Temple of the Jaguar, Tikal

Tikal is an utterly amazing set of structures deep in a National Park. Many things come together to make this ancient Mayan city so much more of an experience than, for example, Palenque. The lack of people is one thing – no busy, busy car park, no craft sellers, and no massive coachloads of hundreds of kids. This means you can pretty much wander around on your own later in the day; the winding paths through the jungle are deserted except for the wildlife that always live there. The massive temples look impressive soaring up through the trees and  you can identify equally massive mounds with their coat of jungle still keeping them hidden. It kind of gets almost exciting. Climbing the highest temple at the end, using a stairway on wooden scaffolding, past a team of archeologists still cleaning away at the stones, the view from the top is awesome… Still, probably nothing like what a Mayan could see when the place was in action. And, still, can’t get that image out of my head – the one from the film ‘Apocalypto’ with the heads rolling down the temple stairs – but it’s much more of a moment than gazing down on the trimmed lawns of Palenque or Teotihuacan.

Tikal view

That evening, our minds were buzzing with questions – why were these cities ‘lost’ for so long and where did the people go? The collapse of Mayan civilisation is a well theorized topic – the more likely ideas being that over-population around these centres coupled with extensive droughts lasting generations caused the settlements to be abandoned. The actual Mayan people didn’t disappear – they still flourished further north until the day the Spanish and British arrived, and they still exist now. I’m not completely convinced that the environmental theory really explains it completely. These massive cities that took all that time and energy to build were just abandoned to the jungle? I can’t imagine that no one at all thought it was a good place to live…

Tikal costs Q150 to get in, which you pay at the entrance to the National Park. If you arrive after 4pm, the ticket is good for the next day. Supposedly – another guy we asked said that rule wasn’t working at the moment. The campsite charged us Q50 each to park on their field – they wouldn’t let us park in the car park overnight. We wanted to stay because, hey, we don’t often get to sleep in the jungle. The reality was that the Japanese are helping build some Education Center or other right next to the campsite and start up all their machines at first light. The better option surely would have been to drive back to El Remate and park up by the lake.

They don’t allow pets in the National Park. We softly argued for a while at the main gate – they let us hitch-hike 18 km into the park to ask the boss for permission, who appeared after a short wait and said yes, and then 18 back to the hot van and dog. We had to keep her chained up every second inside the park, though: Normally, half asleep Vaga was well up for chasing some of the loads of cute, furry rodent things running around. At least we know she’s properly past her recent pneumonia.

Read up on the quickest way to get to Tikal from Palenque…

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