Wednesday, September 21, 2005


"La Casa de Don David", El Remate, Guatemala.

Though it was suggested to depart at 5:30 a.m. and get out to Tikal to see it shrouded in early morning mists, I took my usual time and finally, after breakfast of banana pancakes, fresh orange juice and coffee, drove my unburdened bike out to the great Mayan city. A cool morning, refreshing. The road full of pigs, roosters, horses, cattle and dogs (dogs even sleeping in the road!) About a 20-mile ride out to the ruins. 50 Quetzales entry fee plus another 20 for a map of the park.

Tikal is Guatemala’s number one tourist attraction. Both the highway leading there and the park grounds are well-maintained. Yellow caution signs depict jaguars, turkeys, snakes, coatimundis and cattle. (Of these, I actually only saw the cattle.) Very calm conditions. No hawkers, no people approaching you with offers to be your guide. I set out on my own, which means clueless.

Found my way to the Gran Plaza, climbing around the damp and slippery limestone steps. From a narrow ledge, overlooking a very steep ravine, I was able to look out into the jungle canopy and see spider monkeys feeding on the leaves of what looked to be tall mahogany trees. There must have been a dozen monkeys in one tree. I was fascinated by the way they would swing from limb to limb, climb up branches from their tips, even let themselves fall, and with a crashing sound, catch the branches of a lower storey.

Spider monkeys in the canopy above Tikal.

Climbed pyramids V, IV, II and the pyramid of Mundo Perdido (Lost World), supposedly the oldest structure of Tikal. Only at Mundo Perdido do you actually climb the steps of the pyramid. The others have ladders, stairways and catwalks constructed of hardwood more daunting than the more than thousand-year-old stone staircases. Once again, I’m amazed at the risks one can take climbing on the ruins. You’d never be allowed to do this in the States.

Looking down the very steep side of "Temple IV" at Tikal.

The pyramid at "Mundo Perdido" (Lost World), Tikal. This is said to be the oldest structure at Tikal. The steps of each Mayan pyramid I've climbed are quite a stretch, more than a foot tall. So, just how big were the Mayans???

A little climb to the top of a pyramid? No sweat.
Behind me is a "Ceiba" tree, Guatemala's national tree.

The views over the canopy are commanding, and you can imagine being able to see the towers of other Mayan cities from this vantage. In the afternoon heat, the wildlife activity died down. Only an occasional monkey could be seen. Where do they go?

Tikal's pyramids pierce the jungle canopy and can be seen for many miles. I imagine this hill-top city once stood majestically above the cleared forests, like Athens' Acropolis.

They don't look like Mayans!

A portion of Tikal's Gran Plaza

Fortunately, a couple of stands inside the ruins offer beverages. Ice chests stocked with drinks chilling on block ice, the thirsty tourists crowd around to make their purchase. Though quiet when I first arrived about 8:30, by mid-day, there were many tours wandering the park.

Mayan stonework. Staircase at Tikal

After 2:00, I left the park and drove just outside the entrance to a Canopy Tour concession, where I had a ticket for the abbreviated, “11-platform tour.”

What tropical forest visit is complete without a Canopy Tour?

I believe I was their first customer today. This is definitely the slow season. My two guides fitted me with a harness and a pair of heavy cowhide gloves, then we climbed a ladder into a large tree, reaching the first platform.

Meet "Timtourist"

They briefed me how to prevent spinning and how to stop at the next platform, then asked if I was ready. One guide went first, disappearing through the trees, the cable singing. I followed and came out of the trees, dangling above the road. That must have been a pretty funny sight.

Like Tarzan, without the vines

At each successive platform, you climb higher, until finally you are at the height of the tallest trees. Among the tallest was a gum tree, where they get chicle, or chewing gum. Then the platforms gradually descend. It was very quiet in the canopy. We saw one monkey (which had to be pointed out to me.)

From the last platform, we trudged along a muddy road, a couple hundred yards to the entrance. (It seemed odd that they didn’t design it so the final zip line returned you there.) Having now taken the canopy tour, I can say I thought it was pretty “gimmicky”. After getting out of the gear and tipping my guides, bought a soda and stood around with the locals. I’m clearly regarded as a curiosity. They don’t know what to make of me as they stare alternately at me and then the bike.

Returning to my room, there was still no air conditioning. (David called a serviceman and offered to credit me the inconvenience, but I felt I had been compensated by being allowed to monopolize their internet connection.) A cold beer was welcome after the day’s activities.

The dining room is on the open balcony, "my" room directly below, near the center of the photo. (That's the least expensive one!)

View from the dining patio, looking out on Lake Petén Itzá

Caught up with Letty and Rory. Letty’s passport, along with cash and credit cards, had been stolen from their hotel room in Coban, and this threw a wrench into some of their plans. A replacement has now arrived at nearby Flores. They’ll move hotels this evening.

A great couple from Ireland, Letty Kavanagh and Rory Fallon. At home, they're part of the BBC team; on holiday, they're spending nearly two months trekking throughout Guatemala and Honduras.

Only three rooms in the hotel were rented tonight, so it was very quiet. Kelsey and David joined me at the dinner table. We discussed Kelsey’s coffee shop idea and hurricanes. They're planning a trip to Argentina's Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego in November and December and suggested we might cross paths again. The dinner special, chile rellenos was not my first choice, but I tried it. Outstanding!

Started to do some work on the blog, but David and I got to talking and tracking hurricane news. Never got much done.


timtraveler's daughter said...

One of the best things about traveling is meeting fellow trekkers. They usually have neat stories to share about their travels and give you helpful advice as well. I hope you're having a great time!

timtraveler said...

Hey! I know YOU!!!

Guess what? I met them again tonight at "Bruno's Hotel" here in rio Dulce.

Don't you have homework you're supposed to be doing?

Anonymous said...

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timtraveler's daughter said...

You rock dad! What's next? Bungee jumping?