Day 10: Beware of feces flinging monkeys
Trip Start Jun 14, 2009
24Trip End Aug 01, 2009
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Our several alarms buzzed and chimed at 6:00 this morning, ringing in the start
of an amazing day. The sun, and most of the other residents of the Jaguar Inn,
had already risen by the time we got to breakfast. After a cup of granola and
one of rich, black Guatemalan coffee, we set off for the ruins of Tikal.
First a little history (this is what I remember from class cobbeled together
with what our guidebooks say). Tikal was one of the two dominant city-states of
the Classic Maya period - one of the most prosperous times in Mayan history
Tikal was already powerful when emissaries from Teotihuacan (the giant capital
near modern Mexico City whose trading partners and vassal states stretched
throughout Mesoamerica) set up a new dynasty at Tikal. With backing from their
central Mexican supporters, Tikal was able to surpass its rival state of
Calakmul in their endless power struggle. Around 900 CE, all the city states of
the Mayan lowland regions suddenly collapsed - the people disappeared from the
area along with the culture that had achieved such great feats. The most
likely explanation is a combination of factors. The elite culture that demanded
ever more natural resources and captives for sacrifice and the endemic warfare
between Tikal and Calakmul set the society balancing on the edge of stability.
Climate change or drought conditions may have been the coup de grace that led
to the collapse.
All right. Back to the present. The giant archaeological park that engulfs the
ruins is a giant stretch of true jungle. Trees of all different species - from
palms to the sacred ceibas whose roots twist like snakes and whose trunks dwarf
all others - twist intimately around each other, providing shade along the
flinging poo onto unsuspecting visitor's heads. Fortunately, we escaped this
fate (perhaps the monkeys could tell that we knew who was boss and decided we
weren't worth the effort). We did, however, see some of these graceful
creatures when we were least expecting them to appear. While entering the park
in the early morning mist, we heard their eery calls beckoning us forwards.
After a long time of tip-toeing quietly down paths and pausing at any noise, I
had decided that we were unlikely to see them so close to the ruins. Just after
admitting defeat, we heard a large crashing in the trees above. Two howlers swung
from branch to branch, hand by tail by hand, in what seemed to me a precarious
journey. Later we saw a baby sleeping in a forked branch high in the tree tops
We also saw spider monkeys (their less competitive cousins) and all shapes and
colors of birds, including one toucan with whom Amanda tried to communicate
through chirps. Alas, we have yet to see the deer, jaguars, or crocodiles that
also inhabit the park.
Now about the ruins themselves. We have seen a lot of ruins on this trip, yet
Tikal is so spectacular that it still took my breath away. I am afraid words
will not sufice to describe the majesty to you, but I will try. The grand plaza
has two temple pyramids facing each other across the courtyard - the tombs of a
great ruler and his wife sitting close together throughout the ages.
The building on a third side of the plaza has giant masks at different levels
on each side of the central staircase, glaring at all who approach. We climbed
the tallest of all Mayan pyramids, and basked in the glorious veiw.
Archaeologists estimate that there are over 3,000 buildings in Tikal though
most are still covered in creeping vines and towering trees. Four hours of
wandering down jungle paths passed in no time
we headed to the museums, where we saw beautiful pottery and stelae. These
artifacts contained images of petulent rulers, hopeless captives, and the
shaman dance that transformed man into jaguar. We saw a tomb layed out exactly
as it was excavated with ornaments of shell, obsidian, and jade surrounding the
skeletal remains. We will upload pictures when we get a chance to help you get a
better idea of this beautiful place. If any of you want to come here some day,
let me know. I will definitely come back with you!