Guatemala: Tikal

TIKAL: maya ruins in the jungle

Sunday, 29 July 2007, Panajachel
We've been getting a little behind in our updates since arriving in Guatemala. Although we have travelled quite some distance over some less than comfortable roads, the scenery has really been worth it everywhere we've been so far. We left Belize on July 11 and the border crossing into Guatemala went very smoothly. We crossed at Melchor de Mencos and headed directly to Tikal. Unfortunately the first 30 or more kilometres of road were somewhat less than smooth! One thing we have noticed after 2½ weeks of driving Guatemalan roads is that when they are paved they are often very good roads - but when they are not they are atrocious! It is not uncommon to have to travel many kilometres at maximum speeds of 20 km/h.
Other than a short stop at El Remate, on the shores of Lake Petén-Itzá, we drove directly to Tikal. The park is open from 6.00am until 6.00pm. We arrived in time to buy a ticket for the next day which allowed us to enter that afternoon until closing - this is possible after 3.00. We spent a little more than 2 hours at the ruins and it was nice because it was cooler and there were not many people around - all the day trippers had returned to Flores by then. The jungle is lush and green, with a myriad of smells - sometimes they change dramatically every 10 metres or so. During our drive that day we had stopped several times to check out a smell that we thought might have been hot brakes or the clutch, but could never find anything. Imagine our surprise when it was one of the predominating smells we experienced walking through the jungle in Tikal. We spotted Spider Monkeys, Howler Monkeys, a Toucan and a couple of Trogans - close relative of the famous, but elusive, Quetzal - during our time there.
We camped overnight at the Jaguar Inn and were woken around 4.00 by people leaving for the sunrise tour into the ruin site. We had expected this and didn't mind since we had gone to bed reasonably early - the generator is turned off at 9.00pm and the place becomes very quiet then. By the time we had woken up properly and eaten breakfast, the park was open and we entered shortly after 6.00! It was really lovely walking through the jungle in the cool of the morning, and we managed to visit the majority of the site by 11.00. It is one of the most beautiful ruin sites we have visited. Not only is the setting lovely, but the buildings seem to be less 'restored' than in Mexico. We got the impression that in Guatemala they uncover more than rebuild - I'm not sure if that is true but it seemed to be so. I climbed 4 of the structures and scared myself when I reached the top of a couple of them, wondering if I had the courage to go back down - they are very high and very steep.
After a strenuous morning we decided to rest in the afternoon and travel on the next day. We weren't quite sure where we were heading - Lake Petén-Itzá at El Remate had looked quite inviting but we had to get to an ATM and refill a gas bottle, so we drove on to Santa Elena where we could manage both of those things, and then over the bridge to Flores just to have a look. Flores is basically a tourist town, on an island in the lake, with hotels, restaurants and internet cafés. It is not a good place to drive with our truck, as the streets are really narrow so, with the absence of anywhere inviting to stay in Santa Elena and the fact that it had started to rain quite heavily, we drove on to Poptún and Finca Ixobel.
Finca Ixobel is a working farm that is owned by an American woman. She has developed it into a tourist attraction with a good restaurant and many activities offered. There is a large open area, dotted with 'treehouses' for accommodation, where we were able to camp. Electricity was available, as were very clean bathrooms. There was also internet up at the restaurant/main building. We stayed 5 days just resting, catching up on computer stuff and reading a lot - we still weren't sure where we wanted to go next so we spent quite a bit of time reading our travel guide book. The food was usually quite good but unfortunately we couldn't eat the buffet offered for dinner every night because sometimes everything came with garlic. On the nights when it was largely garlic free, we enjoyed the break from preparing our own food.
Staying there also gave us the opportunity to mix with a variety of people and share travel stories. We had been missing that lately, so it was very pleasant. There were no other campers for a couple of days, but then Tommy and Manuela arrived in their VW. They are from Germany and also travelling towards Panama and probably South America. We spent considerable time with them sharing travel information we had both collected along the way.

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