My husband, Frank, and I first went to Merida, Yucatán, for our honeymoon in 1976. On that initial trip—and other trips that followed with Wilderness Travel—I became absolutely fascinated by the Mayan way of life that later inspired me to write two books.
The first book, Jaguar Princess, follows a story about a young woman who can read Mayan glyphs and is destined to be a shaman. I was inspired to write it after watching a documentary about an eleven-year-old boy who accompanied his archaeologist father to Mayan ruins and discovered how to read Mayan glyphs. I had an “a-ha” moment—a girl could do that too! I was on my way with a story that had to be told.
To further my passion and research for Jaguar Princess, Frank and I joined WT’s symposium, World of the Maya: New Discoveries at Ancient Copán in January 2010. We visited ruins with archaeologists and attended seminars on the Maya, meeting experts as well as local people.
We joined Dr. Robert Sharer and Dr. Ricardo Fasquelle as they shared their years of research at Copán, and visited the tunnels beneath the royal acropolis. Dr. Marc Zender of Harvard University led our tour from Copán to Tikal to Caracol and Lamanai. He showed us how to read syllables in Mayan writing, described the significance of each building we visited, and answered my many questions tirelessly. Our guide, Antonio Cuxil, who spoke English, Spanish, French, and German in addition to his native Mayan language, shared his passion for Maya culture and introduced us to other descendants of the Kaqchiquel Maya.
In December 2012, we joined WT’s symposium, World of the Maya: Cycles of Time at Uxmal, an authentic Mayan city well away from the more crowded sites of the Yucatán Peninsula. To celebrate the monumental transition in the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012, the symposium focused on Mayan timekeeping, astronomy, and archaeology. I can’t describe how much it meant to me to meet the authors of the books on Mayan archaeology that line my bookshelves.
Among the guest speakers that year were: Dr. Anthony Aveni, Professor of Astronomy at Colgate University, pioneer in Mesoamerican archaeoastronomy, and author of The End of Time: The Maya Mysteries of 2012; Dr. Harvey Bricker and Dr. Victoria Bricker, Professors Emeritus of Anthropology at Tulane University, Research Associates at the Florida Museum of Natural History, and co-authors of Astronomy in the Maya Codices; Dr. Susan Milbrath, Curator of Latin American Art and Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History and author of Star Gods of the Maya: Astronomy in Art, Folklore, and Calendars; and Dr. Karl Taube, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Riverside and author of numerous publications on ancient writing and religions including Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya.
My latest book, Lost Jade of the Maya, is the sequel to Jaguar Princess, and includes knowledge and insight I learned while on World of the Maya: Cycles of Time at Uxmal.
In December 2017, I will again join WT during their symposium, World of the Maya: New Discoveries in the New Millennium, as a team of experts sheds light on exploring recent discoveries that have changed our understanding of Maya culture.
-Text by 10-time WT adventurer Marjorie Bicknell Johnson, photos by Marjorie Bicknell Johnson and Frank Johnson. You can view WT’s past and present Special Events here. Learn more about Marjorie’s works here.