The Cal family arrived in Big Falls around 1961 from Crique Sarco close to the southern border with Guatemala. They arrived to work on the new citrus plantation being established at the time. There was no paved road, no electricity and no mains water. All that came much later; but when it did arrive things changed rapidly. The Cal family home visit aims to preserve some of the old ways of the Kek’chi Maya before they disappear.

Traditional Mayan bed from tree bark

Judy tries out this traditional Mayan bed

One of the features of the home is this Mayan bed. The “mattress” is made from the rolled out bark of the macapal tree which is then secured to the frame by vine ropes. It is remarkably comfortable and when Judy saw it she was overcome by fatigue and just had to try it out.

The boys give Alva a ride around the garden.

While Judy was resting Osbaldo and Cornelius were giving their young sister Alva a ride around the garden on a large “spathe”. This is taken from the coconut tree and is a kind of sheath from which the flowers and fruit grow and as these kids know it makes a fine sled on grass.

Four kinds of corn

White, yellow, red and black corn varieties

Cris has four types of dry corn hanging in his kitchen although the family, like their neighbours, uses mainly white corn for making tortillas. The yellow corn tends to dry out more quickly when made into a tortilla but is good for fattening the chickens. The black corn is used for making tortillas.

Mayan corn storage

Cris recounts some family history

On the left in the picture above is a wooden frame for the storage of dry corn and beyond it next to the door an ancient pestle and mortar for grinding corn and other foods. All the hooks and hangers in the house are made from dried twisted lengths of vine found in the forest.


Ricardo Cal with his prize end of season cassava

Cris’s father Ricardo was one of the original group of Mayan settlers in Big Falls village who arrived in 1961 from Crique Sarco about 50 miles/80 kilometres south of here. There were no roads at the time so they paddled their dug out canoes down the Temash river to the sea before turning north and paddling north up the coast to Barranco and finally Punta Gorda. Here they were met by their new employer Don Owen-Lewis who transported them up to Big Falls.

Grinding cocoa for a drink on an old grinding stone made from volcanic lava

Mrs Cal grinds the cocoa to make a drink.

Cris’s mother Basilia grinds some cacao (cocoa) beans to make her guests a drink. The old grinding stone is made from a coarse volcanic lava found in Guatemala.

Tortilla making

Amina and Marvila prepare tortillas for the day

Anita and Cris’s daughters, Marvila (left) and Amina meanwhile are busy working on the family’s supply of tortillas for the day. Once cooked on top of the “comal”, the iron plate above the fire hearth, the tortillas are stored and kept fresh in the large brown calabash sitting on the table between them.

Soap berry tree

Judy lathers and washes her hands with the soap berry before eating

Before eating Cris offered Judy and Cheryl the chance to wash their hands using the brown cherry-sized soap berry. When the berry is crushed in the hands and run under water it creates a very effective soap. Mrs Cal used to keep a sack of these to use throughout the year.

Mayan cuisine

Anita unveils the tuba fish cooked in banana leaves

Anita had been cooking a meal of tuba, a freshwater fish found in Rio Grande that flows through Big Falls. The fish was delicious when seasoned with a fresh hot pepper sauce that Amina made and wrapped in warm tortillas from the calabash

Drinking cocoa from a calabash bowl

Cheryl (r) with Marta Chiac and Judy drinking cocoa from calabash bowls

After lunch they all shared a cocoa drink served in calabash bowls. this was the finale to a wonderful visit that gave the visitors a real appreciation for the way in which the forest had provided the Maya with all their needs from food to medicine and even soap. It is a wonderfully varied visit and visitors have the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and help out as one of the family. It also includes a garden walk to see all the herbs and fruit and vegetables that grow wild around them.