27 people and a chicken in a VW camper van

Trip Start Nov 14, 2006
Trip End May 15, 2007

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Tikal National Park

Flag of Guatemala  ,
Thursday, December 21, 2006

The journey to Tikal was hilarious in retrospect, although it didn't feel quite so funny at the time. We managed to get a dirt cheap taxi from Belize to the Guatemalan border instead of our original plan of getting the bus all the way from Belize City to Flores (near Tikal). This seemed like a great money-saving idea at the time until we arrived at the border with no onward transport and all the buses to Flores were full. We were immediately descended upon by touts offering us overpriced taxis and eventually managed to negotiate ourselves what we thought was a good deal. We loaded our bags into the boot and sat back for the ride. The next thing we knew, we were being bundled out of the taxi into an already overcrowded VW camper-style van and our bags had been thrown on the top just as it was starting to rain. The van, which was meant to seat 12 people, kept stopping along the journey to pack in more people and the driver managed to squeeze in 27 humans and a chicken at one point. Needless to say, we got a scheduled bus on the journey back!

The Tikal National Park is simply awe-inspiring and was well worth the effort of the journey. 150 years ago Wrigley's rubber gatherers discovered a group of jungle-covered hills in an otherwise flat area of Guatemala. Some of these hills were found to have man-made rooms at the summits, that archeologists later discovered to be up to two thousand years old. On further excavation, the hills turned out to be giant temples built by the Maya that had been deserted and overrun by jungle. Over the last century, many of these temples have been cleared and there are now over 4,000 known temples and buildings within the main site and over 40,000 in the surrounding area.

When we entered the park, we decided to visit a few of the smaller, less visited temples first. We hardly saw another tourist in these areas, and it was a great feeling to walk through the jungle and to glimpse abandoned temples within the trees. We thought that these temples were impressive enough, so when we finally arrived at the Central Plaza the scale of it took our breath away.

The five main temples have been cleared and restored to a point where you can truly appreciate how impressive they would have been when they were originally constructed. The best way to take in the scale of the whole site is to climb to the top of these temples, the highest of which is over 72m. Since these temples tower above the tree line, they also afford spectacular views over the surrounding area.

By sheer chance, our visit to Tikal coincided with the winter solstice and the associated Mayan festival. This attracted some very "entertaining" characters, which afforded top class people-watching potential to rival the sunset views from the top of the temple.
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