Clay and I booked the 4:30 AM tour of Tikal. We were told by our hostel that this was the best time balancing both price and temperature. Tikal is another Mayan ruin site. It’s a special place in the Mayan religion and lifestyle because it is the holy city. Followers of the Mayan religion still travel to Tikal to this day to worship and are protected under Guatemalan law to do so. Only 20% of the buildings have been restored in Tikal while the other 80% are covered by nature. In only a 16 square-kilometer area, there are over 4,000 Mayan buildings. There are about 60,000 total in all of Tikal.
We arrived in Tikal around 6-7 AM. We found our tour guide named Nathanael Retena quickly. Continuing my streak of luck on this trip, we only had 4 people total in our group. Others groups had close to twenty people. This allowed us to converse more with our guide than normal. We discovered he was 25 years old with two girls ages 6 and 4. He had been married for 7 years and been working at Tikal for 8 years. He essentially taught himself English by asking questions and listening to people in tours. He also took the time to reach us many new Spanish words. He does not take vacations, typically leading at least two tours per day, every day. Nathanael’s knowledge of nature was fascinating. He could tell exactly which animal was where based on their sounds and smells. He shared some of his stories of spotting jaguars in the park, ultimately making us all wish to see one.
The first major area we walked to was the place where a scene from Episode 4 of Star Wars was shot. We climbed 196 steps to the top of a nearly 80 meter tall ruin. For any of you that know me, I’m one of the biggest Star Wars nerds you’ll ever meet. So, this part of the tour was awesome to me. Moreover, the view was breathtaking. We could see for over 200 kilometers. Our guide informed us that if we looked East we could actually see the jungles of Belize. We met a couple from Australia and Guatemala at the top. Turns out, the couple was going to many of the same places we are in a few days so we may see them again soon.
We trekked through the jungle a little further to the next ruin. Along the way, Nathanael told us about how the Mayans derived their limestone slabs for building temples. We climbed to the top of a another temple with an even better view than the first. This temple allowed you to see 200+ km at a 360 degree view. All four of us in the group spoke little to fully take in the sights. The tour had one more stop in the grand plaza. Here we learned more about the Mayans demise. We already knew from the ATM cave tour that drought played a major role in their demise. However, in Tikal, we learned that the Mayans also defrosted much of their living grounds to make fires and build homes/scaffolding. This mass deforestation decreased the rainfall in the surrounding area dramatically. Since there are not any caves nearby in Guatemala, the Mayans ran out of fresh water.
The bus ride back to Flores went by quickly. I got some quick food at the hostel because I was starving. The hostel food was delicious and cheap. Next, I washed all my clothes in the bathroom sink. They needed washed badly. Merino wool is undoubtedly odor resistant, but not for an extended amount of time. I will say that I am very pleased with the performance of Castile soap. This is what I use for both washing clothes and mi cuerpo. It is an all natural soap that also repels mosquitos here in Central America. This, in combination with soaking my clothes in permethrin, has resulted in me being bitten by only a handful of mosquitos so far.
Clay and I both reached the point of complete exhaustion from all the traveling and tours we had done lately. We slept for a few hours until our other hostel bunk mates arrived. It was a group of 6 Canadians all traveling together. We went out to the dock at our hostel and swam with them for a bit. I rechecked my phone only to find that our friend Ramón had Jaír made it Flores. We made plans to go get food and drinks with him. Everyone in our hostel got cleaned up and crossed the water back to Flores.
We met up with Ramón at a place called Claves. He shared with us that he was angry when he woke up because he thought we ditched him. He said something along the lines of “you Americans always want to stick together” which we thought was pretty funny. Unfortunately, by te time we met up with him, he had already booked his travel for the next day to Antigua. On the other hand, we’re headed to Lanquin. Thus, we all made plans to link back up in Antigua.
The craziest part of the day happened next. A complete downpour initiated the moment we left the restaurant. We shuffled along underneath the awnings of the various buildings in the street. By happenstance, we shuffled into an open building with two guys in it. They invited us to sit down and wait for the rain to cease. We got talking only to discover his name was Neil and he owns the hostel right next to ours. We told him a little bit about our travels, the ATM cave tour, and Tikal. Neil then proceeded to explain the historical significance of Flores as a city. We already knew that it was once controlled by the Mayans, but we didn’t know for how long. Neil told us that Flores was the final stronghold of the Mayan Empire In Guatemala. He asserted that the Spanish conquistadores tried to take the city from the Mayans eight different times, only succeeding in the final push. They tried both civility and war but ere slaughtered each time. It took the Spanish 150 years to finally claim the land because Flores held the Mayans fiercest warriors. They engaged in guerrilla war fare and specialized in camouflage. The Spanish repeatedly walked into ambushes because they had no idea the Mayans were there. It was really incredible to learn the historical significance of Flores. It always means so much more to visit a place if you know the history behind it.
Finally the rain broke for a few minutes. Clay and I made a run toward the ferry. It started pouring more so we found refuge under another awning with two older Guatemalan women. I spoke enough Spanish to understand them and talk back with them. The called us mangoso’s and described us as guapo. Essentially, they were intensely hitting on us. We found it fairly comical. We all made a run for the ferry s few minutes later but it started pouring again. We crammed into a small taxi hoping it would hold up again. To no surprise, the rain never stopped. This was a problem because the ferries are just small little fishing boats that do not operate during the rain. Luckily, one daring younger captain came anyways. Clay, myself, and 7-8 other locals crammed into this tiny boat. The waves, wind, and rain were monumental. Lightening was lighting up the whole sky. We proceeded onward into the waters. Finally, we docked into San Miguel. Another ferry was leaving as we arrived so I shouted buena suerte, which means good luck. The locals though this was funny. This was the first time in this trip where I felt completely immersed into Spanish culture. It was an unimaginable way to end the day.
I’m writing this passage during my eight hour bus ride to Lanquin. I’m so excited for this place. I’ll be staying at El Retiro lodge and visiting Semuc Champey. Stay tuned for videos coming soon!
Countries I Have Met People From: