Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Tikal your fancy.
Sorry for the pun but the alarm went off at 4:30 am. That’s an hour no one should be up at. But ruins were waiting and so are better blog entry titles. As I shook a very grumpy Adrian awake, it occurred to me that exactly a month before we’d been at Teotihuacan – the big ruins in Mexico. Oooo. Then it occurred to me we’d been at ruins at least once a week so it really wasn’t anything special. Nevermind
The minivan was there at exactly 5:30 am. Our driver was a friendly man named Humberto. We were first and then we made three more stops to pick up more people before heading through the early morning mist to Tikal. Tikal is located in the middle of a giant national park which much like Angkor Wat in Cambodia comprises many different sites. Too many to do in one day – but unlike Angkor Wat the majority are all centrally located in one area so one day is plenty to do the bulk of it.
Humberto made such good time that we had to wait at the park entrance for it to open and then drive another another 20 minutes through the jungle to get to the entrance of the park. Along the way we passed many yellow “warning; animal crossing” signs – jaguar, weird birds, monkeys, and coatis, but I think they were more a tease than a warning.
Finally we were at the entrance to the ruins. But before we went in we stopped for breakfast at one of comidors which strange peacock-like turkeys strutted in front of. The food was surprisingly affordable for the remote location. Once the tummies were full we started walking. We occasionally followed one of the many tour groups saving ourselves $40, teehee. One great guide called to howler monkeys and some birds and they came over. We also heard him tell everyone to watch out for the monkeys who like to pee on tourists and good thing because they did send a stream or two down just missing a few folks.
The scale of the site is covers a huge area. We were lucky that not only did we get there in the early morning before the sun was blazing but that the day was overcast. Even then we took our time so we didn’t get too tired. Once we broke from the tour groups we didn’t see many other people as we passed lots of smaller temples (both excavated and unexcavated), steleas (carved stone pillars) and altars as well as modern day altars still used by Mayans who worship at the site.
The path soon became steep and riddled with roots that acted as steps. We’d been walking for an hour now and Adrian and I decided that we both needed to water some plants. Not advisable but desperate times call for desperate measures - thank goodness for the stash of tp in the purse. Of course when we arrived at the next temple group at the top of the hill there was a restaurant and toilets. But there aren’t many on the ground. However, this was Templo IV, the tallest structures and the highest vantage point. So we climbed the huge wooden staircase (slowly) to the top. The view was well worth it – way above the jungle to the distant temples. We sat up there for a good 30 minutes taking it all in then made our way back down, giving the thumbs up and encouragement to the others now making their way up to the top.
As we got to the next group, it started to pour. We were lucky that there was a tree to stand under that kept us dry, and doubly lucky that the next tree over was full of spider monkeys to keep us entertained until the downpour passed.
The next group we hit was El Mundo Perdido where all the buildings were aligned with each other and with the sun in some sort of way to make astronomical observations. Not that we could figure it out. It blended in with another plaza (plaza de los siete templos) and then the south acropolis before thinning out.
Around another bend, the second largest temple loomed – Templo V. To get to the top of this one required scaling 7 wooden ladders (not stairs, ladders) and I hadn’t yet mentally recovered from ATM. So I stayed on terra firma while Adrian went up. He was fine until he got to the top and looked down at me to start snapping pictures of him and then something snapped and the next thing I knew he backed right up against the wall and was all but hugging it. He started hugging the wall at the top. Eventually he started making his way down but not before being passed by two ladies twice his age, and a couple of kids. As he crawled back down the ladders I swear I could see his legs shaking. He did get to the bottom sweating profusely out of fear not any physical exertion. It scared the crap out him.
Thankfully the last group of temples was less frightening. It was the Gran Plaza (photo up above)– the most photographed and therefore recognizable complex in Tikal. After everything we’d seen it was almost underwhelming, probably because we’d been walking around for almost 6 hours. So we decided to skip the last one templo de los inscripciones and head back to the car park to chill out until it was time to go. Well, we actually meant to visit the two museums, but since they each wanted a separate entrance fee for them we passed and decided to chill out instead.
Got back to the parking lot one of the people from the shuttle was there with a badly sprained ankle. Not from falling off a temple but from tripping on one of the roots on the jungle path. Humberto helped the gentleman into the van and I heard him and his wife talking about getting some aspirin when they got back to town. Since they were staying over at Don David across the road, I offered to drop off some extra-strength Advil which they gratefully accepted.
I hopped off at our place grabbed the Advil from our room then ran across the road and gave them a handful. I told them I was doing it in the name of travel karma. When we saw each other at dinner a few hours later (yes we went to Don David yet again), the man was much improved and able to hobble around which was good. Since we were taking off for another leg of our journey the next morning, we could use a little good karma.