Further Explorations at Tikal

Location: Tikal, Petén, Guatemala

This morning was the revolt of the machines. My primary camera refused to acknowledge that it had a battery, and my phone (useless here as a phone, but handy as a camera) refused to be charged.  I was left with my infrared camera, which can take excellent infrared pictures, but even with the special filter, the colors and contrast are a bit goofy. Nonetheless I venture to explore my second day at Tikal.

We head up this morning by truck and are grateful to not have to trudge twenty minutes to get to the site.  It is an open air vehicle with no canopy and the driver jauntily speeds along the twisty, bumpy jungle trail. It is quite the adventure. Some of us sing the Indiana Jones theme song as we make our way up to the site.

We start the day at Temple IV. This is an extremely steep pyramid, that would have been difficult for the ancient Maya to have climbed, but again, it has been made more accessible to us moderns by the construction of wooden steps. It is well worth the climb, you can see the tops of Temples I, II, III, & V as they poke their tops above the trees.

Temples above the trees

Then after a meandering walk, we explore the Pyramid of the Astronomers. This is an unusual  Maya pyramid as it has no temple on top. It is presumed to have been an observation platform for the astronomers to chart the positions of the sun and the planets.

Scale model of Tikal

There are pyramid groups here where one pyramid overlooks three others and you can plot the sunrise at fixed days of the year, such as the equinoxes and the solstices. I am not sure which I admire the most, the ancient astronomer-architects who built the structures or the modern astronomer-archaeologists who rediscovered their function. The group of structures in this area is called El Mundo Perdido (The Lost World.)

Sometimes we need some directions in life.

This sounds terribly romantic, but it lives up to its name. Here we were invaded by a pack of 60 or so coatis, who remarkably seemed to be neither attracted to humans or afraid of us. We seemed to just be living in different worlds.

Coatis among the ruins

Again, the pyramids, temples, palaces, and ancient government office buildings in Tikal are vast and awe inspiring. There are groups of structures here that would serve as major focal points for sites, but in Tikal they are just a side trip.

Tikal Temple IV

I like exploring with the IMS group, but I basically like being able to explore on my own… listening to the stones and the forest and taking things at my own pace. Many of the  pathways at Tikal are well marked, but unpopulated, perfect for solitary contemplation.

An invitation

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.

A visit to Guatemala

Location: Guatemala City, Guatemala

Ah the joys of early morning flights. I got up at three thirty AM to get the taxi to the airport. Upon arriving at the airport I discover to my surprise that I have a Business Class ticket. This explains why my one way was more expensive than my canceled round trip. So this morning I am at last qualified for admission to the Merida Airport VIP lounge. I get to sit in a comfy seat and have a morning cerveza. All set for my new adventures.

Generally there is not much to see outside the window, but on this trip, there are some interesting clouds this morning and a view of a volcano sending out smoke in Guatemala. Whenever I see an active volcano, it is always a reminder to me as to how volatile is this seemingly stable planet we call Earth.

Volcano in the clouds

When landing at Guatemala one can not help but notice that the local Maya dress differently and have different facial features than the Maya of the Yucatán. Welcome to a new country. (I believe Guatemala is my country #41 for those of you who are keeping score.) I meet up with the rest of the eight members of our tour group from the Institute of Maya Studies.  On our first day in Guatemala City we visit the archaeology museum. There are some excellent pieces here and there is a scale model of Tikal that gives a wonderful overview. Our hotel is in the swanky part of town with green marble sidewalks and American chain restaurants. I go for local food and have some turkey soup.

Rio Lagartos

Location: Rio Lagartos, Yucatán, Mexico

Bird Spotting in the River of the Crocodiles

These is a place in the Yucatán called the River of Crocodiles, or Rio Lagartos in Spanish. We decided to visit some of the local wildlife. We start by introducing ourselves to the local reptiles at the neighborhood crocodile farm. Here we are shown an enclosed pond with five male and thirty breeding female crocodiles. The caretaker reassures us that they are well fed and unlikely to attack us. He then opens the gate and invites us to get up close and personal. My first reaction is, “Are you fricking kidding me?” But my curiosity wins out.  I must get a closer view of those wonderful scraggly teeth.

Scraggly Teeth

The youngsters are in a different pen and are a quite a bit smaller, but they make up for this with their enthusiasm. The mere tossing of a few chicken parts brings a dozen or more snapping little jaws into play.

Little Snappers

We then approach the harbor of Rio Lagartos where the boats seem to be manned by pelican crews.

Brown Pelican

They look as if they have just staged a mutiny and are getting ready to sail off on their own.

We hop into a pelican-free boat and are off to see the birds and animals.  As we travel among the mangrove trees, every little bend in the estuary seems to offer a different species. It almost looks as if they were posing for us.  I can imagine the bird director saying, “Okay, Great Blue,

Great Blue Heron

here comes the boat. Now I want you to pose for a minute then take off in flight to show them what your wings can do.

You there, Snowy Egret, get ready to pose in the next bend.

Snowy Egret

Black Hawk, profile please, show us your best side. 

Common Black Hawk

Hey, Parakeet, can you hold still for a few seconds.”

Aztec Parakeet

And yes, there were free range crocodiles, but climax of the trip was the viewing of the flamingos. 

American Flamingo

Just seeing them was amazing, but watching them take off in flight was a magnificent spectacle, well worth the journey.

Have your cake and wear it too

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatan, Mexico

I am not sure of the origin of the birthday cake, but here in the Yucatan it is an important element of children’s birthday parties.

They have extra thick frosting on top, and the goal is to have the children plunge their face into it before eating it.

Not that this does not occur in the USA, but here it is part of a ritual

Jaguar Update

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatan, Mexico

Updates on the Jaguar:

The jaguar is still in the forests around our farm Finca orgánica San Agustín

She alarms the chickens at night and they have found several (non-chicken) bird kills.

Some think that she is not a jaguar but a jaguarundi, but these are even rarer than jaguars in these parts.

In my opinion (and you know what that is worth) it is a small jaguar, but until I get an actual sighting, I will not know for sure.

It’s a jungle out there

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatan, Mexico

There is excitement at our ranch.

They have been hearing the roars and snuffling of a jaguar.
I have seen the paw prints. And last evening the people on our ranch saw a large black cat moving through the night.

There are hunters out looking for him. I hope he survives.

We humans need to be reminded that there is still wildness out there.

Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork

Location: Henderson, Nevada

Nevada is still the corporate headquarters for our US enterprises and operations.

We have been handling the major things through phones, faxes, texts, and e-mails, but it is indeed astounding how much paperwork and small maintenance decisions build up when I have been gone for a couple of months.

Finishing up my four state tour and will be heading back to Santa Elena tomorrow

The Oregon Trail

Location: Medford, Oregon

Visiting my daughter-in-law’s cattle ranch in Oregon.

We have no idea why the previous owners of the ranch bred the cattle so that the calves would be born in the middle of winter.

For me, it makes each morning a bit like an Easter Egg hunt, as we get up in the morning to see if there are any more calves than yesterday.

There are two more this morning.

They are quite wooly and wonderful.

There’s Always a Rainbow in Hawaii

Location: Lahaina, Hawaii

I am in Maui now to do some maintenance, logistics, and to simply unwind.

Maui has always been a recharging place for me.

There were some high winds when I first arrived. These were dry winds, but the rattling of the palm leaves makes it sound like you are in a downpour.

Then the next morning you see the windfall coconuts beneath the palms.