Guatemala Part III: Tikal


I’m beginning to understand why my mom complains when I make “that face.”

When I sat down to write this, I was going to try to reconstruct the day using my handy park map, but earlier in the day it split in two and I seem to have lost half of it to whereabouts unknown. So I got a map of half of Tikal. We’ll see what we can do.

I woke up pretty early though I didn’t get up. My back hurt. My back hurts all the time now when I wake up. I used to prefer hard mattresses but now I am thinking I am too old for it. Maybe it was two years of sleeping on foam in Zambia that did me in. I was awake for the knock to go on the sunrise tour, but since I wanted to do that the next day, I sent him off with a “manana.” Eventually I got out of bed and read some and then went off to breakfast which was great. No snakes but the eggs were good. Got my stuff and head into the park. I might have been the first non-sunrise-tour person in there. So I had large swaths of the place mostly to myself for a large chunk of the day. In fact though, I think most of the park is rather empty for most of the day. (An aside; I keep calling it the “park,” because that is what they call it, but that makes it seem like an amusement park in my head instead of an archeological site. I don’t know how to feel about that.) It seems most people stick to the central plaza and like, Temple IV. I think this is an effect of day trips and people only seeing the highlights.


People just hanging out on temples and ruins.

Anyways, in I went. I went off to the right first. This was because I like to attack these sorts of things from the peripheries like I said, and also because I wanted to wait until some of the tourist busses showed up before I went into the central plaza. I complained/commented at Great Zimbabwe that it would be cool to see the place with 10,000 people in it so you could get a sense of what it was really like as a city, so I thought if the central plaza was crowded that might actually give some sense of it. It never really filled up, but I liked seeing people just like, lounging around on the edges of temples and stuff. That seemed to me, I keep wanting to say “realistic” but “contemporary” is maybe a better word. Later on in the day I was pleased to see some little kids running around and then jumping over a wall. That was perfect. Back in the day man the city would have been full of life, like trading going on and cooking fires and little kids running around playing on stuff. It would have been filled with shops and stalls and people buying and selling things. The gift shop plaza thing is probably the best representation of the whole place back in Mayan times. People would have been coming from miles and miles around to see the temples and stuff, so the city would have been full of people camping in random spots and people selling them stuff. I kinda wonder if it resembled Edinburgh (Edinburgh rock has been occupied since the 2nd century, though a castle wasn’t built until the 12th, so Edinburgh and Tikal are kinda sorta contemporaries). But like there were causeways between the big plazas and I think those would have been lined with shops like the royal mile, and then the valleys would have inevitably filled up too. That was the other thing. I mentioned the jungle last week but at times I tried to peer into it to see what I could see. The archaeological site isn’t these pockets of temples in the jungle but is the whole area and miles around. There is plenty of uncovered stuff. You look into the forest and see a small hill, is it just a hill or a ridge or is it a manmade object? I bet it is man-made.


Where was I? Temples. I think it was like, group N or something first. On the map they look like four temples in a row but not so much in real life. First off, the map has them like, as totally uncovered temples. Except for the grand plaza none of the temples are totally uncovered; the backs are almost always still hill-like. They’re covered with dirt and trees. I wonder why they keep them that way? Does it just cost too much to restore, or are the temples better off still covered? Are all the trees keeping the temples stable? I dunno. But these temples were almost totally covered so it took me a sec to spot them. The four temples are also, it seems, actually a set of two complexes, with temples to the east and west and then two smaller shrine things to the north and south. Throughout today I kept wondering if I had circled back accidentally because this is a common motif, so I would come into a clearing and then think I was back where I started. It was very confusing.

So those were neat and then I wandered up and came across Temple IV. I didn’t realize it was Temple IV because there were signs pointing away from it that said “Temple IV,” and I knew you could walk up it but there didn’t seem a way up it. Turns out it was Temple IV, and the signs were pointing to the walkway up it, but that wasn’t clear, and I somehow missed Complex O, Zona Norte, and Groups H&P. So I wandered back down and came across those. Very cool. Then it was off to the grand plaza. That was pretty neat. You come across first (the way I came) the back of the Temple of the Jaguar, which is pretty impressive in its own right. I stopped first at the stand there to get some water and tried to talk to a dude in Spanish but that fizzled quickly as we hit the end of my Spanish after like, one sentence.


Eventually I went around and into the plaza and it is pretty impressive. The temples are almost like, oppressive. Plenty of people milling about and taking pictures. I tried briefly to get someone to take a picture for me but failed. Tons of selfies were taken that day. I went up and down and all around and looked at all sorts of stuff. Eventually I decided to get a beer and some cookies at the other stand. The beer felt appropriate because I felt like people would have drank beer in much the same spot when the Mayans were here. Again to beat this horse I keep reflecting about where I eat food here or sleep here the Mayans were doing the same thing in the same spot 1500 years ago. I tried to imagine the forest denuded, and a skyline just dominated by all these temples. As you went around the city you could often catch glimpses of Temples IV, V, and the Temples of the Mask and Jaguar poking above the skyline but back in the day you would have been able to see most of these things like, all the time. Must have been crazy. But yeah. After my beer it was up to the top of Temple IV. I had my bearings and found the staircase; they have wooden staircases up several of the temples instead of having you scramble up the steps. It was kinda like a Disney ride going up Temple IV because you had to pause and wait in the line.


Top of Temple IV

At the top of the temple there are no handrails so that is scary and there are lots of people but you can see for miles over the jungle so that is super neat. Then it was down and off to “Mundo Perdido,” “The Lost World.” It is called that because the architecture is different from the rest of Tikal. That was cool to go around but a little after I got there it started raining. I went to the top of the big temples with a wooden staircase just as it started to rain, went back down, and dashed under some coverings with some other people waiting for the rain to stop. The rain made everything slick, and although after the rain I had a temple all to myself as I climbed to the top, it was very very scary going down (no wooden staircase on this one).


Caught in the rain.

Over in the Plaza of the Seven Temples I tried to imagine the place back in the day but could ony conjure a nice park, which is what it is now. Maybe that’s what it was then, too. After being lost for a bit it was off to Temple V which, lemme tell ya, is huge. Apparently it was built all in one go which is super impressive. The forest is close around Temple V, unlike in the Grand Plaza, so I think the closeness makes it seem even bigger, but it is big by its own. No help needed there. I might have swung by another plaza or something on the way back but by this time I was ready to leave. I had visions of coming back in, but I was hungry and my leg was hurting. So I left the little park enclosure and went to go eat some food at the restaurant. That was pleasant and then I had to decide what to do. I swung by the visitor’s center again to take a look at the model of the city and that was more informative now that I had been around.

I walked to the gate but then decided the CCIT or whatever, the Japanese-funded investigation center, needed looking at. They have a small collection of artifacts and so I looked. I think you’re supposed to pay but I tried to listen to the guy in Spanish and heard “gratis” so I went in. I also took pictures which you are not supposed to do so yeah. I left and again thought about going in again to the site but it looked like rain and my leg hurt and I decided against it. I went back to the hotel and read Moonraker until I was done with it and then tried and failed to find some Wifi.


I was very tired.