Wandering among the Maya skyscrapers.

Location: Tikal, Petén, Guatemala

This morning we flew to Flores, Guatemala. The jungle around the Flores airport is strangely militarized, serving as a reminder of Guatemala’s turbulent past and uncertainty about its future. There are miles of areas surrounding the airport with concrete bunkers every 300 meters. (Note to readers: as I have been living in two cultures with very different measuring systems, my mind has become rather commingled. I think in long distances in terms of miles and short distances in terms of meters. Then I revert to feet and kilometers. You will just have to bear with me.) We also saw a group of soldiers inside the national park. I am not sure if these were to guard against poachers, smugglers, Maya rebel forces, or perhaps all three.

The Tikal National Park is both an ecological park and an archaeological park. The archaeologists want to restore the area to about 800 AD, and the ecologists want to restore it to about 800 BC. Both want to hold back land exploitation and development within the park. They work together. They compromise. And the compromise works very well. You can see the fabulous archaeology and you can experience the the jungle animals such at the white nosed coati and forest monkeys.

For me, the archaeology is my primary draw. The archaeologists have identified over 4000 structures at Tikal, many of them having the rather pragmatic names such as Temple I, Temple II, Temple III, etc. As I approach the site, I trudge up a jungle pathway, keeping a sharp eye on the ground to see the steps and avoid tripping over the tree roots. I only pause to look up at the trees above you when I hear bird calls. There is the occasional giant pile of rubble off to the sides to remind you that this is indeed an archaeological site. Then on my left I come upon the rather imposing site of the Southern Acropolis, then as I look ahead through the trees I see the top of Temple I towering high above, I redefine my definition of imposing.

 

Southern Acropolis

 

I approach the Gran Plaza and climb to the top terrace of Temple II. This is a climb of over a hundred feet up. fortunately modern explores can climb the wood steps rather than the steps of steep narrow stone.

It has an excellent view of the Gran Plaza, a close view of Temple I

 

Temple I

and distant views of Temples III and IV. Again I am impressed with the audacity of these stone towers.

As darkness approaches, we head to our hotel next to the site. As an innkeeper, I tend to be overly fussy about hotel rooms. The hotel here reminds me that I am indeed in a 3rd world country. There is only one skimpy towel for the room and no chairs or tables. The electricity and hot water are only on for three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. The shower is not the traditional spray that I am used to, but rather it comes down in a steady stream.

On the other hand hearing the roar of the howler monkeys at night waking up to the sounds of the exotic jungle birds birds reminds me that I am indeed indeed in a different place on the planet. This is definitely not a Hilton Garden Inn where you cannot tell which city you are in.