Today I hiked up to the North Group of the Tikal temples. I have now seen the major excavated groups of Tikal. I love to meditate while hiking. I love the seashore. I love the forests. But here there is the jungle, and what an ideal place to explore the rainforest jungles. There are maintained trails where I can walk in solitary contemplation among the rainforests and temples, and yet busy enough that in unlikely event that ill fate should befall me, someone would be by to help in a half an hour or less.
January 8, Location: Villa Maya, Lago Petenchel, Guatemala
The Villa Maya is a first class resort. I had my own back porch where I could sit privately and look at the lagoon. Yet it was surrounded by the jungle and you could hear the exotic birds in the morning and the howler monkeys at night.
It is ironic that the more upscale a place is the more I am bothered by the things that are not quite right. The slow wifi in the room irritated me. Yet it was only in the last few months that we have in-room wifi in our own hotel. Another first world problem, was that the electrical module for my laptop charger had apparently fallen off in packing at the last hotel. Unable to recharge I had to ration my computer time. Ah, the sacrifices we make for our travels.
I compare this to the hotel I stayed in in my last trip to Tikal. That hotel was a bit more third world. The howler monkeys came to within a few yards of the hotel. The facilities were run down and you could only have electricity for a few hours a day, but from there you could walk to the site rather than have an hour twenty minute bus ride.
Then there was the visit to Tikal itself. I had been to the site before, but I knew then that those two days were not enough. I needed to come back. It is the most impressive archaeological site I have ever been to. There are dozens of magnificent pyramids and temples. Some absurdly high. Some fully excavated and restored, some partially restored, and some left to be a tower of rubble covered in moss and jungle plants.
The trip to Nakum involved an hour and a half ride in the back of a pickup truck traveling through the jungle over a dirt road. Let me correct that, it wasn’t entirely a dirt road. It was more like 1/3 dirt, 1/3 mud, and 1/3 swamp puddle. We knew that last week a truck was stuck on this trail and the passengers had to walk back to civilization, and that three other drivers had refused to take us up this road. I can say that in all my sheltered lifetime, I have never been over a worse road in my life. In the swampy places the truck would heave up and down and side to side and buck like rodeo bull.
Meanwhile we passengers in the back of the truck were ducking to avoid the low hanging branches, palm fronds, and vines. Were we distressed? Not at all, we were whooping and hollering like we were on a grand adventure ride. And indeed we were. At the first few slippery areas, we wondered if the driver could make it through, by the end of the trip, we would have trusted him to driven us off road to Tera del Fuego.
The trip was worth it for the adventure ride alone, but the Maya site of Nakum was something wonderful to behold. There were grand structures, with labyrinth-like steps and and surprise trails taking you from one structure to another.
There were circular arches unlike those I have seen at any other Maya site ever. There were astonishing views.
There were towering unrestored temples covered in the green jungle vegetation with fairy-like paths leading between them.
It fulfilled my fantasy as to what an almost perfect archaeological site should look like. I say almost perfect because there is a slight bit of a mosquito problem.
Then, of course, there is the repeat of the adventure ride on the way back, and we arrive shaken, if not stirred at the site of Yaxhá. It was getting late and we did not have much time to explore, but I was able to climb the tall temple pyramid with a picture postcard view of the lake.
We stayed at the Hotel Flores, Flores, Petén, Guatemala. The hotel beds were a bit firm for my taste and it was on the fourth floor with no elevator, but after climbing the pyramids the stairs were a piece of cake. (But, I must admit, I did have the bellman lug my luggage.) On the plus side the hotel was near some interesting craft stores. I ended up with a suitcase full of masks and carvings.
At four in the morning I awake to the sound of howler monkeys. My brain knows that these are just monkeys and unlikely to approach, but their sounds are intimidating enough to make me hesitate to venture out of my room into the night. For those of you who have not heard them, do not sound at all like monkeys, they sound like giant ten foot beasts.
The lack of electricity at night takes me back to my early teenage years when I was supposed to be asleep, but would secretly read in bed with a flashlight.
We then travel to the remote village of Uaxactún. It is a bit over an hour’s ride through the jungle on a gravel and dirt road. The site is one of the earliest in the area with some of the structures dating back to 2,000 BC. It one time conquered Tikal, but was then reconquered by King Jaguar Paw around 400 AD. It is also an important spiritual site. The present day Maya elders come to this place to practice their celestial celebrations. It was excavated in the 1920’s and 1930’s by the Carnage Institute.
As with most sites there are many unrestored mounds. But here they have been cleared of the jungle plants, and are now covered with low green foliage. Somehow they make me feel close to my father, as they remind me of the Adena mound builder sites that he and I explored in my youth in Kentucky.
Other buildings have some large Maya stone masks and buildings with internal stairways to explore.
This used to be a major gathering site for chicle, the tree sap that was used to make chewing gum. The industry moved elsewhere when the area was inclosed in the National Park, but locals are still allowed to gather small amounts. I bought a square from one of the local ladies, and sure enough, it works just like chewing gum. Sadly, most kids today have never had organic chewing gum, but instead make do with a form of synthetic rubber.
The Uaxactún also had the Museum Juan Antonio Valdés, one of the most astonishing museums I have ever been to. In most museums the artifacts are carefully staged and behind glass.
Here there are fabulous vases and artifacts just resting on simple wooden shelves. and they allow you to actually hold these thousand year old ceramics. Most impressive.
Our hotel in El Remate was dated and eccentric, calling itself “The clean and green place to stay.”
It makes you wonder what they are implying about their competition. It has a lovely viewing platform to watch the sunset over Lago de Petén Itzá.