Friday, October 29, 2010

Day 17 - Tikal to Santa Elena

RobT:  Today, after spending the night at a village on the East side of Lake Petén Itza, we visited Tikal (another UNESCO World Heritage Site).  The site dates back to the fourth century BC, but reached its peak between 200 and 900 AD.  According to Wikipedia, Tikal is the largest excavated site on the American continent.

This was our secured parking for the night.  A gate closed behind the bikes. Our room was beyond the leaves.
  Typical Guatemalan girl, pretty and cute.

The road into the park/archaeological site. A typical sign warning travelers of, in this case, jaguars.  The only dangerous animals we saw were on these signs and then, they would only be dangerous if one of us would hit the sign.  At the gate, a park official gave us a park entry ticket with the time handwritten on it.  He emphasized the speed limit of 45 kph due to animals.  12 km later we reached the main parking area where another official checked the time on our ticket.  Not sure what they would have done had we sped along that road.  Once in the park, we met a guy from England traveling Central America on a 2002, 650 BMW Dakar.  He was in the park at 5:30 am to listen to the howler monkeys.

Looking at Temple I (Gran Jaguar) from the top of Temple II in the Grand Plaza at Tikal.

Acropolis North

Stairway up the side of Temple II.

Howler monkey.

Warning about spider monkeys (click on it and read the bottom paragraph) ...... luckily, we were not targets.

Temple I in the background and Temple II in the foreground taken from the top of Temple IV.

One of the many pyramids yet to be "uncovered".

Maze through Acropolis North.

Precarious wooden stair case leading to the top of Temple II.

Some of the few stone carvings left to be seen in the site.

Leaf cutter ants.  Not a very good shot but I felt I needed to post it.  It was like watching a miniature highway in progress, down the tree, across 40ft of ground and down a hole.  The ants were the size of the ones you would typically find in North America, just to give you a perspective on the size of the leaf bits they were carrying.

RobC:  I have known about the Mayan ruins of Tikal for a long time, but even during previous visits to Guatemala they were always too far away (in the northeast, near Belize). Years ago, people could only reach Tikal by air, but now we are fortunate enough to be able to go there by good roads.

The Tikal site is huge and it took us several hours to walk to all of the important temples and secondary places. The site is characterized by being surrounded by rain forest and lush and colorful vegetation. The presence of monkeys and tropical birds punctuated to the feeling of being in the jungle and allowed us a glimpse of the habitat in which the Mayan people lived in ancient times. Incredible stone structures. Here are some of my pictures.

The archaeological site was only sparsely attended due to the season, and the place was really very peaceful. You could also notice a great respect for the flora and fauna and the park staff was super friendly.

Upon returning to the parking lot, we found our "steeds" with all of our stuff intact in the shade of a tree, waiting to resume our travels.

RobT:  On the way out of the park we met up with some road hazards.  I just about hit a horse nonchalantly trotting out from a side street.  It didn't even have the interest to look at me as I slowly rode past him not 2 feet away.  RobC had something similar happen but with a very large pig.  Almost had pork chops for dinner.  :)   There were also dogs lying on the road, sun bathing as well as kids, yes, kids lying at the edge passing the time away.

Last night, we spent some time talking with a helicopter pilot at the hotel we were staying at (never did get his name).  His job was to fly people in and out of El Mirador, a huge Mayan complex at the northern border of Guatemala.  The only way to the site is to fly or a three-day hike.  Apparently, this site contains a huge man-made platform (18,000 sq meters) on which the Temple, La Danta was built.  The temple measures 70m high and has a volume of 2,800,000 cubic meters and is therefore one of the largest pyramids in the world.  The entire structure, platform and pyramids is considered to be one of the most massive ancient structures in the world.

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