World Travel

Flores, Tikal

17. April: We got up early at 7:00 AM and check out breakfast possibilities at our hospedaje 'La Mesa de los Maya'. The prices quoted on their menu were rather expensive and no one seemed to be wanting to serve us, so we hit the street to look for a better place. Around the corner was an 'Argentinean' restaurant/steak house which seemed to be open. They had a colourful chart of how to dance Tango on the wall, with different 'figures' explained. We ordered continental breakfast.

We then went on to find a Farmacia for some "band aids" and a bookstore to find a new diary (I had lost mine somewhere at Panajachel). The diary I bought was the one used to write the original text here.

Then we were off to the internet cafe to check out mailboxes, which was 12Q for 15 minutes, both of us get a computer each. I had a big shock reading mail from my deputy at the company titled 'bad news'. It was the first mail I had received from him and wow, was it a bombshell! It said that my secretary and a good programmer had resigned, that my personnel limit was reduced by three and that one of my major Projects was supposed to be merged with a project rivaling ours. Bomb! Darn! I replied to him in haste, as we have to catch our bus to Tikal.

The hotel check-out was easy, since we had prepaid the room in Panajachel. Our shuttle bus is a bit late but ok and we start. It's only 20Q per way from Flores to Tikal. The mini-bus' speedometer doesn't work and just sits there at 0. The red brake lamp on his dashboard is constantly on. Ah well, this is Guatemala.

We continually pick up and drop off passengers on the way (mostly locals).

Tikal is in a protected zone and entrance to the area is regulated at a road check someway from the ruins. There you have to pay the entry fee of 50Q per day. We also buy the book for Tikal recommended by LP for 10$. And eventually we arrive in Tikal. We tell the driver of the Minibus that we won't be going back to Flores today but tomorrow, since we would stay the night in Tikal.

We find our Hotel, 'Jungle Lodge', where they say our reserved rooms will only be ready in the afternoon. It is a nice airy place with no frills which was originally constructed to house the archaeologists excavating Tikal. It has a large reception hall leading to a souvenir area (with loads of insect repellent in stock) and further on a large restaurant and bar. The rooms are in separate flat buildings. We leave our backpacks at the reception and we're off to find the entrance to the Tikal ruins. Annewien has her umbrella with her and I reckon it is a good idea to get some shade from the hot sun.

Tikal entrance ticket for foreigners

Annewien's diary drawing of Maya Temple Design

Tikal entrance ticket for foreigners
Annewien's diary drawing of Maya Temple Design

The ticket check is at a little booth some way in from the entrance. Someway down the entrance there is a fork, with one path leading to the grand plaza and another down to some minor ruins. We decide to see the minor ruins first and eventually see the big stuff later. The map in LP is quite good and really helpful to find our way around.

The atmosphere in the jungle was marvelous. It was good that there had been no rain, so the path through the jungle was dry and easy to walk. There were very few tourists around and long stretches of path between the different temples were through quiet jungle. Soon we saw some small Coati Mundi 'ant bears' crossing our path and later saw our first ruins.

They were just the way I expected Maya ruins to be, with steep steps leading up to the altar chamber. For the first time I was actually seeing a Maya temple and it was quite an experience!

National Tree in Tikal: Ceiba Coati Mundi
National Tree in Tikal: Ceiba
Coati Mundi
Temples I, II and III rise above the jungle canopy (view from Temple IV) Temple V being restored
Temples I, II and III rise above the jungle canopy (view from Temple IV)
Temple V being restored

The major temples at Tikal are numbered I, II, III, IV, V and VI. We continued on to our first major Temple, IV, which was on the far end of the site. Wow, it was marvelous seeing it for the first time and looking up at it from below!

We had taken some food (toast break, ham) and drink along with us and we decided to eat a bit before going to the temple.

There were steep side steps (not the original ones), mostly out of wood, leading to the temple platform. Being on the top, there were great views around, as the platform was above the jungle canopy and the tops of the other Tikal temples could be seen in the distance. Prominent were Temples I and II and the pyramid.

What a view!

It was in this temple that, in the past, backpackers would try to spend the night. This was no longer allowed now.

Temple I: prohibited to climb Can you see the huge mask on the side of Temple I?
Temple I: prohibited to climb
Can you see the huge mask on the side of Temple I?
Temple I from Temple II The top of Temple I
Temple I from Temple II
The top of Temple I
Mysterious Temple III. It has luckily been left unrestored beneath it's coating of soil and trees The Back of Temple III
Mysterious Temple III. It has luckily been left unrestored beneath it's coating of soil and trees
The Back of Temple III
The Pyramid with people on top The back of the Pyramid
The Pyramid with people on top
The back of the Pyramid
Marvelous Gran Plaza and Temple II The back of Temple II
Marvelous Gran Plaza and Temple II
The back of Temple II
Intimidating look up to Temple II The top of Temple II with some people
Intimidating look up to Temple II
The top of Temple II with some people
The unusually steep and high steps up the temples are difficult to climb The exceptionally hard wood of the Zapote Tree is used to hold up the temple doorways
The unusually steep and high steps up the temples are difficult to climb
The exceptionally hard wood of the Zapote Tree is used to hold up the temple doorways
The inside of temple II is barred from entry, swallows live inside. You can see one flying out just under the sign Mundo Perdido, the Lost World..
The inside of temple II is barred from entry, swallows live inside. You can see one flying out just under the sign
Mundo Perdido, the Lost World..
Nests of weaver birds on Gran Plaza On Grand Plaza, Central Acropolis in the background
Nests of weaver birds on Gran Plaza
On Grand Plaza, Central Acropolis in the background
Acropolis complex Temple I from the Acropolis
Acropolis complex
Temple I from the Acropolis

Down again, I saw a toilet, and it was a little hut, but exceptionally well kept and clean!

We continued on to the Pyramid, and decided to climb it. Climbing was quite an exertion in the hot noonday sun, not helped by the fact that each step was so high. It must have been even more difficult for the short Maya to climb those steps which made me wonder about their significance. I was in my sandals, and the backside of the pyramid has no stairs and was quite slippery. Luckily, Annewien helped me down.

We went on to Temple V which was being restored with the help of the Spanish government and Temple III which was left in it's original, unexcavated form. III was so overgrown in jungle trees, vines and plants which made it look really mysterious. Tikal must have been quite a sight for the original discoverers!

At last we reached the Gran Plaza with Temples I and II! Wow, they were sensational! It was no longer permitted to climb Temple I, since several people had already tumbled to their deaths on the steep stairs.

Back of Temple I Huge shadow of Temple II as the sun goes down
Back of Temple I
Huge shadow of Temple II as the sun goes down

Temples I and II face each other with the Plaza in-between. After some hanging around the plaza, I decided to climb the steep stairs to the platform of Temple II. It was such a great view to temple I from the top! Around the temples are some other buildings, collectively known as the Acropolis.

On temple II there was a Swiss guy talking 'knowledgably' about everything in Tikal. He must have noticed us talking in Swiss-German, since he greeted us when he left. I guess he wanted to impress us, he told us that there was a way to hide from the guards checking for people after closing time, and it was on the great pyramid. If you would lie down on the top they wouldn't find you. The secret way in and out of the ruins was a path from Temple VI (Temple of Inscriptions), which was along a stream leading right to the visitor's museum. Well, here's a guy who seemed to have been here quite a lot!

We saw so much on this first day at Tikal and I was very impressed.

Sunset over Tikal (Temple II) Writing diary in Jungle Lodge
Sunset over Tikal (Temple II)
Writing diary in Jungle Lodge

During the day my mind was still working on the disastrous mail from the morning and what to do about it.

Back to our lodge, we take our room, which is rudimentary but ok. There are collective showers (separate) and toilets, so we both go for showers and then to the restaurant in the lodge for dinner. It didn't cross our mind to go anywhere else for dinner in the darkness (robbers), besides there didn't seem to be much anyplace else.

The dinner at the lodge was quite expensive at 53Q apiece for the menu. A beer's 15Q each. The food was none too good either, making it quite a bad deal.

There are large tables in the restaurant with groups, and it seems as if the place caters to them especially, with few individual travellers. Over dinner, we discuss my problems at work and fantasize about ways to live "without a job". I sleep quite well in the lodge, waiting for the howler monkeys to wake me up in the morning.

Continue to 18.4 Tikal