Tuesday 10 October 2023

1987 Travel Journal: Tikal

A very long and exhausting day.  I forced myself to roll out of the bed at 5:15 AM in order to be ready to catch the 6:00 bus to Tikal.  It was dark and foggy outside.  Along the way, the bus passed a lot of primitive huts, where the present day Mayans were living their lives very similarly, to the way their ancestors had done during Tikal’s heyday.  

I had planned Tikal as one of the prime destinations on my trip to Guatemala.  Tikal was designated as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.  Between 200 to 900 AD it was the most powerful center of the Mayan Kingdom and the city had an estimated population of 90,000 residents.  Within a 16 mile radius of the core city, 425,000 people lived.  Around the year 900 a drought caused the city to be abandoned and it was then overgrown by the Guatemalan rain forest.

When we arrived at Tikal, I immediately made my way to the Jungle Lodge, the only hotel at the site, to see if I could get a room for the night, but unfortunately they had no vacancies.  Although I was disappointed, in the end it all worked out alright.  After leaving the Jungle Lodge, I began my wandering exploration of Tikal through the dark thick jungle fog.   The jungle birds were chirping and chattering away.

My first sight of the ruins was through the early morning fog, which added to the mystic of the place.  It was still fairly dark, hardly enough light to take photos.  There were hardly any other tourist, and I was pretty much alone in my wandering in the early morning.

The jungle trail opened up when I came upon the “Great Plaza” with Temple I at one end and Temple II on the other.  The two limestone pyramids jutted up strikingly from the plaza, at a steep angle with their tops towering above the surrounding jungle trees.  The view was just as impressive as I had hoped.  Full of enthusiasm and without a second thought, I began climbing up the very steep steps of Temple I.

“Whoa,” once at the top, I had to brace myself when I looked down.  Looking at the plaza from that height gave me the sensation that I was toppling over and loosing my balance, not the kind of feeling one needs when atop a narrow stone platform 180 feet above the ground, with no guard rails.  It didn’t help my balance that I had 20 lbs. of camera equipment swinging at my side.  

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