Monday, 12 November 2007

Tikal for the Weekend

Monday, 11th November and we are resting after a weekend at Tikal. I’ve been going up two or even three times a week to photograph the most visited and best preserved/reconstructed ancient Mayan city in Guatemala. But that involves an early start and a departure well before sunset, as well as the inevitable haggling over fare. Esta 10 quatzales por una Guatemelteca and usually 15 for uno turisto. Pero muchos collectivos quiren 20 or even 30 quatzelas. No me gusta! It’s a pain haggling with the minibus drivers so we decided to have a weekend away and stay in the luxury Jungle Lodge right next to the gates of the site. We could stay for sunset on Saturday and be up for sunrise on Sunday as well as treat ourselves to dinner on white linen under a palm-thatched roof and Victorian black and white photos of the temples being cleared of jungle.

We checked in with Oliver who has clearly been on a tourism training course that said a real smile is with the eyes and closed them everytime he did smile which was about twice a minute. We had a nice little room with a balcony overlooking a narrow, beautifully planted garden, into the jungle. Georgia was greatly attracted to the open air swimming pool surrounded by jungle. The Lodge lives up to its name!

We managed to eventually find out that for 50 quatzels we could enter the site an hour before official opening at 6am with a guard to be escorted to Temple 4 to watch sunrise. Oliver didn’t tell us this, the ticket seller didn’t tell us this. Only a guar overhearing our enquiry told us this.

We have had two great days wandering around probably the most dramatic Mayan city in Central America. It was one of the biggest and most influential in its day, though not the biggest. However, they still mostly survive as forested mounds with little uncovered to understand a Mayan city. What really makes Tikal are the six dramatic pyramid temples that soar above the forest canopy, Temple 4 is the highest at 70 metres and from here you can see jungle as far as every horizon, look down on mighty rainforest trees, watch branches and trees shake to the swinging and clambering of spider monkey foraging for fruit, follow parrots, toucans, vultures and hawks flutter, swoop, soar and glide above the trees. There are few rainforests in the world with such majestic and high viewing platforms.

Sunset was one where a large dark red fiery disc, fractured by fingers of cloud, sinks lazily towards the horizon. Flocks of green parrots squawked their way from one tree to another in search of a roost. Darkness and silence descended with it.

Sunrise was a gentle, gradual lightening of promise for a new day. The night had been quiet except for the chilling roar of a group of agitated howler monkeys and dark save the overwhelming lights of stars, planets and the Milky Way glimpsed between clearings. We climbed Temple 4 to look over the silhouetted proud crowns of four other pyramids to the east. Then, as half light burrowed into the shadows the jungle began to awake. First the howler monkeys let out their loud roars stating they were here, that others should not invade their tree-top territories. They opened their mouths, inflated their throats, and the jungle raged to the sound of demons unleashed from hell. Then, surprisingly, came silence with the dawn. The howlers stopped. Except it was totally quiet. Now that they could be heard, the birds filled the morning light with song. Sparsely came the notes at first until the sun was above the horizon, then every tree seemed alive with every type of song and call as they too announced their territorial presence. Branches began to bend to the first spider monkeys searching for food, toucans flitted to the tops of fruit trees. Ungainly in their swooping flight and comical with their oversized and overcoloured beaks, they kept high in twos and threes. If ever a bird was created based on the winning entry in a young children’s art contest, the toucan would be it.

Dawn went through a slow blending of grey, yellow and orange hues. Subtly, the clouds grew pink and orange high in the sky, the sun shielded by a larger cloud. Yellow vertical bands of light shimmered on the horizon below the cloud. After the light show, the dozens of other tourists left to start their various tours. We remained on high and were treat to the sound and sight of the jungle without camera shutters or flash bulbs. Cloud hung low in the hollows of the ground, casting treetops in silhouette. The bright oranges and pinks gave away to misty whites and diluted golds and then the sun climbed above the cloud and the jungle shimmered like a sea, the temples like majestic sailing ships waiting to set sail. What a way to spend a Sunday morning!

I have put some of my photographs of and from Tikal on my photography website - Tikal Photos

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