Tikal and the Experience of a Life Time–Loren

The only word that can truly describe Tikal and what we experience there is awesome! It was the best trip that we have taken in Guatemala and the best exploration experience ever.

It all started yesterday when we left Antigua at 7:30 a.m. on a collective bus to Guatemala City.  We made it to Guatemala City in really good time and with no trouble getting our bus tickets.  We waited for about an hour in a dark and gloomy bus station (drinking coffee that was only 3 Quetzales and definitely tasted like it was worth all 3…).  Then we got on our big coach bus for the 8 hour drive to Flores, Peten.  This is where the first hiccup of our trip occurred: we watched Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen…but only actually got to watch about half of the movie because it skipped and stopped so many times. So we missed the movie, no big deal right. Right, but we had nothing to do and thus everyone else had nothing to do too…so some of the younger guys on the bus started singing and playing a guitar.  At first I thought, “oh cool, a guitar and a group of guys singing – not something I see every day so this might be alright…”  Well six hours later after they got louder and louder it wasn’t so cool.  We also had to stop four or five times during our trip: once to eat, once to fill the tires, once for gas, once to pick up people, then two or three times to drop people off.  So what was supposed to be 8 hours on the bus turned into about 10 hours on the bus.  Oh and first it was super hot and the AC didn’t really work that well and then once the sun went down the AC was fine and then freezing cold…so that was great too.

Anyway, we got to Flores (finally) and asked our driver where our hotel was.  He said, “No sé” which means I don’t know…so we thought, “let’s ask the hotel reception of the place where we got dropped off.” So we asked inside this hotel (like the fanciest place in Flores) and he said, “it might be in Santa Elena, but I really don’t know.” Santa Elena is the town on the other side of the lake and we both were very sure that our hotel was not in Santa Elena because we’ve booked people to stay in this hotel and have told them, “you’re staying in Flores.”  So we asked at the reception of a different hotel across the street from the big, fancy place.  This guy knew where the Casa Azul is and told us how to get there…except in our 10 hour bus ride addled brains we misunderstood him.  We walked about half way around the isle on the main road expecting to see a sign for our hotel because we knew it was on the lake, but could find no sign.  So rather than walk in a circle we retraced our steps to a different hotel that was run by the same company that owns the hotel we were going to stay in. They very graciously offered to have someone from their hotel guide the tired, confused gringos to the correct hotel.  We finally arrived at our hotel, signed in and relaxed for about five minutes.  It had been dark on the bus and on the street, but once we got into the light we realized that Salem’s pants had a big green stain on each leg. We finally figured out that it was from the dye on a new bag that she bought. Unfortunately she only brought one pair of pants of the trip, so she got to wear my shorts for a day! Now all this while we were both secretly worrying in our minds about the possibility that because we arrived so late in Flores either one of two things would happen: first, all the tours for Tikal would be filled up for the next day; or second, all the tour agencies would be closed. We were very fortunate in that neither of these things happened.  We went to a hotel that Ceci had called earlier in the week to ask about accommodations for us and she also found out about the tours to Tikal that they offer at a much lower price than some other places.  We went to this same place and found out that the price was actually 20 Quetzales less than the price we were given over the phone. So we tried to book a 9 a.m. tour but there were none available. However, we could join a 5 a.m. tour…so we did.  And are we ever glad that we chose this option.

We arrived at the park at about 6:30 in the morning and had a quick cup of coffee at one of the hotel/restaurants in Tikal National Park.  With barely enough time to finish our last drop of coffee our guide Luis came bounding up asking for the folks looking for the English tour.  Luis is a fun, energy filled guy who grew up his whole life inside of Tikal Park.  He speaks really good English…but with an Australian accent!  The whole day I was waiting for him to break out into Crocodile Hunter and wrestle a bear or something. Luis told us that because we were there so early he was going to take us on his super special extended tour of Tikal.  With him he assured us we would really get to know Tikal, the animals, and the history of the Mayan people that lived and worshiped there. We started our day with on of the most recent projects at the Park, Temple group R and W.  This temple area is only half excavated and took over 5 years and 3 million dollars to complete.  From the top of this temple we got our first glimpse of some of the other temples in the park.

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The first temple we saw.

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Loren on the temple

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Salem on the temple.

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View from the top

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Looking down.

Our next stop was in the most impressive and awe inspiring spot in the park: the Gran Plaza (Main Plaza).  In this section there are two temples (Temple of the Mask and the Temple of the Jaguar/King) and two different complexes (one dedicated to the afterlife and the other the home of the ruling families and the high priests).

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Salem and the back of the Temple of the Jaguar

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Loren and the back of the Temple of the Jaguar

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Altars in the gran plaza.

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Temple of the Mask

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From the top of Temple of the Mask

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Loren

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Both of us

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Salem’s up there! We wanted to prove that she climbed all the way to the top!

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There she is on the left!

Next we went to Temple V. This temple is the second highest in the park, but has the steepest ascent. The wooden stairs are like a ladder and it is over 50 meters tall! The stairs also shook as we climbed. Salem was shaking on the way back down, but she did it!

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Temple V from the bottom.

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Staircase

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View from the top!

Next we saw some smaller temples and learned why the Mayans placed their temples in certain places. The area is designed around the different solstice days and equinox days. Temples are also placed according to the alignment of the stars. On one of the special days (equinox or solstice) you can sit in certain places and see the sun light up all the temples. At night or sunset you can see how the moon and stars line up with the temples. December 21, 2012 is one of those days, and everything (the sun and the planets) is supposed to line up.

To end our tour we went to Temple V. This is the tallest temple, but you can’t see the whole thing. This temple is also famous because part of Star Wars was shot here. We climbed the stairs (much easier this time) and took some pictures. I got to recreate the Star Wars scene!

Here’s the scene taken from Youtube so you can see!

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View from the top of Temple V

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Salem at the top.

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Recreating Star Wars!

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Us with the temple in the background

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Stairs down

This tour lasted about 4 hours and it was great! We learned a lot about the Mayan culture from someone who grew up in the park. Luis has been a guide since he was 13 years old, so he knows his stuff. He was able to answer our questions and teach us about many things we didn’t know. He also showed us some of the wildlife of Tikal.

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Bird

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Crocodile

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Luis fishing for tarantulas

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Toucan

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Kind of like a mix of a raccoon and an anteater

We also saw howler monkeys and spider monkeys and were able to take some video that we can hopefully show you later. We’re going to explore Flores a little once we cool off, so I’m sure we’ll have more to tell later! Our bus leaves at 9pm and we should get to Antigua around 8am Monday. Then we have one day to do everything we want to do, have a big goodbye dinner with friends, and then at 6am Tuesday we leave for the Airport. We should get into Marquette around 9pm Tuesday!

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