The 2012 Mayan Calendar: Out with the Old, In with the New

A Mayan shaman on Lake Atitlán performing a ceremony for protection of travelers. © Laurel Kallenbach

December 21, 2012, marks the end of one Mayan calendar and the beginning of a new era. To celebrate, I wanted to share a few of my images from my 2008 trip to Guatemala, where I spent a week on Lake Atitlán, one of the spiritual centers of the Mayan world.

The Mayans call this deep lake, surrounded by mountains and the Atitlán volcano, “the umbilicus of the world.” It’s a source, a place of birth for them.

On the first morning after I arrived at Villa Sumaya,  a yoga retreat center on the shores of Lake Atitlán, a Mayan shaman came to perform a protection ceremony for all us gringos. After offering sugar, cinnamon, chocolate and taper candles to the gods, he entreated them to cleanse our spirits and keep us safe throughout our Guatemala journeys.

We could feel the love from the chocolate-sated deities every morning as we drank Mayan hot chocolate with breakfast. Rich cream, dark cacao, ginger, and a touch of chile: amazing and spirit-lifting.

These Mayan women brought their weaving to Villa Sumaya for our group to look at. I bought a gorgeous tablecloth. © Laurel Kallenbach

As I look ahead, to the new era, I’ll remember Guatemala’s colorfully clad Mayan women. These skilled seamstresses wove exotic birds, such as the quetzal, into their clothing designs. May that color and vibrancy lead us all into the next Mayan calendar.

On this Winter Solstice 2012, we all get a fresh start. My hope is that the new era will be characterized by peace, creativity, the end of materialism and global warming, and a renewed understanding of the wisdom of indigenous peoples worldwide.

Laurel Kallenbach, writer, traveler, editor

Read more about my travels in Guatemala:

Lake Atitlán, in Guatemala, is one of the spiritual centers of the Mayan world. © Laurel Kallenbach



Adopt a Swiss Cow & Support Sustainable Dairy Farms

Switzerland is famous for its fine cheeses, yet many small, family-owned dairy farms struggle to maintain their sustainable way of life.

Photo of Albert Breitenmoser holding a photo of Selma, a cow you can “rent” © Laurel Kallenbach.

Farmer Albert Breitenmoser of Eggerstanden (in Switzerland’s Appenzell region) devised a cow-“leasing” project that gives him financial support and offers visitors an insider’s glimpse into traditional Swiss dairy farming and cow herding

The program is also a great way for kids—and city dwellers—to better understand their food sources.

The cowherd’s mountain-pasture chalets. Photo courtesy Albert Breitenmoser

Here’s how it works: For a fee, you choose a cow—one with a sweet name like Maxine, Bleike, Selma, Arnika—on the Internet to “sponsor” for a season. (Pick your cow by clicking here. The website is in German only, but these bovine beauties speak for themselves!) You receive a certificate, a photo of your sponsored cow, a discount on the herd’s cheese and the opportunity to visit “your” cow on the farm.

Sponsoring a cow at a higher price gives you the unique opportunity to stay at the summertime mountain-alp pasture, get to know your cow, learn to milk her, spend the night in the cowherds’ cabins, and see how mountain cheese (called Alpkäse) is made. Alpkäse is considered the finest Appenzell cheese.

“People can learn a lot about the mountain meadows and enjoy eating cheese from a cow they’ve met,” says Breitenmoser. “They can also learn how much work it is to feed and milk the cows and make their cheese.”

Dairy lovers from all over the world have leased cows from Breitenmoser via the Internet; one cow lover from Thailand sponsored a cow for three years before he was finally able to visit Switzerland last year. Then he got to enjoy a mountain visit where the farmer’s breakfast consists of home-produced goodies: fresh milk, coffee, bread, honey, and cheese of course.

The alp cheese is made by hand on the farm. Photo courtesy Albert Breitenmoser

And oh yes, there’s that spectacular Swiss scenery to accompany your excellent cheese.

If you know of similar programs/ gifts that support sustainable farmers, share them by adding a comment below.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and cheese lover


Read more about my travels in Switzerland: