Published: August 2007
Kenneth Garrett

What was the best part of this assignment?

The best part of this assignment was spending time with Francisco Estrada-Belli, assistant professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University, and David Stuart, a leading epigrapher of Maya glyphs from the University of Texas, Austin. These men know an incredible amount about the Maya, and they were only too happy to share that information with me. Francisco would tell me stories of the great warrior Siyah Kak (Fire Is Born) and of Holmul, a major Maya center, and its satellite sites of La Sufricaya and Cival, while we sat around a smoky campfire, deep in the jungle. At the museum in Tikal, David would decipher the glyphs on the stelae for me, passionately describing the stories. The bits and pieces I gleaned from these men really made the Maya come alive for me. I was fascinated by the history, and found myself looking at things with an eye for history, not just looking for something that would photograph well.

What was the trickiest part of the assignmet?

I learned and saw so much on this assignment. Too much. There's no way the magazine could use all that I shot for the article. It's hard to become so excited about a place and story while in the field and then have to boil that enthusiasm down to a few select images. It doesn't do the story justice, which makes me sad because I know how much more there is going untold and unseen.

Did you come across anything particularly interesting?

The quirkiest thing about my experiences on this assignment is more of an observation: I've been covering the Maya story for 25 years, and, in all that time, it never ceases to amaze me that the story keeps getting bigger. Each new discovery or answer to a question raises ten new questions, taking archaeologists, anthropologists, or anyone else interested in the subject matter in several different directions. Discovering the story of the Maya has become a never-ending quest. And one that I never grow tired of covering because there's always something new to learn.