I’m actually in Tela, Honduras today, but here’s my post from my second day at Tikal.
The gates at Tikal officially open at 6 a.m., however if you book a tour with a guide, or pay 50 quetzals to a guard, you can get through the gates early enough (e.g. 4:45 or 5 a.m.) to do the pitch-black walk to Temple IV, the sunrise temple. On the day that I did this excursion, Jan.31st, there was a heavy cover of jungle mist. I walked in with my guide, Jairo, and two other backpackers, the lovely Heidi from England and the equally lovely Adrianna from Brazil.
Shortly after we started in, Jairo stopped, listened, and moved us to the side. Fo’ shizzle, those dang monkeys were trying to pee on our heads. Good thing that he was alert to it, as I later met an Israeli couple who had thought maybe it was raining a little bit in the morning… I had to break the news to them that they’d had a golden shower. It took us about 30 minutes to walk to Temple IV, I think. Sunrise was at 5:45 a.m. and we got there in plenty of time to climb the 200 steps and then sit in quiet awe at the top.
It was eerie and spooky and really, really cool. The silence was punctuated by the primal screams of the howler monkeys, and the odd bit of conversation (Adrianna remarked about the people next to us, “they must be Argentinian. They never stop talking.” It made me wonder if there are any two bordering countries that don’t think uncomplimentary thoughts about their next-door neighbor!).
Dawn came and went, but we didn’t see any sun. The jungle mist lifted enough to give us momentary glimpses of the other pyramids rising up out of the trees, and then settled back in around them. It was still a magical experience, although my photos don’t do the scene any justice (those that aren’t a foggy blur). Francis asked me if I’d brought my tripod in with me, to which I replied, “oh yeaaaaaah, triiiiipod.”
Jairo took us around to several other sites, showing us Mayan refrigerators, drawing in the dirt the way that temples were built to align with the solstice sun, and explaining which elements of the Mayan civilization downfall theory that he most supported. One part of his explanation that I found interesting was regarding deforestation. He said that the Mayans didn’t dig pit toilets; instead, they would mix their waste with limestone and rainwater to fertilize their crops. The population grew, and so they cut down more trees to plant crops. The deforestation led to a decrease in rainfall, which led to a disproportionate amount of human waste in their fertilizer. Disease spread. Wars complicated matters. By the time the Spanish arrived in the 11th century AD, there were only a few Mayan settlements scattered around Lake Peten Itza.
The next mission of the day was to get to Belize. I found a tourist bus that was heading to Flores and it dropped me at the junction for Melchor, the Guatemalan border town. Once there, I stood on the side of the road and waited for something to come by that was going in my direction. It was then that I realized just how much I love the feeling of being on the road, waiting for unknown transport to arrive at an unknown time, and having that joyful “hurray” moment when something stops for me and I hoist my bags up and jump in.
On this particular occasion, the collectivo (mini-bus) that stopped had a front seat that was empty and waiting for me – a rare occurrence. We bumped along the road to Melchor, of which some stretches were smooth and others were barely paved. At one point, I let out a yelp as a humongous and clearly hard-shelled bug flew in the window and committed suicide on my right arm before rebounding to my left shoulder and then down to the driver’s feet. At one of our stops, I marveled at how a dog checked behind the bus for traffic as he approached the road, and then looked both ways again before crossing in front of us. Smart like street dog, not like pampered pug o’ mine.
The border crossing was smooth – walk walk walk, stamp passport, pay $2.50 USD to leave country, walk walk walk, stamp passport, enter new country. I also changed a few bucks along the way and was surprised to see the Queen on Belize’s money. Girlfriend sure gets around. I knew that the Brits had been there for a spell, but hadn’t realized the long-standing significance of their occupation.
A taxi took me to Benque Viejo (it’s not far, but was too much to handle in the heat with my pack), where I got the (school) bus to San Ignacio. Belize gave me my second surprise as I looked around the bus. The diversity of people was far greater than Guatemala. There were some Garifuna, some Creole, some Latino, and some interesting and beautiful mixes of all of the above.
Once in San Ignacio, I efficiently secured a room one block from the bus stop at the Hi-Et Guesthouse (not sure if it was named after the famous hotel chain), run by Cyril Simmons, his wife Beatrice, his son Winston, and his two Pomeranians, Princess and Duke. Cyril was 65 if he was a day, and he had these super cool glasses with circular magnification in the center of the lenses that made his eyes look about three times bigger than they were. A very sweet man, Cyril was.
I knew that Belize was more expensive than Guatemala and Honduras, and the room set me back $20 USD. It has a private bathroom, but a cold shower. I like to think that all of the cold showers that I’ve been having have at least been preserving the longevity of the dye in my hair.
My final stop of the day was Mr. Greedy’s Bar and Restaurant. I was drawn there by the free wi-fi, but the atmosphere didn’t disappoint, either. I made a few friends, sent a few emails, had a meal, and then headed back to the Hi-Et, where I was able to eavesdrop on the phone conversations of a woman in the building next door. Even though she was speaking in Creole, I could tell that they were full of all the drama of a woman scorned. Indignation translates in any language.
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