Trip Start May 01, 2006
25Trip End Ongoing
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The ancient Mayan ruin of Tikal in Northern Guatemala is just such a place... but I will try nonetheless.
Archaeologists believe the Maya began settling the area around 700 BC. A rich abundance of natural resources, including flint (useful for tools and weapons), made this a desirable area to build the city, which began to take its modern shape around 400 BC. The site is thought to have been inhabited until the 10th century, reaching its peak during the Mayan Classic Period, approximately 200 to 800 AD when its population soared to nearly 100,000
The long and rich history of Tikal is the driving force behind its splendor, which is remarkable. Put frankly, this is no ordinary Mayan ruin; there´s no place like it on earth (probably why it appeared in the first "Star Wars" trilogy). Most Meso-American sites have central plazas surrounded by residential outcroppings - Tikal is no different, but what differentiates Tikal from the rest is the setting. The city is anchored firmly in the center of a jungle.... no, not "Pseudo Jungle" (visitors to Puerto Vallarta know what I´m talking about), we´re talking "Proper Jungle", with all the sites, sounds and smells to boot...
My plan to visit Tikal was as follows: depart Flores in the afternoon, arrive at and enter the park after 3PM (a slick move because tickets purchased after 3PM are valid the entire next day) This allows the visitor to beat the heat and the crowds, plus it affords 2 days and the experience of seeing both the sunset and sunrise - something that reportedly shouldn´t be missed.
This plan also required that I spend the night at the site - which I did, at a nearby inn with reasonable prices only on hammock and tent rentals. I will skip the minutia, but to build your intuition of my night near Tikal, imagine a tent-rental rendered useless by a torrential tropical downpour, followed by a pestilence of golf ball sized scarab beetles (all of whom end up on their backs, only to die within minutes of falling from the sky - imagine walking to the bathroom, barefoot, in the dark), followed by 7 minutes of sleep over 9 hours spent in a hammock farm, where the inn somehow packed 12 people (sardines) into as many hammocks perched on 10x10 slab (Note: the mosquito nets covering the hammocks don´t fully reach the ground
Yes, the night was arduous to say to least, but well worth it. With great sites like Macchu Pichu and Palenque under my belt, I wondered if Tikal would seem ordinary, just another pile of rocks.
The answer: a resounding "NO!"
The city has a mysterious quality, and ethereal flow that´s interrupted only the intense presence of the jungle life. The 150 foot pyramids can easily put the onlooker in a trance, but even the deepest trance is broken by the hoots and hollers of Howler Monkeys, tearing through the canopy above. Colorful toucans and other birds circle overhead amid the constant drone of buzzing insects. Giant turkeys and other bizarre flightless birds are beautiful but can be startling when they dart unexpectedly from the bush and across your heels. No snakes were seen on this trip, but they´re slithering around out there, no doubt.
As impressive as the jungle life is, the buildings really make Tikal special. Looming pyramids tower to impossible heights, residential sections sprawl through the lush wilderness. It´s easy to get caught up in the size of these structures, but each comes with an amazing intricacy spawned by nearly 1,500 years of Mayan culture. Mysterious... Magical... Powerful... All words that come to mind, but alas and after all, Tikal defies description. So I offer these few preceding sentences, along with some pics and clips, and hope that they come remotely close.