Saturday, May 5, 2012


A beautiful, serene sunset over Flores, Guatemala and Lake Peten Itza

My alarm went off at exactly 4:21AM. This seemed like a bad idea. I got up anyway; not a good idea at all though - the sun wasn't even thinking of coming up yet. But here we were, a group of about 20 of us tourists, heading off to Tikal bright and early in the morning.

At least I got some sleep on the hour and a half ride in... And then Tikal happened. Tikal is very much not like all the Mayan sites I've seen so far - Tikal is enormous. You have to actually hike to get from one group of structures to the next, and it'll take a while to get there. Along the way, you catch glimpses of other temples and pyramids rising above the trees... occasionally you stop to snap a picture of the abundant jungle wildlife... But back to the Mayans - archaeologists have identified several thousand distinct structures in Tikal; so far, about 15 percent of them have actually been freed from the clutches of the jungle. Those 15 percent will tend to look sorta like this:

Templo II, as seen through the jungle canopy

The other 85 percent?
A yet to be excavated temple

Which brought up an interesting question - when they say that Tikal had been 're-discovered' in 1848, what exactly did they discover!? Apparently, it was just mounds of dirt over-grown with the jungle. Then, the locals instructed the archaeologists to dig. Which they did, and cut down the jungle a bit all around, and found some enormous Mayan Temples. Then the archaeologists promptly left the temples alone for some 70 years, and when it was time to re-re-discover them, the jungle had taken hold once more. Moral of the story - these temples may seem quite large, but the jungle acts mighty fast down here.

Back to 4:21AM... I reluctantly have to admit that going super early is the right way to do it. It gets hot in the Guatemala jungle in the middle of the day, the Temples are spread out, and they still let you climb most of them. All things that I would much rather be doing before it got roasting hot outside. We left Tikal around 12:30, but by about 11:30 most of our group was busy lounging around, refreshing beverage in hand, as we didn't really have the energy to be doing much of anything else. The crowds also start showing up as the day goes on, and I'm all for avoiding the tourist hordes. Sure, Tikal is big enough (understatement!) that it never actually felt crowded... but there was an odd group of Russian tourists that we came across around 11.

As for some pictures of the ruins... We started out at Grupo F (no, the buildings aren't very creatively named here):

It's one of several perfectly symmetrical plazas the Mayans had constructed which acted like a natural amplifier. The Chief could stand in the center and address the crowds, and all his people would hear him - old school loudspeaker system! The Mayans were quite good with the sciences.

On to the Gran Plaza, which appeared to be the center of the old Mayan town:

40+ meter Templo II on the right and 55 meter tall Templo V in the background

You can climb Temple II, which offers a dramatic view onto Templo I

I was pretty excited about the whole thing! There was another more pensive picture up here, but this one was clearly a better call

One of the fun things about Tikal is that every time you climb one of the Temples, you get to see other ones poking up through the jungle canopy a ways away. So, we've been seeing the towering mass of Templo IV for a while now, before finally making our way over there.

At 71 meters high, this was the tallest structure the Mayans had constructed. Temple height, naturally, was felt to equate with grandeur, importance, and overall awesomeness

And from the top of Temple IV, you get to see a bunch of other structures peeking through the jungle

Roughly at this point, the organized part of our tour had been over, so we were left to continue exploring on our own for a couple of hours. Which transitioned fairly quickly to lounging with beverages, but not before an opportunity had been identified to do something fairly stupid on the ruins - Safety Third!

In a new sign of personal restraint, I wasn't even the one doing it... Maybe it just wasn't that stupid :)

And with that, I felt I could safely pronounce myself done with Tikal and start heading towards the beaches in Belize. Which have been wonderful!

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