It has been a few days since our return from Guatemala and I am finally able to find the time to write about our last day which was a whirlwind visit to the north of the country and the major Mayan remains of Tikal. The scenery upon landing was dramatically different — green tropical jungle, waterways and lakes. It looks like rich land for building a long-lived civilization. We are 3 from our original group, Marge, Kash, and myself, and our group of 12 for today is an interesting mix, with a Guatemalan woman from Guatemala City and her American husband and their son and grandchild whom we pick up at a local hotel called Gringo Perdito (the lost American) — which we all quipped about the rest of the day.
On the quiet tree lined road from the Flores airport we see beautiful large birds along the way which are identified as oscellated turkeys – in Spanish it sounds like ocelots and I kept on looking for spotted cats but these are very different.
The archeological site is large and filled with a good number of visitors, local Guatemalan families, school groups and visitors from all over the world. There are remains of great temples and pyramids scattered throughout the jungle so that walking on a path suddenly a rising monument comes into sight. It is very understandable why these remains were untouched and unknown for many centuries as the green growth completely covered them so they looked like simple covered hillocks. We climbed up on one of the the two main temples platforms facing each other across the open plaza (about 100 wooden and fairly well-maintained steps with railings). From there, a beautiful view of the open gathering space with their cemetery on one side and homes for the populace on the other.
Further in our walk around the area, we ascended a pyramid structure used today for a 360 degree viewpoint (140 steps but who is counting). From that vantage point it is obvious that only the very tops of some of the great buildings are visible above the foliage and that 200 years ago, nothing but high green trees and vines would have been seen.
I see two couples in their beautiful indigenous Guatemalan textiles and ask if I can photograph them — they are obviously also tourists enjoying their ancient heritage. They have just had an instant photo taken of themselves by a professional photographer standing by to provide this kind of service. They must not have cell phone cameras.
We fly the 45 minutes back into the capital and our last night at the Barcelo hotel, too tired for anything about room service for dinner. My last morning with Marge was spent doing some final shopping at the local artisan market. It is Sunday and as we walk from our hotel with a paper map, we find ourselves among the end of a local marathon, with streets closed off and groups of runners finishing up their morning exercise. We get turned around and ask a group of police for directions (I left my phone with gps at the hotel and we have only our paper map). After discussion and some translation on their phone, we are escorted by 4 fully armed officers (one female and 3 male) around and about until they point us to walk straight ahead for the market. They seemed quite happy to do so and as we had asked several civilians first with conflicting responses we were glad to be on the right track.
The permanent crafts market had the full panoply of objects we have seen all over the country but at a much higher price. We nevertheless fall in love with some bright colors and support the local economy. Later we look closely and realize that the workmanship is also of higher quality and are glad we left for home with some of the brilliant intense colors of the rainbow that is Guatemala.
Until my next trip . . .
The highest temple, No. 4., above, seen from a distance, is now closed for renovation