The ancient Mayan Empire dominated Central America from the Mexican Yukatan to Nicaragua from 5 Centuries before Christ until 9 centuries after. The largest city of the Mayan people was Tikal, and it is just across the border from San Ignacio, Belize. Of course, we had to go.
We were offered a bus trip directly from San Ignacio to the Tikal National Park. Not including the $20 needed to get out of Belize and into Guatemala. Or the $20 to get into the park. It just sounded like too much money to me. So, Basilio and I said no to the easy, if expensive way, of making the trip and began the stupid and cheap way that most Guatemalan peasants would do it. We caught a bus from San Ignacio to a city near the border for about one dollar, paid a cab about a dollar to take us to the border, paid another cab a couple of dollars to get us to the city center in the border town of Guatemala, and paid about four dollars to take a collectivo, a shared mini-bus, which would drop us off at the road to Tikal. We were way in the black. Of course, it took us most of the day to do this and we still were not at the park.
The collectiva dropped us near a little mini-mart/cafe. We got a coke while Basilio chatted up the locals. A cab driver offered to take us to Tikal for $20, but that seemed outrageous. I mean, the collectivo would charge less than half that much. And the cab would mean missing the local color. I mused, I wonder what the seminary president would think of his education and youth ministry professor if he knew I was stranded on a back highway of Guatemala refusing a taxi because it was going to cost me $20?
We waited for a collectivo to come along for more than an hour. A woman who was selling chips out of the store told us she thought the driver of the collectivo was a Seventh Day Adventist and perhaps was not running his bus until Sunday. As the sun began to fade, our resolve to save cash waned. Twenty dollars for a taxi began to sound realistic. Finally, we went back in to accept the cabbie's offer. "No," he told me, "earlier I could have gotten a fare to come back. Now I can't. I need at least $25 to take you." We grumbled a litte, but caved and paid the guy the $25.
We arrived about two hours before the ruins were closing. Our hotel is actually in the park, but they booked our ticket for the following day. We checked into the hotel, tired and hungry, and found a place to eat a tasteless burger and coke. We had about 30 minutes to explore what we could. Mostly, we just explored a muddy road. One wrong turn took us far from the amazing structures that had brought us to Tikal. I'm not sure where we would have ended up if Basilio hadn't convinced me to turn back. I guess we would have been jaguar fodor.
Back at the hotel, we relaxed a little, got dessert, and talked about what we'd do tomorrow. A local guide who had grown up in America was trying to sell us a 4:00 a. m. tour, including seeing the sun come up over Tikal. I laughed at the idea, but he kept working on us. I'm not sure if it was voodoo or what, but we ended up signing up for the tour. $15 for the tour. $15 to get into the ruins before the park actually opened. Someone in the Guatemalan tourist ministry is very creative about milking dollars from tourists.
After a day of collectivo riding, I was pretty beat. We've been reading from Our Daily Bread each night, having a bit of a devo and prayer before turning in. We did that and I was out like a light by 9:00 p.m. I know, I am not much of a late night party animal. I woke up 2 minutes before the alarm went off at 3:15. So the day started. Caesar, our guide, had instant coffee for us. About 15 of us were making the trip including a group of 3 Aussies, a family of missionaries from Sweden--Lund, not far from my friends in Malmo, a couple from Argentina, and a group from Estonia. We were the token Americans, though people here are a little suspect as to whether California really qualifies as America.
Caesar should us the floura and the fauna...well, what you could experience of it under the stars. He told us stories of the development and the fall of the Mayan culture. He talked about their religion and their customs. To be honest, my head was still a little fuzzy so I'm not sure how much of it I caught. Two cups of instant coffee hardly overcomes a 3:13 a.m. start.
Finally, he led us up to one of the outer temples where we could watch the dawn over the central part of the city. People were unbelievably quiet. We sat for almost an hour on the top of a temple watching the sky turn from black to grey to crimson to blue. The tops of the central temples were barely visible in the moonlight and slowly emerged from the scenery little by little. The experience felt spiritual. I wanted to sing, but felt it would break the silence. A girl in front of me crossed her legs yoga style and stared. I wanted pictures to savor later, but was loathe to break the moment. I would snap a few shots, then set my camera down and watch the spectacle unfolding across the jungle.
Caeser finally broke the trance, telling us, "Folks, the sun is up." I was a little surprised. I kept expecting the morning to get richer and richer as it had for an hour. We walked back to the city for a look at the center of Mayan life for over a thousand years in the daylight. Then, I took pictures. Basilio and I climbed all over the structures and peered off every platform we could stand on. As the day warmed up, we had soaked in the major sites. We walked back to the hotel, got breakfast, I grabbed a shower, and we decided it was time to leave. We were scheduled to spend our next day on the lake island of Flores and finding a collectiva might create as much work as it did to get to Tikal. We packed up to go.
I suppose I'm missing a lot of the fun parts. There was the guy who jumped into our collectivo apparently without a shower. Perhaps for a month. We thought our noses would get a reprieve when he asked the driver to stop. No, he just got out, urinated on the side of the road, and climbed back in. Ugh.
After we were all seated to watch the sunrise, Caesar started looking around with a flashlight. I wondered if one of the Australians had gone missing. No, I found out when he came back that he was looking for jaguar. No really.
After our trek through the mud, Basilio looked at me and said, "Can you see a bug bite on my face?" On his forehead there was this huge bump, almost like he was growing a second nose. He said, "I thought I felt something bite me." I guess so. I think he got eaten alive by jungle killer bees.
Well, that's Tikal.