Guatemala continues to amaze me with its beauty. From ancient buildings, built to dizzying heights, to cultures that knew more about the stars and planets than I do now(which may not be too hard), to raging rivers that simply disappear into the earth and caves that lead deep into the belly of the mountains, this place is blessed with such an abundance of natural beauty and powerful energy that I struggle to find words to even come close to doing it any justice. We left the lake and headed to Tikal, an ancient Mayan city in the north with some of the most impressive buildings of the era. It was a long trip to get there and after heading to Antigua and then on to Guatemala City, we caught an overnight bus to takes us to Flores, the closest town. After a short stop for breakfast and to relax a while we caught a cab out to Tikal and got settled in to the little camp site that we would stay in for our time there. Tikal covers an area of sixty square kilometers and a lot of it has not been uncovered yet as this opens up the ruins to the effects of erosion and damage by the weather. The fact that these massive structures still stand proud though is part of the amazing Mayan legacy. The architecture of the ancient city is built mostly from limestone and includes the remains of temples, large royal palaces, in addition to a number of smaller pyramids, palaces, residences, administrative buildings, platforms and inscribed stone monuments. There are also ball courts where they used to play the traditional Mayan ball game in which, according to some historians, the winning team would be sacrificed and granted a good death and entry into the afterlife.
We entered the park later that afternoon and spent our time wondering through the jungles and visiting the huge complex of ruins that made up this impressive city. To stand before an ancient pyramid, made without the use of machinery or even the wheel, to see it rise up 60 M above you and to gaze upon the stone carvings of the different gods as the peer down upon you, how do you describe all these feelings?? How do you describe how small it makes you feel, while also empowering you that you are part of this human race that is capable of so much?? There were times where words just were not needed, or rather capable, and Joe and I just let out a low whistle or some other insufficient remark. As the sun sank lower and the heat evaporated a little we made our way to temple 4, the tallest of the temples to sit and look out over the jungle, with the tops of three other temples breaking the canopy to join us for the amazing view. The best thing is that there was nothing that was different from how it would have been all those many years ago when some Mayan elder sat there and peered out at the vast jungle below. To see the evidence of a civilization that was so powerful and so advanced, and now gone, also made me think of where were at today, we still build temples and monuments, and in our minds they are eternal, they will last forever, as I’m sure the people of that time thought as well. Nothing last forever though I guess, it was humbling to remember that.
We were up early the next morning to head back into the park for the 4 a.m. tour. Our guide was amazingly knowledgeable and gave a great insight into the buildings beliefs and everyday life of the Mayan people. He gave an amazing description and transformed what the day before had been amazingly impressive buildings into a picture of a working, living, breathing city. His descriptions of what the different buildings were and how the city would have looked in its day were truly amazing. To hear about the kings that ruled and how the layout of the city was no accident showed just how advanced the Maya were. The day after we went, on the solstice of the 21st of September, the shadow of the temple of the sun would be overlaid onto the temple of the moon, the whole city is planned out that way and their understanding of astrology and also engineering to build these great cities is evident is so many ways. We made our way through the darkness, back to temple four, where we sat in silence as the sun slowly began to turn the night into day. As the darkness faded, the jungle below began to wake up and welcome the new day. Howler monkeys began marking their territory with their amazing voices, birds of all types began to fly out in search of the days food, toucans, orepundulas, woodpeckers, an amazing variety of colour and sound. Trees shook as groups of spider monkeys made their way along, jumping from tree to tree and swinging by their tails. Truth be told it’s the spider monkeys I like best, life would be good as a spider monkey I think. This has got to be one of the most amazing ways to start the day, so many sights sounds and feelings, it’s amazing just being there and being part of it. Once the sun had fully asserted itself in the sky, though with the mist still hanging in the trees, we made our way down and continued on learning more and more about this amazing place. The Mayans belief on the duality of things and how their gods were a part of life were especially interesting and their calendars and understanding of time was amazingly advanced. They really were an amazing people.
I say they were amazing because before I came here I sometimes, ignorantly, wondered what had happened to these great people? Where had they gone? I now know that they are still here, the Mayan people still live in Guatemala and speak 13 different languages. My time spent sitting in little street stalls and eating food, surrounded by colorful ladies and smiling kids speaking their native language of Q’uechi or Tz’utujil (depending on where you are) is something I will always remember. They are amazing languages and sound exotic and strange. These people are still right here and even though they are no longer the dominant culture here they are beautiful, strong and friendly people, and the kids are amazingly cute, I challenge you to try to turn down a little Mayan girl with big eyes trying to sell you something, I’ve now got more little bracelets than I know what to do with.
We decided to move on and head for our next stop of semuk champey , a place of amazing beauty that has been declared one of the wonders of the world. Here the Cahabon river disappears into the ground leaving a 300m natural bridge above it that is covered in amazing blue pools that get their colours from the limestone rock. Where the river disappears into the abyss below is a place of beauty and power as all that water crashes into the depths below, only to re-emerge further downstream with equal power and beauty. The pool themselves are a paradise where you can swim, slide from pool to pool and jump from the surrounding cliffs into the turquoise water below, I’ve never come across any other place like it before. We spent the day at the pools taking it all in and marveling at the amazing work that Mother Nature can do. One of the highlights if the place and actually the trip though was giving joe a hand while he helped Aravind, an Indian guy who was there with us, to swim and be comfortable in the water. Joe has got a great gift at being able to teach people and make them comfortable and to see Aravind go from panicking at the very thought of water to swimming around in his life jacket by the end of the day was something very human and very special. It was amazing to be part of.
Old Mother Nature wasn’t done showing off her creations just yet though, and later that afternoon we found ourselves standing at the mouth of a cave armed with candles ready to make our way into the depths of the mountainside. We plunged into the water that ran from the cave and made our way upstream and into the blackness. This was one of the coolest things I have ever done and as we slowly climbed, swam and hopped over rocks and through places where you would have to swim with your candle above your head we penetrated deeper into the darkness. There were places where waterfalls would crash down from passages above and occasionally your candle would suddenly die, and we would have to stop to relight, ladders strapped crudely to the rock and ropes strung likes spider’s web served as our guides as we continued on. we headed up stream for about an hour before coming to a spot where you could climb up and jump off into one of the larger pools. There were four of us in there, one being our guide, and it truly felt like we were in another world. It was very different from other things I had done before and was magical and scary. The cave system itself goes on for eleven kilometers and takes three days to reach the end. Not sure if I would be up for that, but maybe one day. The rest of the day was just spent sitting at the amazing hostel, which is right next to the river, and contemplating the day gone by and the amazing thing we have had the opportunity to experience.
Next day it was back to Antigua to get some good coffee, pick up the boards and head on to our next stop, and next country, El Salvador. The journey continues. I apologise for the long time between posts I very expertly managed to lock myself out of my e mail and blog and with the limited access to email here it’s been quite a mission getting it all back up and running. Got it sorted now though so were back on. Thanks for reading