Sunday, March 4, 2012

Guatemala, Tikal

Going to Guatemala! By boat, in Flores.
Of all the countries we visited during our three months in Central America, Guatemala was my favourite. From the moment we stepped into the country via a small wooden boat on the flooded Usumacinta River, to the seconds before we left Antigua for Nicaragua, Guatemala was filled with exploration in the deep jungles for hidden paradises and sites that I don't believe I'll ever see again in my life.

On top of Temple IV, with other temples peaking
out of the jungle at us.
We left Palenque on a whirlwind escape on a collectivo bus to a place called Frontera Corozal (a town that sits along the river that separates Mexico's state of Chiapas from Guatemala). We hopped in a cab, and then a launcha (boat) upriver to Bethel, an off-the-map transit 'town' with a few huts and even more pushy money handlers trying to exchange the pesos you have for their quetzals at an outrageous exchange rate. We then paid $100Q's (about $12) for a five hour bus ride through rural Guatemala, on a bus with four big Guatemalan man, one of whom chatted with Ben about guns and made an attempt at saying some english words with us. We saw a small crocodile resting next to a pond, and kids fishing in a flooded river with makeshift snorkels.
Old carvings, my feet on the temple, and a toucan in the jungle trees!
And then we arrived in Flores for a night, where it poured rain and we had a room with a view. And then, we went to Tikal.

By far one of the most incredible archeological sites in the world, Tikal carries with it mysteries and sky-high temples more than 2,000 years old. Unlike most, who take a day trip to the site and arrive mid-morning, Ben and I chose to stay overnight at a hotel at the site. It cost us a bit more, but the money we paid was entirely worth it. We stayed at the jaguar Inn for around $60, and woke at 4 a.m., dressed and walked towards the park entrance, which did not open until 6. Unless, you pay a guard carrying a loaded shotgun $100Q's right on the spot, then he'll let you into the park before it opens. And so we did.
Temple I in the main plaza. Two people died when they fell
from the stairs of this temple a few years ago.
We wandered through Tikal before the sun was up and the howler monkeys were asleep. Toads leaped on the path at our feet, and we only had our headlamps to guide us as we wandered amongst the ruins hidden in the dark. It was somewhat terrifying to hear the monkeys howling like jaguars, but exhilarating all the same. The park is spread out, with the highest temple, Temple IV, at the back end, so we decided to head there first and watch the sun come up. We climbed the steep stairs and reached the top, 64 metres high and towering above the forest canopy. We sat there for a couple hours, ate our breakfast and watched monkeys swing from tree to tree, toucans squacking, and even a jungle fox who came up the temple for a visit.

We then ventured through the rest of the park as the rain began to fall, heavy and wet. We found an enormous pyramid temple, and made our way to the Plaza of the Seven Temples, the Main Plaza and other acropolises. The city is so incredibly rich in history that as you wander through it you find yourself feeling infinitesimal. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tikal dates back to 4th Century BC, and was built over hundreds of years-one of the most powerful states in ancient Maya culture. It's believed that nearly 90,000 people lived there at one time.

Go see it for yourself. Guatemala is so beautiful, and Tikal is just one of the many highlights there.


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