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Tikal

We alighted in the small lake ‘island’ of Flores early on in the evening with tour operators trying to sell us tours, and drivers telling us that bank machines were closed and to use other ones that only they know. Luckily we had been warned of the pre-alighting sales blurb and falsities that are thrown at you when Gringos arrive at any towns in the vicinity of Tikal, and so it was that we found ourselves with some travelling friends at the great Los Amigos Hostel ordering a beer, and booking ourselves onto the next days Tikal Sunrise Tour.

With Tikal being over an hour away from Flores however, and with sunrise wanting to be viewed from the tallest of the ancient Mayan temples – Temple IV – also around an hour’s walk from the park entrance, the sunrise tour starts from the hostel at the ungodly hour of 3am.

The bathroom was unsurprisingly empty as we brushed our teeth, and with perfect timing we walked to the front door and were quickly whisked onto the small bumpy collectivo that was to be our ride to the park entrance. Intermittent sleep and non-conversation was had by all and before we knew it we jumped off the bus into the world famous park, to be greeted by Mayan rain.

However, not to be deterred, head torches and rain jackets were donned and our guide took us round the sites briskly and efficiently as the rain slowly ceased and the dark slowly lifted. 45 minutes later and we were all climbing the steep steps of Temple IV to sit upon the steps of a temple from a different era overlooking the forest canopy.

We were not to have a perfect sunrise, far from it; grey clouds were moving slowly across the horizon as well as close by, flowing over the temples, hills and trees as though liquid, but we could see the other temples, howler monkeys were waking up with their auspicious guttural calls, and light was slowly enveloping the site. As we all sat there in silence for an hour in an almost meditative state, letting nature and the mystical beauty of the site take over the senses, it once again came upon me how the ethereal power of the Mayan Temples WE could see easily, create a sense of godlike powers from the rulers who surveyed from upon high. There is some core intrinsic human instinct that links height with power, and the Mayans seemed to harness this feeling, building their temples higher and more auspicious with each new building.

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Our guide led us back down when everyone was ready, and took us around the rest of the complex. Arriving at such an early pre-dawn hour also gave us the added bonus of having nearly the whole park to ourselves, and for the next 2-3 hours we went around the various temples, learning the history, the rulers and the reasons.

We viewed the copious amounts of wildlife in the park while wandering past the Lost World Pyramid in the Mundo Perdido complex; spider monkeys, tarantulas, wild toucans, white nosed coatis and peacocks, before being shown to the photogenic Temple I, Temple II and the surrounding Main Plaza and North Acropolis.

Temple I, rising 47m from the ground, the most photographed of all the Tikal temples, along with Temple II that sits opposite, were built for a husband and wife who ruled the city from 682 AD to 734 AD. Standing in the middle you can clap your hands and the echo created by the stone edifices create a remarkably accurate sound of the Quetzal bird (the national bird of Guatemala). One of the many remarkable accomplishments of this amazing culture.

After another hour of wandering, photographing and exploring we all met back up as a group and wandered lazily past the copious amount of tourists that were just entering the park, before settling at a small comida for some warming breakfast.

It had a been a great morning; the ruins, structures, history and nature had definitely been worth the early morning, yawn-inducing rise. Sitting atop a Mayan temple, watching the forest come to life as clouds lazily drifted over the canopy was a highlight, but the scale and grandiosity of the site was beyond what I had originally envisioned. With over 100,000 people thought to have lived in the city during its peak, it was no surprise that the UNESCO protected park was hard to take in in its entirety, but the 8 hours we did have to explore certainly threw enough at me for a day’s worth of sightseeing.

We trundled back to Flores by lunch and quickly had some much needed power nap time. Han and I headed off on a 6 loop run of Flores later in the evening, much to the amusement of the local police who watches us pass 6 times, in a somewhat needed attempt to put some miles under our belt if we were to even think of doing the Lago de Aititlan Marathon a couple of weeks later. We wandered around the streets tasting and testing the local street food, before once again moving on the next day further South in the direction of Semuc Champey.

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