Visitors to modern-day Mexico and Central America are amazed when they see the remains of the vast cities of the civilization of the Mayan people – there are tall pyramids, huge ball courts, palaces, plazas and sacred wells.


The Maya started off as hunter/gatherers that began to settle together in simple communities. As centuries passed they developed a rich civilization with huge cities – some with populations of well over 75,000 people. The cities were ruled by kings. The kings dressed flamboyantly in jaguar-skin wraps and wore gold and jade jewellery and feather headdresses. The people believed the kings were connected directly to the gods.


The great pyramids were built as towering religious buildings. They were brightly painted and decorated with statues.

The Maya had a great knowledge of astronomy (the study of the stars and planets). They were able to plot the movement of the sun, the moon and Venus. They built observatories and buildings that light up with the rising sun on the summer and winter equinoxes and solstices.


They left us a record in the form of hieroglyphs, which are pictures or symbols representing words or sounds. They did not use metal – so all engraving was done using stone tools. They also had a form of books called codices; made out of the bark of trees on which they wrote and folded up accordion-style.


They built huge ball courts to play a game called “ulama,” which was both a sport and a sacred ceremony. Players would aim to get a rubber ball through stone rings fixed high on the wall of the court. They were only permitted to use their hips, shoulders and forearms; not their hands or feet; and they had to wear protective clothing.


The Maya were excellent at Maths. They developed the most accurate and complex calendar of the ancient world, known as “The Long Count.”


The staple diet of the Maya was maize, beans and squash. They also grew chillies and tomatoes. Corn was made into porridge, corn-cakes and tortillas. Cotton was cultivated to make clothing, though animal skins were also worn. Cacao was grown and used to make drinking chocolate for the wealthy families – it was sweetened with honey and spiced up with chillies. Ducks were also domesticated for their eggs and meat – and wild turkeys were penned in to fatten them up. The Mayans also hunted (with bows and arrows and blowguns) and fished.


In 800-900AD nearly all the cities in the southern lowlands were abandoned. Scientists are not sure why this happened – it may have been because of warfare, severe drought, overpopulation or epidemics. The Mayan cities in the Yucatan peninsula carried on successfully until the invasion of the Spanish colonists in the 16th century.


Today there are more than 6 million Maya living in rural areas in Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Belize. They are very proud of their great culture and history. Many continue to make beautiful pottery and weave elaborate fabrics in the traditional time-honoured way.

In Guatemala parents give their kids tiny little “worry dolls.” You tell your dolls your worries at bedtime, put them under your pillow and they will take care of your worries while you sleep peacefully. Here’s how to make a clothes pin worry doll.

The Blooms of Bolivia

Most countries have a national flower; Bolivia in South America has two! The Andes Mountains lie to the west of Bolivia. The east of the country is completely different; it’s tropical and is part of the Amazon rainforest. There are many different peoples and cultures too. In 1990, the government decided it would have two flowers to represent the regions and their people; as a symbol of unity for the country.

The national flower from the western Andes region is the Kantuta tricolour or the “Magic Flower of the Incas.” It was also the original national flower. It is a delicate and elegant plant with flowers shaped like bells. A variety of this flower is also the national flower of Peru. The Bolivian variety has red petals, a yellow floral tube and a green calyx (the part of the plant that supports the petals). These colours are the same colours that are found on the Bolivian flag.

The Inca people believed that the kantuta flower was sacred. One of their legends tells of two powerful kings, Illimani and Illampu, who lived in ancient times in the Andes region of Bolivia. At first, the kings lived in harmony, each ruling his kingdom and minding his own business. As time passed, they became jealous and fell out with each other. They started a bitter battle. There was nothing but trouble and strife. In the end, both kings were seriously wounded. They demanded on their death beds that their sons vow to carry on the battle. The princes really didn’t want to continue fighting, but they felt they had to.

Of course, history repeated itself and the two princes were wounded too. They were both kind and wise men and decided that the best thing to do would be to forgive each other so the feud would end. Suddenly, Pachamama, the Incan Earth Mother, appeared. She was very angry with the kings for starting such discord. She ordered their stars down from the heavens to the earth. The stars formed two snow-capped mountains, which can be found in Bolivia today. The Incas believed that the rivers made up of melting snow flowing down from the mountains symbolised the tears of sadness from the kings for their bad behaviour. These rivers fertilize the valleys below, and it is here that the pretty kantuta flower grows. The red and yellow colours of the flower were the colours of the princes, and the green represents hope.

The flower representing the tropical east of Bolivia is the patuju; also known as the “Hanging Lobster Claw” because that’s exactly what it looks like. Usually, flowers of this type are cup shaped, with the petals facing upward where they catch water for birds and insects – but this particular flower droops downwards and instead provides nectar for birds. Hummingbirds love it. Like the kantuta flower, its colours are yellow, red and green, but it couldn’t look more different. It’s big, bright and showy; and grows easily in the tropical climate.

A Cork Sailing Boat

Making your own toys is great fun. We all love sailing boats – here is a simple craft to make a sailing boat out of a used bottle cork; and it actually floats too!

 Materials to make one boat

3 wine bottle corks

1 toothpick

Construction paper (or cardboard from an empty cereal packet)

Paint or crayons (optional)

Strong string

Drinking straw (optional)


Line up the three corks in a row.

Cut a piece of string and wrap it around the corks vertically, tying them firmly together with a knot.

Wrap a second piece of string around the corks horizontally and tie with a knot. The corks form the base of your boat.

Cut a triangle out of the construction paper or cardboard – this will form the sail of the ship.

If you like, you can paint the sail or draw on a design (wait for the paint to dry).

The toothpick will form the mast of your boat. Make a hole just above the middle of the wide part of the triangle and another hole near the pointed top of the triangle. Stick the toothpick through the two holes – the paper will curve around like a sail.

You can tie a long piece of string onto your cork boat to hold, so it does not float away.

Sail your boat in the bath or in a swimming pool (with an adult, of course). You can use a straw to make wind to move your boat by blowing through it.

Quinoa Salad

Quinoa is a grain grown in the Andes Mountains. It has a nutty flavour. You can use it in place of rice, or as the basis for a salad. Ask an adult to help you in the kitchen.


1 cup quinoa

1 tbsp olive oil

2 cups broth

Store bought vinaigrette dressing

Your choice of salad ingredients – for example:


Sweet corn

Red pepper


Black beans



Rinse the quinoa well by placing it in a fine mesh strainer and putting it under the cold water tap for a couple of minutes, swishing through with your hand.


Heat the olive oil in a non-stick saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the quinoa and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute to let the water evaporate and toast the quinoa – be careful not to let it burn.

Add the broth. Bring to a boil.

Lower the heat to the lowest setting and cook covered for 15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and let stand for 5 more minutes, covered. Don't open the lid.

Fluff the quinoa with a fork.

If liquid remains in the pan, or the quinoa is still a bit crunchy – return the pan to a low heat for another few minutes to absorb the liquid.

Spread the quinoa on a tray to cool, then chill in the fridge.

Add a dollop of vinaigrette dressing to the bottom of a salad bowl; add the chilled quinoa and salad ingredients. Toss gently with a large spoon and serve.

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