Ruins, Ruins, and more Ruins - Saturday, March 08, 2003

Our adventures to Tikal required a pretty long day of travel. We picked up our enjoyable one and a half hour water taxi ride through the islands from the Caye back to Belize City in order to connect with our bus to Guatemala. We were informed by a local that we should expect our 10am bus to show up on Belize Time. So of course this meant the bus would be about an hour or so late. He was right. During the wait we managed to meet many colorful characters who were attempting to sell things, recite poetry, and just jabber away with someone from a foreign country. Of course there was no way in hell that we could have even been mistaken for a local. The bus finally arrived and we headed off for the 5 hour bus ride and the Belize/Guatemala border crossing.

One thing we need to point out is that none of the roads in Central America are "freeways" in the sense we know them in the US. They seem to only have 2 lanes, max speed limit of about 80k/h, cattle & horses crossing at will, and horrible drivers. This all makes for very lengthy travel times between cities. On top of that, traveling is very noisy as many cars have no mufflers, squealing brakes, and the drivers seem to speak to one another in a special language using their horns. So at anytime as you pass another car in either direction it seems to be followed by a beep, beep! They also use this special language to alert the many people before we pass them, who just seem to wandering the roads in and around the countryside.

After passing through the Guatemala/Belizean border crossing unscathed, we proceeded on our trip to El Remate - a good town to use as a jumping off point for visiting the Mayan Ruins of Tikal. The way to visit this famous World Heritage Site properly involves the following:

- Waking up at 4:30am to meet your shuttle bus to the ruins
- Take sunrise photos across the ruins
- Tramp around with a guide for 1/2 a day starting early to beat the heat of the CA sun and humidity.

The park opens at 6am and then you get one of the highly recommended tour guides to take you around. These guys all have college degrees in tourism with an emphasis on Mayan history and culture, so they really know their stuff about Tikal. On our shuttle bus ride to the ruins, we met several folks who wanted to get a guide - Will & Arabella from our hotel plus a few others.

Hector expertly led us around explaining in depth the fascinating history, building styles of pre-, post- classic, and inside information that only a local guide would know about Tikal. Many people were wandering around the ruins clueless, without the services of a guide or guidebook, and just soaked in the sights without really getting any good information. I'm sure they got a good tan, but we were really glad that we decided to hire a guide. It was only ~$10 for the two of us...what a bargain!!

One thing that really pissed us off was that random folks seems to join our tour group at every stopping point to drink in Hector's knowledge. So, not only did our group grow in size from 10 to about 20, these extra people failed to pay our guide and monopolized his time! A few of them paid what amounted to a tip of about 1/8 of what he should have earned. It´s really sad when you know that a guide is being taken advantage of. Hector worked hard for his education and to learn English (not easy), obviously is taking a lot of pride and interest in his countries history (a long embattled history at that), and is part of the movement in the country to welcome tourism as a viable resource for this very poor country. Hector should have made about $90-100 off the group, and it turns out he was jobbed. We were suprised that Hector didn't keep the group size small or at least inform everyone of the costs.. Whatever...we still learned a ton!

Besides that, Tikal was quite amazing, and we enjoyed crawling around the ruins and walking in the places of ancient leaders. Many of these ruins are over 60m high and the tallest is 80m, offering an amazing view over the vast Peten area jungle. The screeches of howler monkeys and parrots could be heard as the jungle awoke to the morning sun. The Mayans were quite sophisticated architects, astrologers, engineers and had a very complicated religion. Besides building amazing structures, we saw their ability to precisely align and engineer their city of Tikal so that they always had building at all four points of the compass. The aquaduct system which supplied fresh water for the city was quite sophisticated. Set in the jungle canopy, the site today consists of over 3,000 buildings, including a handful of impressively tall temples that tower above the forest. At its peak some 1,500 years ago, Tikal was home to an estimated 100,000 Maya living and working together. They also made alliances with other cities in the Mayan world to benefit their survival and protect the empire.

All in all, Tikal has been one of the most fascinating places we have visited on our trip. We highly recommend it to anyone heading to CA. Pics coming soon!

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