Central America | Guatemala – At last I see Tikal
Left for the Guatemala border.
Crossing went easily enough. The border lady didn’t like that I’d ommitted my middle name from the immigration form. You pay $20 US (environmental tax) to leave Belize and nothing to enter Guatemala. As soon as you enter you are surrounded by money changers. 7.5 quetzales to $1 US.
There’s a sudden downgrade in people’s living conditions, in general, once you cross the border. The landscape in Guatemala is stunning with bright blue lakes and mountains. A lot of people were bathing and doing their laundry in streams. In both Belize and Guatemala it’s the Maya who occupy the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder.
Our hotel, Jungle Lodge is actually inside Tikal Natl. Park. Even so, it’s a 30 minute walk from there until you get to the first stela and sacrificial stones. Note to travellers: Jungle Lodge turns off it’s power 11 pm – 5 am. The place got a lovely write-up in my guide book. Since I have no basis for comparison I can tell you there’s no hot water, hope you like rats and terrible overpriced food. Sure, I slept that night, barely, clutching my flashlight in the most pitch black I’ve ever been surrounded by, waiting for something to land on my head. Rodents are my kryptonite. Is that so wrong? Does that disqualify my as a true adventurer? Blech. Ok, done snarking now.
Onto what’s really important: Tikal went beyond my highest expectations of how I thought it would be. When we first entered the Grande Plaza I thought I would burst into tears from how awesome and incredible it is. My tons of photos from this day will never convey the strength and majesty of the place. What I wouldn’t give to go back into time just 5 minutes to see what Tikal looked like when in full swing. Pyramids 1 and 2 were built facing each other to mirror each other and used for speeches and as observatories. Temples 3 and 5 are still submerged in jungle growth. It’s very high maintenance to keep the jungle from taking over the site. As you walk through the jungle you come to an opening where you get your first and only view of ‘Templo IV’, the highest pyramid in the Mayan world. A very powerful and moving view.
You cannot climb on Temples 1 and 2 but you can climb all over the ‘acropolis’ of the Grande Plaza. The climb up Temple 4 is not difficult. Ladders/stairs have been built into the cliff since the bottom 2/3 of the temple is still jungle growth and only the top is cleared. From the top you are way above the tree level. You can see Temples 1 and 2 as well as the pyramids of the Lost World. There are tourist police/guards all over the park for safety measures.
There are lots of coatamundis and spider monkeys. Do not feed the coatis. They’ll scratch your legs off for a piece of chocolate, as C. found out. Basically all the wildlife everywhere we’ve gone has managed to turn against her.
The Lost World (‘Mundo Perdido’, how very Jurassic sounding) is an older area of Tikal with the more step-up (Altun-Ha style) rather than step-up/tower pyramids. It’s theorized to be the oldest part of Tikal, the very beginnings of the site at 700 BC. What was the downfall of this amazing city? No one’s sure if it was drugs or inbreeding or natural disaster. No one mentions conquistadors. I wonder what the remaining Maya think of all this.
Jane and Sylvino lugged the contraband Belizean watermelon up to Templo IV so we could all eat it and watch the sunset but we wound up watching sunset from the Lost World.