In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight
We took the early bus to Tikal. I say bus, but really this was a van with busted-up windows and missing pieces, but it got us there. The ride took about an hour through small villages where women still carried their laundry on their heads, men were on horseback, and cattle wandered in the streets. The homes were mainly sticks with palm fronds for the roof, but every once in a while we would pass a richer town with cement walls and iron roofs.
We would round a corner and then slam on the brakes to avoid the cows, horses, and kids wandering in the dusty streets. Amongst all this, though, I couldn’t help notice how a few of those women had cell phones held to their ears and how the kids playing in the mud had Nike trainers—now that’s progress !!
Even more exciting (well, for me) was when we passed the entrance to Yaxha national park, which was closed for tourists and in fact guarded by guys with rifles. This park was where the Survivor crew was filming their latest reality adventure, Survivor Guatemala.
I have watched that show for many seasons and yearned to be on it. I even applied, but because I’m not a US resident, got turned down. Since spending one day in Tikal, which is the very same jungle, I have a new respect for the guys who will be living out there. It’s rough. The heat and humidity was stifling, just like stepping into an oven. The mosquitoes were awful. The wild animals that you could hear were unbelievable. I loved my day there, but could not ever imagine living there for 30 days like they were.
Anyway, Tikal is amazing. We paid the 50 quetzals entry and had the whole day to explore. Its much bigger than I ever imagined and all set amongst the jungle, so you have to keep reminding yourself as you walk from temple to temple that here you are in a real Guatemalan jungle.
There are 4,000 ruins to explore, which, until 100 years ago, had been eaten by the jungle. I can’t even imagine why the Mayans would have abandoned such a place and how exciting it much have been for those Guatemalan explorers to have been sent to dig all this out. What a rush they must have felt as they uncovered the first few. The temples have been cleared, but still the jungle is everywhere. Paths wind through the trees and suddenly in the middle of the jungle is another HUGE grey stone temple.
We didn’t use a guide, even though it was recommended. For safety reasons, they like you to stay in a group, as rogue guerrillas have been known to prey on lone tourists on the quieter trails. We walked many paths between the temples where we didn’t see anyone for ages but didn’t feel nervous. There was constant activity from the jungle critters. The leafcutter ants were a favorite of mine, huge ants that all carried equally huge leaves in a single line across where we would be walking, causing us to stop in disbelief at their sheer size.
The howler monkeys were adorable swinging from the treetops, some chattering gaily whilst others scared us to death sounding like a lions roar from above our heads. It was worth being there just for this experience alone, but I’d better not forget the real reason we went into this jungle today, and that was to see the Mayan temples.
Having done Mayan sights through Mexico, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer size of these. Temple IV is the tallest at 64m, and it’s a steep climb to the top, but you can do it.
Karl was ecstatic, as he got to see the temple view, which they filmed "Star Wars" (rebel base) from. Ho hum!!
I think the numerous liability laws have taken all the fun out of America. Being 64m up with no rail was enough to get me hooked on the whole temple thing (and unlike Karl, I’m not a history buff, so I need a little added incentive). I mean, if someone wants to risk the climb and fall to their death, they should be allowed that, right?
It was scary, though, and even worse coming down, as it’s a vertical ladder and a long way!!
Some of the ancient rulers’ names did make me giggle: Great King Jaguar Paw, Lord Smoking Frog, and King Moon Double Comb (Lord Chocolate).
There are restaurants (expensive) near the entrance to the site and plenty of places to grab drinks, so you really don’t need to carry a whole day’s water with you. We managed 6 hours of hardcore climbing and walking, which I hoped burned off those plantains I’d become addicted to. Some areas were busy with tourists, but in other sections, we didn’t see anyone for ages.