“Lin’s writing is clear and lyrical, her plotting complex, and her illustrations magical, all of which make this a book to be savored.” –Booklist


★“The lively mix of adventure, mystery, and fantasy, supported by compelling character development and spellbinding language, will captivate a wide swath of readers.” –PW


★“Tight and cyclical plotting, combined with Lin’s vibrant, full-color paintings and chapter decorations, creates a work that is nothing short of enchanting.” –SLJ


★“Lin artfully wraps her hero’s story in alternating layers of Chinese folklore, providing rich cultural context.” –Kirkus



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