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19 August 2007
Temples in the mist
Sunrise in Tikal

Getting up at 3am wasn't as bad as I'd thought. Guess it helps when you go to bed at 9pm! However, getting to Tikal was a bit of a CF. The Guatemaltecos could take some tourism lessons from the Ticos... they don't quite have it down yet...

So a bunch of us were waiting in the street outside the hotel at the appointed time of 3:20am. And we waited. And we waited. At about 3:45, a shuttle pulled up. Woo-hoo, our ride to Tikal! Nope, it was full. And everyone in the street had a voucher from a different tour company, so I had to wait for three or four more shuttles to come by before I finally got on one. And then the driver circled a few more loops while he figured out who else he needed top pick. Guess who it was? That's right, the ducks were back! Fortunately they were all a bit more subdued at that hour, and there was no chatter on the way to the park.

The ride was about an hour long, just enough time for everyone who had been awake enough to get in the shuttle to fall asleep and get really groggy by the time we arrived. They hustled us out, in the dark, and instructed us to follow a guide to the sunrise point. Again, for some reason the man found it necessary to sprint through the park, on a very uneven path, with only a small flashlight. I am amazed nobody broke an ankle or anything.

When we got to Temple VI, the highest temple in the park, it was time to climb a series of steep rickety wooden stairs. More of a ladder, really. Whew! This is hard work! At the top were probably about 100 other tourists, trying to find the best spot, rustling through their bags to find cameras and water, and just generally fidgeting like tourists do. Two girls were actually trying to meditate. The scene before us was shrouded in mist, with howler monkeys and other creatures starting to warm up with a chorus of screeches, chirps, and growls. Very mystical and mysterious, and mostly tranquil if you could ignore all the fidgeting people around you.

Eventually the sun started to come up, and the air was filled with the familiar beep-crunch of a hundred digital cameras firing off. Very gradually the sun started burning off the haze, and temple sillhouettes began to appear in the distance across a great valley. It was spectacular. And for once, the weather was on our side! The past few days had been disastrously rainy. Can you imagine all that work just to get up there and sit in the rain? Nope, we definitely lucked out. It was a wonderful sunrise.

We got re-organized into groups according to our tour company and preferred language. Louis, our guide, spoke pretty good English (although his accent did sound a bit like Father Guido Sarducci) and was incredibly knowledgable about Mayan culture as well as the various flora and fauna in the park. We spent the next few hours climbing temples, watching trees full of toucans and monkeys, and learning about the many species of plants in the park. It was the most wildlife I'd seen since Costa Rica! And in an amazing setting. The civilization of Tikal was abandoned eons ago, and the forest grew in and over and around it. They're still unearthing huge temples from under mountains of dirt and foliage. It's a fascinating place.

The best part of getting there so early was finishing up by about 10am. (I felt a bit like I'd been drafted into the army... We get more done before 9am than most people do all day!) This was perfect, because it was starting to get ridiculously hot, and crowded. Apparently that day was Guatemalans Get In For Free day, and huge buses full of schoolkids and other locals began pouring into the park as we were leaving. Timing is everything!

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
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