Stephen Fry continues his journey through Central America as the second episode of his travelogue airs on ABC on Tuesday 17 January at 8.30pm.
Belize is an anomaly in Central America in that it is an English speaking country whose head of state is the Queen. Its culture owes more to the Caribbean than the rest of the isthmus.
At Wildtracks Animal Rescue Centre Stephen learns how to bottle-feed an injured baby manatee before meeting up with the last vestiges of the British Army in Belize City.
He heads onto Turneffe one of the remotest cayes to meet a latter day Robinson Crusoe who’s found a lifestyle rehab from his drug addiction. Others who have sought sanctuary in these remote islands are the famed red footed boobie birds who Stephen finds nesting on Half Moon Caye.
Onto Hopkins, another haven but here for the Garifuna people. Previously known as Black Caribs, the Garifuna are mix of Arawak Indians and shipwrecked West Africans who were never enslaved. They have their own language totally separate from Belizean Creole and a powerful musical tradition whose infectious rhythms entice Stephen to a beach side gig of the Garifuna Collective band.
With the sound of the garifuna drums still echoing, Stephen heads into Guatemala. Unlike the rest of Central America it has a much more homogenous culture – around 50% are of Mayan descent and their origins date back thousands of years. The architecture of the Classic period is one of the glories of our species and a testament to their knowledge and appreciation of the arts and sciences.
Stephen takes part in a sacred Mayan ritual with shaman Tata Gilberto and his acolyte Ricky Lopez in the temples of Tikal. At its zenith in the 7th century Tikal housed some 100,000 inhabitants, but then mysteriously was abandoned. Most of the Mayans fled into the highlands where they were also protected from the Spanish when they colonized the isthmus.
From Tikal the bus rumbles into the mountains of the Ixil. The Mayans of the Ixil are the most remote of any of the twenty-one different Maya groups that live in Guatemala. Until the civil war of the 1980’s they had remained pretty untouched by the events since the conquistadores arrived. But for two decades during the civil war, the Ixil were subjected to a state sponsored policy of genocide.
In Chajul he finds women predominate, with so many of the men having been killed during the conflict but they happily try and teach him the essentials of weaving, so important to all the Mayans. At one of the exhumation sites where they are still uncovering victims from the war Stephen talks to forensic anthropologist Freddy Peccerelli Before heading to the serene beauty of Lake Atitlan he is introduced to the Mayan ball game by a group of young Mayans who are reinventing the sport to reinvigorate their sense of pride in their Mayan- ness.
Stephen Fry in Central America is a Sprout Pictures production for ITV.
Stephen Fry in Central America Episode 2 airs on Tuesday 17 January 2017 from 8.30pm-9.30pm on ABC