30 November 2012 | Tikal, Guatemala
Beth / overcast, light drizzle off and on
We were up at 5 for a 5:30 pick up to tour Tikal – the perfect time to go – before the sun gets too hot and the crowds arrive. There are several ways to arrange a visit – take a collectivo bus to the park and either wander on your own or find a guide there, or arrange for a private tour ahead of time. We opted for this because the cost of La Casa de Don David’s tour, $33.75 per person for transportation and guide plus Q150 (about $19) per person for park entrance seemed like a reasonable price. It turned out to be a good decision. Our little group of 4 was picked up right on time, and with coffees in hand and boxed lunches in our bags, we set off in the dark, arriving at the park entrance at dawn –in time to hear and see the howler monkeys, and third vehicle in line for the 6am opening.
Oliverio, our guide, is from the El Remate village, has worked on some of the sites, and has been guiding tours for 20 years. We walked first to Complex Q with its twin temples, stelas and sacrificial altars dating from 771 AD, the post Classic period, and then on to the Acropolis del Norte. Here, we climbed a few steps to see the wall masks that have been left in place, protected by thatched roofs. So many of the masks, stelas, lintels and doors have been removed to museums that it seemed special to get up close to these – still in place.
At the Gran Plaza, we could view Templo I (the Templo del Gran Jaguar) to the East and Templo II (the Temple of the Masks) to the West. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to climb either of them, but we took lots of pictures, especially of Templo I – the temple that shows up most often in Tikal promotional material. It’s 44 metres high, dates from around 740 and honours the king, Ah Cacao, called Mr Chocolate by Oliverio. The jade mask we bought last year is a reproduction of the Ah Cacao mask. We ducked into one of the little rooms that were probably once living quarters of the nobles to eat a snack and shelter from a shower, before going along a jungle path to Templo IV.
This one is available for climbing, although only by way of wooden steps up the side. We climbed them and emerged at the top (65 metres)to wonderful views of the tops of Templos I, II and III poking above the treetops. Unfortunately the sky was overcast almost all the time we were there so, although we were grateful for the cool air, we regretted the grey pictures. It was truly thrilling to perch atop this temple for awhile and gaze out over the jungle. After a snack and banos stop, we visited El Mundo Perdido (Lost World) which dates from an earlier period – some buildings from pre Classic 700 BC, others from early Classic and late Classic. The architecture here appears to have been influenced by other cultures.
This visit convinced me that I have to do some reading before I go back. There is just so much history and over such a long chronological period that I couldn’t take it all in at once. We’ll go back again in 2013. Interestingly, December 21 (or thereabouts) 2012 marks the end of a great cycle in the Mayan calendar. Many celebrations are planned, the hotels are fully booked and there is much anticipation about the end of this cycle and the beginning of another.
But going to Tikal is about more than stone temples and pyramids. It’s an opportunity to see the fast growing cieba trees (Mayan tree of life) with roots that grow in the 4 cardinal directions, cedar and ramon trees, strangler figs. There are howler and spider monkeys to spot in the trees – and listen to in early morning and late afternoon. It’s the male howler who makes all the noise, and it is a fearsome noise indeed. We spotted colourful toucans and busy woodpeckers over our heads, and those cute coatis with long noses and long tails, agoutis, white tailed deer and Peten turkeys on the ground, and a fuzzy black tarantula … on my hand!
By noon hour it was time to head back. We had been on our feet for the better part of 6 hours and were ready for siesta time. We made the obligatory stop at a local gift shop and headed back to our hotel. Our visit to Tikal was a great way to end Sue and Terry’s time with us – and an integral component of any trip to Guatemala.