The food isn't so humble in taste, especially the tortillas made from corn ground by hand that morning. The chicken in our bowls quite recently roamed in the yard. The vegetables came from the garden, laid out in neat rows beyond the sleeping huts, where hammocks hang ready for another night. When I ask to use the bathroom, Juanita points toward the trees.

Juanita cooks for Rancho's visitors by arrangement with its owners. She is one of a growing number of Maya people who share their culture with tourists for a fee. The practice has its detractors, but it offers a little extra cash to families like Juanita's and gives visitors a sense of the modern Maya's connection with the traditional ways of living on the land. These Maya might not visit Dzibanché, a ceremonial center for the ancient people, on religious holidays, but the corn they grow and grind is the same corn. They no longer build temples or measure time with their sextants, but they still live in the jungle, speaking the same language and sleeping in hammocks very similar to those of their ancestors.

These people know no more than the scholars about the great mysteries of the Maya, whether their ballgames ended in bloody sacrifice for the winners or the losers, how they developed such complex knowledge of the stars, and above all, why they abandoned their cities to the jungle so suddenly. Those mysteries remain for the archaeologists to solve and we lucky visitors to see, as the roads to the ruins multiply and the shovels move the earth from more pyramids, and more nondescript hills in the jungle yield buried treasure.

chad windham is a dallas-based photographer who has done work for the nba and southwest spirit and tycoon magazines.
yucatán: the basics