World Travel

18. April: The night in the Jungle Lodge was somewhat sticky. Sometime during the night the electricity disappeared, and our ceiling fan stopped. The only windows were next to the door, and no other air circulation in the room. Luckily though, there were no bugs or mosquitoes in the room.

At 5:00 AM our alarm clock woke us up, and we were ready by 5:40. I had been expecting to be woken up by blood-curdling shrieks and growls of the howler monkeys at dawn, but realized that I had heard nothing. They might have been there in the distance, or I might have just been sleeping too deep to hear them.

We went for a coffee at the restaurant of the Jungle Lodge where we had eaten the night before. I was rearing to be in the park before sunrise, to be there to catch the sun going up from the top of Temple II. The restaurant was open, but service was slower than you could ever imagine. About 10 minutes into our order the waiter schlepped back and told us it would take awhile since the water needed to be heated yet. We said ok and waited. And waited... It took ages and it was getting lighter and lighter outside. We were going to miss the sunrise in Tikal because of some dumb waiter!

At last the coffee came, we gulped it down and it took another period of desperation till the bill was presented. We packed our bags, went straight on the path to the ruins, bought new entrance tickets to the ruins for the day at the ticket booth near the entrance and head straight towards Temple II. There is a quietness over the ruins, the morning mist was still in the air. We see a female fox eating some fruit on the ground, apparently not too afraid of us.

Hungry Fox up early in the ruins Temple I from Temple II just after sunrise
Hungry Fox up early in the ruins
Temple I from Temple II just after sunrise

We silently climb Temple II. The atmosphere is - mystical - hazy - remote - on the Platform of Temple II.

There is no real sunrise, there was just too much mist. We waited till be could see the sun up in the sky when it was daylight.

We descended and walked around to the North Acropolis, to the Central Acropolis and to the Bat House. At the Great Plaza again, we follow a strange large turkey (Petñn Turkey) male eagerly chasing and showing off to a female. The female is, funnily enough, not in the least impressed and completely ignores the suitor. The bird has a weird mating call, somehow winding up it's neck while clucking, then letting off a loud shriek, then immediately ducking it's head down low as if to say 'no, no, it wasn't me'. The bird finally gives up the chase and wanders aimlessly around the plaza.

The sun is out again Ocellated turkey (also called Petñn turkey) in mating mood
The sun is out again
Ocellated turkey (also called Petñn turkey) in mating mood

In 'Maler's Palace', the Mayan rooms where the Tikal excavator 'Maler' actually stayed, we searched the walls for the famous Mayan graffiti (which were many centuries old) but  couldn't find them. I filmed something I believed could be graffiti. It took the explanation of a tour guide to finally identify them.

We tagged along to a guided tour group, pretending to be 'just there' and not really interested in the explanations, but once we had seen the graffiti and knew how they looked like, it was quite easy to detect others.

This tree has long roots Ancient Mayan graffiti on the walls of Malers' Palace
This tree has long roots
Ancient Mayan graffiti on the walls of Malers' Palace

Finally, the 'challenge' of Temple VI is upon us.

Temple VI, the Temple of Inscriptions, has an explicit warning in the Lonely Planet Guide of being dangerous to visit, since it is accessed by a length path away from the main ruins area and is remotely located. There are not too many visitors who make the trip and is therefore a good place for robbers to ambush those who do venture there. The combination of danger and the mysterious sounding name 'Temple of Inscriptions' made the thought of going there irresistible for me. Annewien was not really as keen to visit as I was, but she didn't veto the idea.

We walked in the direction of the path to the Temple, it is the third path leading from the fork near the entrance to the ruins. There were some guards sitting there, and Annewien asked them whether the visit to the 'Templo' was dangerous. They shook their heads and made an effort to look around as if they were checking whether there were any robbers or anything suspicious in sight and said, 'no, no problem'. Their nonchalance made me feel somewhat at ease, and we gingerly started down the lonely path down to Temple VI.

There were no other tourists to be seen, I had secretly hoped that we could join some others so we'd be in a group, but no such luck! About 100 meters down the path we were completely alone.

Spider monkey on the path to Temple VI Lonely, eerie, dangerous path to Temple VI
Spider monkey on the path to Temple VI
Lonely, eerie, dangerous path to Temple VI

Annewien detected some monkeys high up in the trees and we stopped to watch them and so I could videotape them. They were spider monkeys, the first we had seen! I immediately knew why they were called so, they really looked like spiders while swinging themselves from tree to tree, using all four limbs and their tail to hold on. In the distance we could see that the guards had seen us stop and look up into the trees, so they came and joined us and watch the monkeys. It seemed to be something special for them as well, or maybe they were just really bored.

We continued down the path, leaving the guards behind us. It was somewhat eerie, there was so one else to be seen and the quiet of the jungle and our expectation of being held up by armed robbers at any moment made us pretty on edge. My constant joking about robbers didn't really help the situation. We walked on for quite a distance through the forest, I was expecting to see the temple at any moment, but each turn in the winding path through the forest took us further from safety and into the unknown. I was actually starting to get a bit nervous, contemplating what I would do if we were held up. Initially planning to run back down the path, I realize that we're too far away from the fork for that to be an option.

Eventually we hear voices speaking English, and it is the voices of a group of young American tourists. They are at the Temple and are just starting on their way back.

Temple VI is neither large nor spectacular, but special in that after the tourists have left, it is empty of people and completely quiet. A good time for any robbers to strike!

We walk the path around the Temple, and I think of climbing up the dusty overgrown mound on which the temple is built, to be near the temple itself. I have my sandals on, and Annewien advises me against doing as the steepness of the mound would perhaps cause me to loose my footing. I give it a brief try, but then decide against it, since there doesn't seem much to be seen in the Temple. There aren't any inscriptions to be made out to our untrained eyes, so we're clueless about the temple's name. A vulture is walking on the Temple plateau and I wonder what it is doing there. Where there are vultures there are cadavers, but I couldn't detect anything.

Suddenly there were voices again, and looking around, we see that one of our guards was there at the Temple too. He had quietly followed us there. Then two tourists appeared, accompanied by three additional guards who were clearly there to protect them. Why were there suddenly so many guards here, if there was no danger? We decide to walk back, we unintentionally lose the guards, which doesn't really help ease our tension and I can sense Annewien wanting to get back to the fork and safety as soon as possible. I was joking robbers and filming the fascinating forest flora along our path all the while.

Temple VI A vulture on Temple VI
Temple VI
A vulture on Temple VI
Look at this large Ceiba tree!
Look at this large Ceiba tree!

We reach the fork at last and are relieved.

[Armed attacks with a fatality took place in the first half of 2001, the period where we were there, and we were lucky to have returned from the 1.2 km path to Temple VI safely. I DO NOT RECOMMEND VISITING TEMPLE VI considering it being small and insignificant compared to the other temples and the risk involved to get there. I certainly would not do it again]

We decide to make it to the restaurant just outside the ruins for lunch. It is a small place, and we sit at a table. We have to write down our order ourselves on a piece of paper! Pollo is not missing here either, and we go for it with chips. There are quite a few tourists around us having lunch as well.

We decide to see the two museums nearby, the admission of one of them is included in the entry fee. The most interesting part are the large black and white photo-posters illustrating the state of the temples just before and during their excavation. Temples I and II (but also the others) sure look horrendously overgrown on those pictures, a stark contrast to their neat appearance today. The other museum is small and has an admission fee, showing actual Mayan artefacts found at the site. I particularly like the painted cups, with pictures of Mayan rulers and priests with their subjects drawn in a somewhat comic-like fashion.

Write Restaurant order yourself Picture of unrestored Temple I in Tikal Museum
Write Restaurant order yourself
Picture of unrestored Temple I in Tikal Museum

The afternoon sun is out in force and it is very bright and hot!

We find our mini-bus operator who assumes that we want to go back, and he calls the mini bus without even waiting to hear what we have to say. Eventually we manage to tell him that we would like to return an hour later, and we make our way back to the lodge to get our backpacks.

We have some cooling drinks at the lodge and then hop on to the minibus. Our backpacks are heaved on the luggage rack on top of the minibus and we strap on ours to prevent them from falling off during our furious and bumpy ride back to Flores.

Once we're in Flores we manage to deposit our backpacks in the office of Linea Dorada (they are so friendly there) and we return to the internet cafe. I have to give some new instructions to my deputy in the office and see what other mail came in since yesterday. I'm at the computer a little longer than Annewien, so she takes a walk in Flores.

When she returns, she says there is a good bar at the elevated main square of Flores playing salsa, so we head off in it's direction. By the time we reach there they're playing reggae, but we decide to stay, since the bar/restaurant on the 1st floor of the building is open-fronted, overlooking the main square. The circulating evening air there is wonderfully refreshing. The place seems nice and clean and the food we order is delicious, the beer cooling.

Lake on the way back to Santa Elena Flores street by night
Lake on the way back to Santa Elena
Flores street by night

It's dark by now and we eventually make our way back to the Linea Dorada office, fetch our backpacks and hop on to the bus to Guatemala City. I feel like being on an airplane again, white uniforms, good service, we have reserved seats in the second row on top, very nice. We actually get some food on the bus (again like in a plane), a movie "The Cell" with Jennifer Lopez is shown, which is pretty weird, and I fall asleep. The first part of the road to Guatemala City is new and it's smooth and swift driving.

Continue to 19.4 Back to Guatemala City