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Remembering a visit to the ancient city of Tikal

Originally published at: https://greysnet.com/2020/09/remembering-a-visit-to-the-ancient-city-of-tikal/

A few years ago I visited Guatemala,  in Central America, while there I made an unforgettable visit to the ancient ruins of Tikal.

Guatemala is a country of endless contradictions – the beauty, the squalor, tragic street children, infectious laughter, the colour, the dirt, the vast jungle and the overcrowded buses full of people, chicken and piglets. The genuine welcome by locals in their shack homes, anxious to share, although they have so little. It was all such a privilege. I wouldn’t have missed any of it.

I travelled to Guatemala via Houston, to meet up with my daughter who was working there at the time and suggested I take the opportunity to visit this incredible place.

After exploring the City of Guatemala we booked an internal flight to Tikal, one of the most important cities of the ancient Maya civilisation which disappeared sometime around 900 CE. This incredible city, with its deserted temples and pyramid is one of the best preserved fragments of the Maya civilisation. Known to the Mayans as Yax Mutal the ruins are part of Guetamala’s Tikal National Park and in 1979 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage

The flight takes about an hour in a rather small, rattling plane. It was a relief to touch down amidst the beautiful lakes and greenery. From there we drove through the unfolding scenery to the National Park, where we got our first sight of the breath taking altars, temples and pyramids. Our guide, the aptly named Angel, was pre-booked. He spoke good English, which he told us was due to having been brought up by in Catholic children’s home. Somewhere is his late70’s he was full of energy and an excellent guide. He begins by telling us that the City of Tikal has only been rediscovered in recent years and excavations were done by the University of Pennsylvania. He goes on to relate a stream of fascinating facts, not legends, about the various Gods and the human sacrifices from the altars at the top of many steps.

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It is a very long walk to the various sights, some of it through jungle. The noise from parrots, monkeys and other species cuts through the tranquillity.  Strange looking masks are carved into the rock face. As we go into the jungle a type of raccoon runs across our path and our guide tells us there are jaguars and dangerous snakes lurking in the nearby trees. But not to worry because but they would not venture into the path with people walking about. 

The humidity was uncomfortable yet somehow my daughter managed to climb all of the steep steps at each of the temples. Forty four metres in places, they appear to go straight up… I decided against it preferring instead to take it all in from below.

Despite his advancing years, Angel, our guide, decided that my daughter would make a good wife and asked if she would return soon, offering to take her by horse through the jungle. They would fish and hunt, he would teach her about the plants and she could learn about plant remedies for all ills. Although it sounded fascinating she declined!

We ended our extraordinary day by dining in a large open sided thatched restaurant – it reminded me of holidays in Zimbabwe. Large ceiling fans worked tirelessly to cool the air.

All too soon it was time to return to the little airport. Stray dogs, pigs and turkeys scurry to get out of our way, as we drive through villages. Locals look up from doing their washing at the waters’ edge as horses, cows’ goats and pigs graze at the roadside. Goodbye to our delightful guide Angel. Back to civilisation of Guatemala City, hardly, although tourist busses have been known to be held up in Tikal.

I will leave you with some of our guide, Angel’s, enigmatic quotes.

 ‘life is the school- the street the university’

“Now I am at the top observing the view- before I descend.”

“God sends people to Guatemala to learn patience”