Tikal... yet another mysterious ruin of ancient Mayan life. We have visited many in the recent weeks and yet each is so unique and special. From Belize, we entered Guatemala in the northern-most part of the country, a region of densely-forested jungle- and actually the second largest rainforest in the Americas after the Amazon. An extremely enchanting land, both isolated and wonder-filled. There is only one place to make this crossing with few roads winding into this lush, remote kingdom. The border crossing went well and we were beginning to feel like we were getting the hang of all this.
At dusk, we arrived at Lago Peten Itza, a large natural lake offering a few places to do wild camping for the night and in close proximity to the site of Tikal. We watched the sunset and chatted with some fellow overlanders we had run into from earlier travels. Amazing how the paths of fellow wanderers continue to cross. We shared a few stories before retiring for the eve of our big adventure. The following morning we planned to awaken early and journey to Tikal. The primal call of the Howler monkeys echoed in the trees at sunrise and the anticipation was glowing in all of us.
It took about thirty minutes to drive into the Reserva Biosphere de Maya. We arrived at the gate of Tikal National Park to buy tickets and purchase a helpful map of the park. From my research, I knew that this was considered one of the Mayan super-sites due to its size, but its hard to actually comprehend exactly how large this place is until you see it. The map gave us a better idea of what this meant- over 3,000 remaining structures exist spanning an area of about 16 kilometers. Massive indeed. It takes approximately 10-20 minutes to hike to each pyramid, through the endlessly green flora, where wild things are hidden from the eye. You could literally take days to explore this place. We knew these "estimates" of time would be doubled at our usual pace- due to our little hiker stopping to point out every single ant (leaf-cutters are pretty cool), special rock, and pile of "monkey poop" along the way. We packed extra snacks, a LOT of water, sunscreen, and camera gear. Our first stop- the grand plaza. You will notice the unique style of these pyramids- much taller and more narrow than the ones we have seen before, perhaps because they are shrouded in such a grand canopy of trees, which themselves resemble gods.
The ancient Kapok tree- sacred to the Maya and considered to be the tree of life.
The view from atop the tallest pyramid of all pre-hispanic archaeolgical sites of the Maya. It is nothing less than incredible that we may explore this ancient city in such a way. Many of these temples take you to such celestial heights. It was so dreamy to stare into the infinite horizon from such an altitude.
Even the lesser-explored monuments proved to be filled with interesting sites and artifacts. Actually, most of the structures remain unexcavated but many are still numbered on the map. Although the process to unveil all of the structures is ongoing, it seems it would be difficult, if not impossible, to unearth them all, simply because most are covered in so much living plant-life, including enormous trees with roots that obviously are growing deep into the structures themselves. I wonder whether the structural integrity of this ancient masonry would even stay intact if these extensive root systems were removed. Either way, it is interesting to view even the pyramids that remain covered by centuries of life-sustaining earth.
Joey remembered to bring "his" camera. (Actually, it's only make-believe, aka a non-functional camera we bought him at a swap-meet in Ensenada, and its also a good way to keep him from "playing" with our much more expensive camera equipment! This, however, is one of his most-prized possessions!)
We didn't mind the lengthy distance between each temple, as it gave us ample time to take in all of the wildlife. The spider monkeys were definitely a favorite- they are extremely cute and entertaining to watch!
And, of course, we kept our eyes peeled for interesting bird-life. We spotted toucans, pilleated wood-peckers, a gray-headed kite, and also an oscillated turkey- an ancient species native to the Yucatan, Belize, and Guatemala.
What an amazing day we had. Of course, we didn't get to see everything, but isn't that always the case? We have to be discerning with our time. I really am just so glad that we didn't skip Tikal because honestly, there was a point where we asked ourselves Really, another ruin? But it was so very worth the trip. I am glad that we got to show our son so many incredible places in our travel, because even though he is so young, I have no doubt that every discovery we make together has influenced who he is already. His vocabulary is so rich for a toddler, he still talks about all the pyramids we have seen, the butterflies at El Rosario, the tunnels in Guanajuato, and the cenotes we swam in on the Yucatan. I loved the Jungle Book as a child, and to think that all of this magic is actually a part of his reality- it has made his childhood so special and alive with wonder. I know one day he will treasure all of these memories.
My happy hikers! Another adventure for the books. Thanks for following us along!