Days 71 – 72: Tikal, Guatemala
Pais Numero Dos! (Country #2!)
In Guatemala we had to make choices. We needed to zip through the country but were keen to see a few places before continuing on south to Honduras and Nicaragua. There are two main locations that overlanders visit: The famous Mayan ruins of Tikal in the north and the beautiful Lake Atilan in the south. We were craving steamy jungles and a glimpse of the Caribbean Sea so we pointed the truck north.
Our first border crossing was actually a civilized affair. We’ve heard horror stories of long lines, corrupt officials, and crossing procedures that took all day in the hot sun. We did have to pay a few bribes: in the form of peanut M&Ms to two grumpy kids. But shockingly, everything else was moderately straight forward. Entry visas and temporary vehicle import permit obtained. Once cleared, we drove into the nearby town of Flores.
We took a leisurely dinner in town before driving the 45 minutes to the pyramids. On the way, the skies darkened and we were caught in a torrential downpour. with ground-shaking thunder and massive bolts of lighting. Thus far in the trip we’ve avoided traveling at night or even at dusk but the darkened sky and lashing rain made traveling nearly impossible. We reached the campground, popped the top, and tucked ourselves into bed.
The pouring rain continued through the night.
We awoke the next morning to raucous bird song and a steady drizzle that stopped the moment we stepped from the camper. Things were looking up!
Welcome to life on the road: instant coffee AND instant oatmeal. We be fancy. (We’ve subsequently run out of the flavored oatmeal and I refuse to pay the exorbitant mark-up on imported goods. This has caused a minor crisis in our household).
After passing the entry gate, most visitors still have a 20 minute hike into the main plaza. The area is dotted with hundreds of mossy green hummocks; it’s only when you look skyward or inspect the hills closely that they start to resemble man-made shapes. The jungle has reclaimed her territory for the vast majority of Tikal.
Ruins appear out of the trees like ghostly giants. Once the Mayan’s greatest city, the crumbling structures are now home to monkeys, lizards, birds, and insects.
Ben was intent on spotting apes, and indeed, he was responsible for discovery our first troupe of spider monkeys, who were intent on taking a mid-morning siesta.
Ben, looking at keel-billed toucans. Piles of stone didn’t hold our kids’ attention, but the animals sure did. Ben fancies himself something of an expert animal spotter. He’s not half bad.
Many of the structures are off limits to visitors; however Temple IV is accessible via a slippery wooden stairway. Up and Up and…up. We pop wee little Emma in the pack and watched Ben like a hawk as we ascended. It’s a very long way down.
At the top, you are above the canopy; the jungle an undulating mat of vivid green reaching for miles in all directions.
Star Wars fans will appreciate this view.
Staying at a lodge or campground affords the visitor the distinct advantage of time. We missed the sunrise tour (it was cloudy and pouring anyway) but were at least an hour ahead of tourists coming from Flores. Standing atop a temple with nary a soul in sight is both eerie and fantastic.
Emma having herself a good little pout because I wouldn’t let her climb the last set of stairs to where Ben and Chris were perched (above). Sorry baby girl. Someday we’ll be ready for more adventurous climbing but not today. It’s hard being the younger sibling.
And she’s back! Glum one second, happy the next. Toddler emotion whiplash.
And.. glum again.
Getting ready for our photo shoot. Emma wanted it to be sans clothing, which might have been frowned upon by the park rangers. We negotiated a settlement: clothing on, pictures will goofy faces encouraged.
Temple I, which is inaccessible to climbers and is currently undergoing renovations. The main plaza has other temples which are open, although we’d had enough of the tall staircases and opted for horsing around on the smaller structures.
Favorite parts of Tikal: The view from atop Temple IV and these crazy Ocellated Turkeys. Wacky, yes?!
Jaguar Inn – camping is in front of the restaurant. Small grassy area with crappy wifi. Cleanish bathrooms.