it's 4 am and the alarm goes off.
today we bus to a small airport where we take a small plane over the jungles, then a small bus takes us to tikal. it's a national park in the peten jungle (forest of kings).
we were split into two groups. garrett and i got the 'big' plane. it sat 33. the others took the 12 passenger plane. the morning was beautiful and clear. it was crazy to fly out of guat city and to realize we really were in the highlands. buildings spread over the mountains, trees covered the ravines. after a minute or two the colorful buildings were fewer and fewer until it looked like we were flying over a sea of broccoli. truly. thick, green, bulbous trees carpeted the ground.
as we neared tikal, the street signs started. first was a snake, then a big thick, cat-looking thing. what's that i ask dad? jaguar crossing. ah. we pass a few more animal signs (turkey, coati, elk…) but i am not really paying attention. i'm watching the vegetation closely. wouldn't that be cool to see one? i'm listening to the bus driver talk to dad who translates to all on the bus. in 20 years, our driver has only seen 5 jaguars. not to worry. they may cross this road out here, but closer in- at the actual park, they stay away during during daylight due to human presence.
interestingly enough, we come up to a massive ceiba tree. its branches are over run with epiphytes and it looks like a hairy tarantula to me. i guess these arial plants provide homes for countless insects, frogs and snakes. toucans and capuchin monkeys live there too. the ceiba is the focal point to an ecological system.
we stop and laugh at the monkey sign.
we see a few monkeys. well, we hear them before we see them. they were loud and it looked like they were having fun swinging from branch to branch. at one point, one of the monkeys reached out its arms to the other like he was helping the other across. then they started to slap each other. the binoculars came in handy.
the path was so covered with trees that the sun never came all the way through, which was nice considering the heat and humidity. very indiana jones. minus the poisonous darts and gold statue.
through the trees we spot the top of temple I.
we are so close. as we make our way off the path, our view is widened immensely- no trees cover this clearing.
the grand plaza is surrounded by stelae and altars, ceremonial buildings, residential and administrative palaces, and a ball court.
at each end of the plaza stand the temple of the great jaguar and the temple II, or temple of the masks (my family's personal favorite).
these are the huge pyramids, or temples you see in pictures. the type that kinda get your heart racing. awe-inspiring, massive, ancient, pyramids. people actually built these. a people that was an advanced civilization. can you believe these structures stand today?
gar felt the need to pose. my laugh echoed through the acropolis.
mayan ruins are evidence of a long lasting, cultural tradition. the monuments paid tribute to the rulers of the past, and inscriptions inside talk of dynasties and conquests, alliance and raids. ten square miles of central tikal have been mapped revealing over 4,000 structures identified to date. the national park is just over 142,000 acres and only about 30 % is excavated. this is what the jungle can do if the temple is not maintained. we saw guys with machetes cutting the grass growing on some steps of one of the temples as we approached. how's that for maintenance?
dad tells a story of a people warring with their arch enemy. while the captain is off fighting an uprising occurs in his land, the people fighting amongst themselves. they split into two groups. one felt they had the right to rule while the others wanted a free land. the captain returns, puts to death the rebels, and calls for them to hoist a common flag upon their towers and in their cities. he returns to war thinking he's resolved the problem only to learn they have overthrown the government. the captain again returns, crushes the rebellion and restores power. eventually over time, those who have royal blood win out, and it becomes a place ruled by the dynasties.
the place is alive with these stories. i would love to have seen it during its rise, its height, and its fall. it fascinates me.
the ground was covered with a thin layer of green moss. dad told stories.
a native man stood by a tree and handled a huge, thick, black scorpion. when i heard the commotion from our fellow travelers i walked over. he had it by the tail, so he said he was safe. he also said if it does sting you, it will make your tongue go numb. i imagine a lot more than your tongue will be numb if that thing got you.
garrett was more impressed with the man's awesome chest hair than he was with the scorpion itself.
we walk on. the jungle was a sea of smells. one tree we kept passing smelled exactly like ramen noodles. another one was peppercorn which was very strong. sweet smells came now and then. at one point, the husbands of the soelberg sisters facilitated an all spice experience for the group. jason jumped up to grab a branch, then kirk and neil held it steady and low while others grabbed leaves. it smelled just like pumpkin pie with a clean, fresh smell to it. dreamy. i thought 'all spice' was a bunch of spices all mixed together. who knew it was a single spice?
we continued to pass these long vines that would surround the trees. we wondered if you could really swing on them, tarzan style. garrett volunteered to be the guinea pig.
it was hilarious to watch him swing, but at the end he slammed into the tree- and got bark debris in his eye. lame. i didn't see that coming.
finally we come to the ultimate temple with the amazing view.
the original steps are crumbling so they have built a wooden staircase to the top.
it's quite the climb. the view is absolutely amazing. garrett felt like quite the explorer/conquerer.
the walk back to the bus was really fast. maybe because it was more of a run. it started to rain (which felt fantastic). at first we just heard it. it was really loud above, with only small trickles coming down to us. when we got to places that were less covered, it poured down on us. i felt like i was caught in flash-flood rains. no wonder the roads wash out. luckily the ground was mostly limestone instead of the dark dirt. we had white sand-like stuff all over our lower legs. i was happy it wasn't mud. there's nothing like getting caught in a downpour.