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Mayan Ruins

The Mayan ruins of Tikal are hidden deep in the rainforests of Guatemala. From the air only a handful of temples and palaces peek through the canopy. The stone carvings are weather-beaten. Huge plazas are covered in moss and giant reservoirs are engulfed by jungle. The only inhabitants are wild animals and birds.

But 1,200 years ago, Tikal was one of the major cities of the vast and magnificent Maya civilisation that stretched across much of what is now southern Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Tikal was home to perhaps 100,000 people. Thatched farmsteads and fields would have stretched as far as the eye could see.

Their civilisation was so stable and established, they even had a word for a 400-year time period.

The Maya thrived for nearly 2,000 years. Without the use of the cartwheel or metal tools, they built massive stone structures. They were accomplished scientists. They tracked a solar year of 365 days and one of the few surviving ancient Maya books contains tables of eclipses. From observatories, like the one at Chichen Itza, they tracked the progress of the war star, Venus.

They developed their own mathematics, using a base number of 20, and had a concept of zero. They also had their own system of writing. Their civilisation was so stable and established, they even had a word for a 400-year time period.

Mayan society was vibrant, but it could also be brutal. It was strictly hierarchical and deeply spiritual. Humans were sacrificed to appease the gods. The elite also tortured themselves - male Maya rulers perforated the foreskins of their penises and the women their tongues, apparently in the hope of providing nourishment for the gods who required human blood.

In the ninth century, the Maya world was turned upside down. Many of the great centres like Tikal were deserted. The sacred temples and palaces briefly became home to a few squatters, who left household rubbish in the once pristine buildings. When they too left, Tikal was abandoned forever, and the Mayan civilisation never recovered. Only a fraction of the Maya people survived to face the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

For decades, archaeologists have been searching for an explanation of the Maya collapse. Many theories have been put forward, ranging from warfare and invasion to migration, disease and over-farming. Many think the truth may lie with a combination of these and other factors.

But none of the conventional theories were good enough for Dick Gill. He believed that what had devastated the Maya was drought. However, drought as the only explanation of the Maya collapse was highly controversial.

Rudo and Cursi in Cinemas

Your Spanish have teamed up with Optimum Releasing to support the UK release of Rudo&Cursi the new film from critically acclaimed producer Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Orphanage). Starring Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna.

Release date: 26 June 2009
Official UK
Watch the trailer here!

Rudo and Cursi are two brothers who couldn’t be more different - Cursi is a romantic who dreams of being a famous singer while all Rudo want to do is play football. But both of them want to make it big enough to buy their mother her dream house. When a top football scout takes arrives in town and notices the two brothers’ skill on the pitch, he takes them to Mexico City to play in the big leagues. But the fame, riches, fast cars and beautiful women make them lose sight of their roots and intensify their rivalry as their two teams prepare for a decisive match.

In a Mexican all-star dream team, the hilarious RUDO & CURSI reunites Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna and Carlos Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien), in the first project from Alfonso Cuaron, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo Del Toro’s groundbreaking new production company, CHA CHA CHA.
You can’t miss! In cinemas nationwide from June 26

Cuzco- Peru

Cuzco is located in the Southeastern region of Peru in South America.

Cuzco means "navel", and for the Incas it was a divine place, the center of the Inca Empire and the center of the world. Cuzco is known as the "Archaeological Capital of America". Founded during the 11th century by Inca Manco Capac, Cuzco was the divine city of the Inca Empire.

Although most of the Cuzco was later torn down and looted by the Spanish, the city’s buildings are still based on the stone foundations built by the Incas. Inca stonework didn’t require mortar to cement the stones together – instead the stones were carefully shaped so that they fit tightly together. Inca stone work is still regarded as the best in the world.

Life in the Inca Empire before the arrival of Europeans is often pictured as peaceful and pleasant. In most ways, life for the Indians under Inca rule was better than the cruelty which they later suffered under the Spaniards – but life under the Incas was not always pleasant. At times, life in the Inca Empire was bloody and brutal. The Inca Empire was sometimes referred to as the "Empire of Blood and Gold."

Cuzco, and other Inca cities, were busy like most other cities. There were frequent messengers traveling back and forth across the empire with news or delivering orders from the Inca to his administrators. Armies, engineers and processions of priests and administrators traveled throughout the empire as they were needed, and trains of llamas brought back loads of food, cloth and other exotic goods intended for the Inca’s royal storehouses. Despite the Incas’ fine roads, the wheel was unknown to the Incas before the arrival of Europeans so travel was always on foot.

The Inca was the most important person in the empire. He was revered as the empire’s ruler, but people also believed that he was a living god – descended from the Sun. This meant that the Inca was worshipped by his people, and controlled religious ceremonies as well as running his empire.

As befitting his high rank, the Inca was dressed in the finest clothes interwoven with gold, and lived in a huge palace. He had many servants chosen from the empire’s most beautiful women, and a personal guard of over 100 relatives of royal blood. Everywhere he went, he was treated like a god.

Wherever the Inca traveled within the empire, he was accompanied by huge crowds of loyal followers and servants. They carried him on a golden litter lined with brightly colored macaw feathers, preceded by a parade of women and children in colorful costumes who swept the ground before him, threw flowers and played music. The Inca’s face was hidden behind a very fine fabric because it was thought that his appearance was too powerful to be seen by the human eye.

Photo by JQ Jacobs

Those related to the Inca were very fortunate. The Inca made sure that his relatives were granted titles, wealth and important positions responsible for the running of the empire.

In 1533 Francisco Pizarro, after killing the Inca, led the Spanish march from Cajamarca, Peru, towards the Inca Capital of Cuzco unopposed by native forces. He was accompanied by Manco Capac II, half-brother of the assassinated Inca. Manco Capac was appointed as a puppet Inca by the Spanish as a reward for submission to Spanish rule.

In Cuzco on Sept. 18, 1589, the last survivor of the original conquerors of Peru, Don Mancio Serra de Leguisamo, wrote in the preamble of his will the following:

"We found these kingdoms in such good order, and the said Incas governed them in such wise that throughout them there was not a thief, nor a vicious man, nor an adulteress, nor was a bad woman admitted among them, nor were there immoral people. The men had honest and useful occupations. The lands, forests, mines, pastures, houses and all kinds of products were regulated and distributed in such sort that each one knew his property without any other person seizing it or occupying it, nor were there law suits respecting it......the motive which obliges me to make this statement is the discharge of my conscience, as I find myself guilty. For we have destroyed by our evil example, the people who had such a government as was enjoyed by these natives. They were so free from the committal of crimes or excesses, as well men as women, that the Indian who had 100,000 pesos worth of gold or silver in his house, left it open merely placing a small stick against the door, as a sign that its master was out. With that, according to their custom, no one could enter or take anything that was there. When they saw that we put locks and keys on our doors, they supposed that it was from fear of them, that they might not kill us, but not because they believed that anyone would steal the property of another. So that when they found that we had thieves among us, and men who sought to make their daughters commit sin, they despised us."

Photo by JQ Jacobs

According to Spanish records the 'number of souls under their jurisdiction' fell from about 1.5 million in 1561 to 600,000 in 1796 (including European descendants). Prior to 1561 it is estimated that more than 75% of the native population perished due to small pox, measles and influenza introduced by the Europeans. Famines also took their toll due to the disruptions of economic and social life. In some provinces fully two-thirds of the population was conscripted to work in silver mines, where most perished. By 1800, the population was reduced to one-tenth the original level.

In 1780 Tupac Amaru's great-grandson, José Gabriel Condorcanqui, better known as Tupac Amaru, led the first major Inca uprising against the Spaniards in two centuries. His rebellion was suppressed, he was captured and sentenced to be beaten and put to death. After being abused he was killed by being drawn and quartered on the main plaza in Cuzco in 1781, in the same place as his namesake had been beheaded. Other regional revolts followed. Thereafter all the descendants of the Incas were once again traced and many were executed. A group of ninety were sent to Spain where most died in prisons.


In Venezuela, since colonization, three types of bread mark the process of "civilization", culminating in the founding of the European style cities in the New Continent.

The first came from the native nomad Indians inhabiting the extensive tropical forests where Yucca grew. From it, they made a kind of thin pancake called "casabe".

The second is the "arepa", made of maize flour, grown by the natives in small indigenous villages. This is the one offered in our menu.

The third and final type of bread, consumed exclusively by the ruling classes, is that made from wheat, a 16th century European import. It was (and still is) the only kind accepted for the sacrament of the Eucharist, which gave it an aura of political and religious power.

The arepa was made from moistened maize, ground between stones to produce a pliable dough. Later they were formed into discs and heated to a high temperature on earthenware tiles called "aripos", hence the name.

Arepas have always been the traditional breakfast food for most Venezuelan families. They are our "daily bread", as they replace almost completely the use of wheat bread. . With a wide variety of usually savoury fillings, the arepa is a complete and nourishing food. Each region has its own specialities, some even sweeten them with "papelón" (unrefined brown loaf sugar) and spice them with aniseed.


Flamenco is a Spanish musical genre with strong, rhythmic undertones and is often accompanied with a similarly impassioned style of dance characterized by its powerful yet graceful execution, as well as its intricate hand and footwork. Flamenco embodies a complex musical and cultural tradition. Although considered part of the culture of Spain in general, flamenco actually originates from one region: Andalusia. However, other areas, mainly Extremadura and Murcia, have contributed to the development of several flamenco musical forms, and a great number of renowned flamenco artists have been born in other territories of the state. The roots of flamenco are not precisely known, but it is generally acknowledged that flamenco grew out of the unique interplay of native Andalusian, Islamic, Sephardic, and Gypsy cultures that existed in Andalusia prior to and after the Reconquest. Latin American and especially Cuban influences have also been important in shaping several flamenco musical forms.

Do you want to drink a 'Mate'?

Mate is an infusion, containing stimulants including caffeine, prepared by steeping dried leaves of yerba mate (Spanish) in hot water. It is the national drink in Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay and a common social practice in parts of Brazil, Chile, eastern Bolivia, Lebanon, and Syria.

Mate is served with a metal straw from a shared hollow calabash gourd.

The straw is called a bombilla in Latin AmericanSpanish .

The gourd is known as a mate.

Even if the water comes in a very modern thermos, the infusion is traditionally drunk from mates.

However, "tea-bag" type infusions of mate (mate cocido) have been on the market in Argentina for many years.

As with other brewed herbs, yerba mate leaves are dried, chopped, and ground into a powdery mixture called yerba. The bombilla acts as both a straw and a sieve. The submerged end is flared, with small holes or slots that allow the brewed liquid in, but block the chunky matter that makes up much of the mixture.


Mate is traditionally drunk in a particular social setting, such as family gatherings or with friends. One person (known in Spanish as the cebador) assumes the task of server. Typically, the cebador fills the gourd and drinks the mate completely to ensure that it is free of particulate matter and of good quality.

The cebador subsequently refills the gourd and passes it to the next drinker who likewise drinks it all, without thanking the server. The ritual proceeds around the circle in this fashion until the mate becomes lavado ("washed out" or "flat"), typically after the gourd has been filled about ten times or more depending on the yerba used (well-aged yerba mate is typically more potent, and therefore provides a greater number of refills) and the ability of the cebador. When one has had his fill of mate, he or she politely thanks the cebador passing the mate back at the same time.

The drink has a pungent taste like a cross between green tea and coffee, with hints of tobacco and oak. Some drinkers like to add sugar , creating mate dulce (sweet mate), instead of sugarless mate amargo (bitter mate). It is considered bad for the gourd (especially for the natural (squash or wood) ones) to be used for mate dulce so it is normal for households with drinkers of both kinds to have two separate gourds.

Traditionally, natural gourds are used, though wood vessels, bamboo tubes and gourd-shaped mates, made of ceramic or metal (stainless steel or even silver) are also common. Gourds are commonly decorated with silver, sporting decorative or heraldic designs with floral motifs.

Both the wood vessels and the gourds must undergo curing to get a better taste before being used for the first time and to ensure the long life of the gourd. Typically, to cure a gourd, the inside is first scraped with the tip of a bombilla to remove loose gourd particles. Mate herb and hot water is added next, and the mixture poured into the gourd. The mixture is left to sit overnight and the water is topped off periodically through the next 24 hours as the gourd absorbs the water. Finally the gourd is scraped out, emptied, and put in sunlight until completely dry.

It is common for a black mold to grow inside the gourd when it is stored. Some people will clean this out, others consider it an enhancement to the mate flavor.