Run the equator: Tikal's got your wallet

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tikal's got your wallet

Posting from Antigua, Guatemala. More about this enchanting town later.

On our last day in Belize we went horseback-riding. Before starting this trip I have sworn that I would go riding as often as I can, but only if I get to trot and gallop freely; otherwise, walking behind another horse for one hour would be too boring. No problem, our guide took us on a trail that cut across a plantation and a few villages and let us gallop full throttle and do our own thing. He even offered to share his joint with us when we stopped for a few minutes to rest but we declined. It was a nice ride, but Angela was sore for the next three days...

But despite all the fun we had (or maybe just because of it...) Belize was too expensive for our taste (we had already skipped Caye Caulker and postponed the diving until Honduras) and we had to leave. The next day we crossed the border into Guatemala and I got a chance to practice my Spanish by asking the immigration officer to apply the stamp on a page that already had one stamp. I've only forgotten to ask for this favor once, when exiting Mexico, and bang! a new page had been sacrificed. I must make this passport last until I reach Europe.

The Temple of the Jaguar
Click on picture to see slide-show.

The great Mayan ruins at Tikal are a memorable and rewarding sight, but they are in such a remote part of Guatemala that most tourists visit them by entering from Belize and go back the same or the next day. The nearest village is about 30 minutes away by car, but there are three upscale hotels at the site. Since we decided - for a reason that I can still not explain to myself - to see the sunrise atop of a Mayan temple, we stayed at the "Jungle Lodge", a mere couple of steps from the park entrance. For $40 a night we got a room without a bath, but the shared bathrooms were spotless. The electricity at the site runs only a few hours every morning and evening so we couldn't have the fan circulate the air in the room during the night, which made for quite a stifling sleep...

We entered the park after 3PM in order to avoid the heat and to be able to use the same ticket the next day. After wandering for a while on the long alleyways under the forest canopy and climbing aimlessly on some of the ruined temples we caught the sunset atop of the "Great Pyramid of the Lost World" together with a large group of very boisterous Spaniards who were having quite a party up there, drinking champagne and taking group pictures.

The next day we woke up at 4AM to catch the sunrise (or more exactly we were woken up by the howler monkeys who populate the treetops in the neighborhood), having hired a guide to take us into the park together with another couple that we had met the day before. You can't enter the park before 6AM without a "guide" (sunrise is around 5:45AM) so every masochistic tourist who wants to catch the sunrise (why? oh, why?) has to hire one for about $10 to $15 per person. It's quite a rip-off because the park is not that dark before the actual sunrise and we could have found our way easily. I wonder who gets a cut of that money...

We climbed the temple number IV (tallest in Tikal) and sat around with a group of people - in silence this time. For obvious reasons it seems that sunrises are to be watched in silence while sunsets are meant for partying. I took a lot of pictures, but since my picture-taking skills suck, nothing really impressive came out of it. Of one thing I'm sure, I was the first to leave the top, being bored of so much sunrise watching... For the next few hours, in the cool morning air, I explored the temples and the acropolis in the central zone while Angela rested under a tree (still hurting from all that trotting the day before). By 8:30AM we were out of the park and ready to leave.

So yes, Tikal is worth seeing but it's got your wallet squeezed tight. Transport in and out is not cheap, they will change your dollars at prices you'd hate yourself for accepting, and drinking water costs an arm and a leg... whatcha gonna do, drink the one at the showers?

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