As if I hadn’t abused my position as a loving boyfriend enough with the 25 days camping in Africa, I thought it right to subject my other half to a 30 days tour through Central America in 2010. Sometimes I wonder why she married me.
The reason for her acceptance had nothing to do with the location of course! It may have had something to do with my adventurous side.
Anyhow the Central American Discovery tour was booked through Intrepid Travel, and the greatest surprise was the country of Guatemala, and in particular the lost Mayan city of Tikal. The Mayans were the indigenous people of Central America before the Spanish conquistadors took control, similar to the Native Americans (known as Indians) and the British and French in the America. As with the Native Americans, the Mayans were decimated and their civilization stripped bare by the invaders. A once, diverse, rich, and unique culture was changed forever and some of its civilizations were literally lost. Luckily the Mayan people survived and are said to make up 40% of Guatemala population. If you want to know more Wikipedia has some great history.
We knew nothing about Tikal when we arrived; simply that it was another ancient ruin. Having already visited the very well-known, Chichén Itzá and countless ruins in Asia, my expectations were quite low. However after an hour driving into the vast jungle, I was starting to understand how you could actually lose a city.
This place is huge, and the vast majority is still covered by the jungle, therefore not excavated and entirely inaccessible. It added something to the experience that there were still hidden, forgotten buildings everywhere; it felt as if we went off track we could find anything literally! However the ruins you could see were extremely dramatic, some still fully stands, some crumbling under the weight of the jungle, some dwarfing the incredibly high canopy and facing the warm sun one on one. This is literally like stepping into a lost world; you could never know what was around the next corner.
As a hidden gem in the middle of a vast jungle, the majority of rules didn’t apply here. This meant that we could get a real feel for the grandness of the site, by climbing the stairs the ancient Mayans climbed, standing in the exact places they stood. We also got to explore some of the inner temple, and minor tunnels connecting the rooms. I understand why this is not allowed in places like Chichen Itza, but it really does bring the experience to life. There is no way of engaging the sheer size of this place, without visiting its high protruding peaks.
As you leave the main section of temples, we followed tracks deeper and deeper into the jungle. Walking down these narrow pathways it felt as if the jungle was going to swallow us up, with little more than a metre gap between the path and the jungle vines. It was an eerie feeling; I would even say haunting in some parts. You could be standing on an ancient sacrificial site, or next to something in the jungle and you would have no idea it was there, the jungle was that thick and lush. I hate to make the reference but without too much imagination we could’ve been in Jurassic Park.
With the heat beating down, jungle sounds reigned supreme, from bird squawking, monkeys howling, insects buzzing and creatures scurrying along the floor. If I wasn’t mistaken, as we sat to eat our lunch we were being watched…The eyes in question belonged to a creature called a white-nosed Coati, which miraculously appeared from the tree line. Upon first this animal looked very cure, a mix between a raccoon and a predatory cat, only with bigger claws.
The Coati obviously not at all intimidated by a group of tourists, raised itself up onto the bench and literally jumped at Megan. The scream of fear pierced through the dense jungle in all directions, as she ran startled, only to be chased by the Coati. I was pretty impressed by this and instead of helping, I burst into laughter, as my partner was chased in circles; sandwich still in its plastic wrapping. After what felt like a lifetime for Megan threw the whole picnic at the Coati. Miraculously it ground to a halt, gave out the most ridiculous ‘I’ve won’ smile’ picked up the sandwich still in its wrapping and devoured it through the plastic.
That’s it – never judge a book by its cover… This cute cuddly rodent had attacked Megan and to add insult to injury it then ate her lunch. I smile even now thinking of it.
Tikal had been a real wandering memory; it was the most dramatic ruins experience I had witnessed (having Mexico, China, Thailand, Greece, Italy and Egypt already under my belt). Its selection of experiences was unsurpassed, from the eerie to the jaw dropping and it just felt inspiring and real – that may have been due to it being off the commercialised tourist routes.
Guatemala added numerous other stories to our wandering memories, and is a country that will no doubt grow in tourism – my advice – GO and Go now!