Just as it was in ancient times, for the Maya the river has always been an easy path for transportation and trade, and for freshwater especially in drought. Chac the Maya rain God was the ultimate giver of life. The rain feeds the river and therefore the two are related. We embarked on our river boat in Frontera Corozal for a quick run down to the Yaxchilan ruins. It was a month before the rainy season and the Usumacinta was low, and swift. On one side Mexico, the other Guatemala, and on both sides the Maya who have been here much longer than either country has existed.
With a long sleek profile and flat bottoms these boats are well suited for the Usumacinta’s swift flow and treaturous rocks. These captains know the river well but occasionally pay the price for their mistakes.
Time seems to slow on the river as civilization receeds and the past’s eternal ways come nearer to the present. Change is slow but the river remains an integral part of life. Now “eco-tourism” is a player and that is thought to be a good thing. The old method of slash and burn land clearing for farming and ranching has a negative impact on the river but is necessary for local food production. Power boating has a negative impact as well but is mostly limited to commerce.