Tikal is a "must see" if you happen to be in Guatemala. We are going. Bags are packed and we await our water taxi to town.
We will ride the luxury bus from Fronteras to the town of Flores. Located in the north of Guatemala, close to Belize and Mexico, the ride will take about 5 hours. The concepts of "luxury" and "on time" are unique here in Central America. Our bus due to arrive at 3pm is late, about an hour. The bus is not full of people but looks like maybe it was an hour ago and perhaps there was an impromptu party onboard. The smell from the lavatory in the back of the bus supports the "impromptu party" theory. Fortunately we find seats close to the front of the bus and the air conditioning is working. If only we could sleep for then next 5 hours.
We arrive at our destination at 7:30pm. We are met at the bus stop by taxi drivers, van drivers, scooter drivers and tuk-tuks wanting to take us somewhere, anywhere. Pleeeeeease! We have done our homework, however, and we know the island of Flores is very very small and we can walk to our hotel in a matter of minutes. After 5 hours on the bus walking is great. The night is beautiful.
The next morning we wake up and head to the Best Coffee Restaurant.
Cool Beans is the real name of the restaurant and it comes highly recommended by friends who know their coffee.
We almost walk right by the place. It is well hidden.
We agree the coffee and food are fantastic and so do our traveling friends, Anita and Carter.
Tikal is still another hour away by minivan. We are not leaving Flores until the afternoon so we have all morning to explore. Flores is a delightful place with a Malecon that circumnavigates the island.
The surrounding lake is beautiful and clean.
Steve, the amazing photographer that he is, takes this shot from a postcard. This is the island of Flores.
It is idyllic here. You can look at the lake all day. You can also watch the locals swim back and forth to this little island.
Or you can push your own little island around with your dugout canoe?
The interior is home to lots of shops, restaurants, hotels and scooters.
Our hotel room has a nice view and air conditioning. Are you getting an idea of our priorities?
Our 3 o'clock minivan is an hour late. What a shock? We have a sunset tour scheduled with our hotel in Tikal. Normally we would be a bit panicked but we are on island time and we figure being late is not really being late it is more like arriving at just the right time!
Getting to Tikal will cost you some $$$. The park entry fee for the Guatemalan people is 25Q. The entry fee for you and I is 150Q. We understand this and think it would be a good idea for the USA to adopt a similar fee structure for our precious and underfunded national parks. Raise your hand if you agree.
By the way, 1 US $ converts to 7.90Q.
We are almost there.
There are three hotels within the park. We arrive just in time to throw our stuff in our room and begin our sunset tour with our guide. Oh wait, one more thing. To be in the park after 6pm we must pay an additional security fee of 100Q per person. What the $#^%$$#. That is what Captain potty mouth says. We all concur but we are now going nowhere fast and until we pony up the fee we cannot see the sun set behind the ruins. We reorient ourselves to our present location of Central America and hand over the dough.
Our guide rushes us and makes us hike some steep paths at a very very very fast pace. Soon we are rewarded. We enter the Grand Plaza and see the magnificent Gran Jaguar Temple. It was built in the year 700 AD by the governor Jesaw Chan K'awill I.
How did the Mayan workers build such a spectacular temple? There were no cranes or helicopters to lift heavy stones. There were no beasts to do the job either. Every stone, weighing about 60 pounds, was lifted by men into position. Needless to say, the Mayan workers did not live long nor did they ever get to collect Social Security.
Across the Grand Plaza, directly opposite of the Grand Jaguar Temple, is the Mascarones Temple. It was also built in 700 AD by the same governor and was said to resemble the governor's wife! Lucky guy!
The city of Tikal is spread over approximately 6.2 square miles. During its hayday the population exceeded 60,000 people. You can hike this mystical place and almost see the people going about their daily lives.
Tikal was first discovered in the late 1800's by locals tapping trees for rubber. Buried beneath the jungle, the buildings were excavated by the University of Pennsylvania in the 1950's. It is still not completely uncovered and perhaps it never will be? It is a labor of love that is very expensive and maintaining the exposed ruins is a task beyond the government of Guatemala.
Our guide wanted us to climb to the top of one of the temples in the Grand Plaza. He took down the "do not climb" sign and up we went. We, of course, know better but sometimes you have to be a little bit of a rebel. And we were all still thinking about our 100Q security fee.
And from up here the sunset is beautiful.
At twilight the buildings are mystic.
What goes up must come down...and it is a long steep descent.
Engraved mask at a burial site.
Our favorite tree. Known here as the tree of life.
A little different perspective.
At Tikal you can hike unattended. We are enjoying the early morning cool to see some of the other sites.
A well dressed turkey.
An acrobatic spider monkey
And three thirsty travelers back in Flores looking for the perfect Mojito.
We may have found them! Oops, someone snuck in a Rum n'coke?
It is not often the Captain deviates from his rum and coke but he is walking on the wild side tonight. Mojitos all around por favor (after the initial rum and coke ofcourse).
Our last night in Flores we are rewarded with another spectacular sunset.
We survive our bus trip back to the Rio Dulce. We were pleasantly surprised with a clean bus and bathroom. Now it is time to get ready for a sail trip.
We will be heading to Belize soon.
From the top of the mast of Fine Line.
The bay at Mario's Marina
Our batteries are onboard. The transaction was not without the usual Central American dramatics. The batteries were held up in Honduras. They were shipped to a duty free port there but the paperwork was not to their liking. Honduran custom officials fined the battery import company. They passed part of the fine onto us and one other boater. That will be $200 dollars. It did not end there. The driver picking up our batteries was stopped at the border between Honduras and Guatemala and he was told he did not have all the correct paperwork. That cost us another $60. The driver then decided the batteries were really heavy, duh, and he wanted an additional $30 dollars. Can we put our hands down now?
We would like to pout and whine but we are leaving and we are smiling . We do feel sorry for all the great Guatemalan people that live here and have to deal with the day to day governmental inconsistencies.
See you in Belize in a few days.
Steve and Anne
S/V Fine Line