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Dave and Jan's travels, day 233:

7th January
On the 5th January, we sprang up extremely early for the drive to the ruins of Tikal in the heart of north Guatemalan jungleland. Our guidebooks had sought to forewarn us of 200 kms of the worst road in the world, deliberately kept in unrepaired condition to protect the virgin jungle from the depradations of migrating timber smugglers. We should expect at least six hours rattling through the dusty potholes, not to mention the odd run-in with the local bandidos, before we eventually arrived at our destination, the village of El Remate.

As it happened, we were there for lunch, after travelling along a fine brand new blacktop the whole way. Apparently the outgoing president, whose reign ends on Jan 8th, had no intention of allowing his successor a share of the glory, so the whole thing was declared open for use at the end of December. And a fine road it is too.

And so to the plot. Tikal was a huge city at the heart of the Mayan world, with a population of a couple of hundred thousand. There are many unanswered questions about the Mayans. How did they get so advanced mathematically, astronomically and architecturally? Why did their civilisation suddenly collapse around 900 AD? If they were so smart, why did they choose to build all their cities in the middle of a jungle and why did they omit to invent the wheel?

Tikal is a wonderful place. Some of the major structures have been carefully restored amid jungle clearings to present the scale and grandeur that the city once had. For most of the day that we were there, it was overcast and misty, which just seemed to add to the atmosphere. Most of the buildings do an excellent job of looming.

Other parts of the site are still claimed by the jungle: the only evidence of some pyramids is suspiciously pointy and uniform hills. And all around is the jungle, conspicuously poised to reclaim all, and full of life. Monkeys screech, parrots squawk and (allegedly) jaguars pad quietly through the undergrowth. One other animal worth a mention is the coatimundi, a kind of exotic racoon that isn't the slightest bit frightened of humans and is continuously scrounging.

About the only downside is the rather large number of tourists. We missed the worst by the simple expedient of getting out of bed at 6am, originally to see the sunrise which was rather aborted by the otherwise atmospheric mist that rolled over the site.

Finally, a couple more facts about the site. The Maya first came to the place around 700 BC, and were around for about 1,600 years until the aforementioned mysterious collapse in their civilisation. The stone ruins are thought to have been a ceremonial city centre, largely reserved for the priests and the nobs except for special occasions, at the centre of a vast network of sophisticated agriculture operated by peasants for the benefit of their betters in the centre.


   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

Pyramid in the mist

Temples in the jungle


Climbing pyramids