The alarm went off at 3:30am, long before the hotel electricity turns on. Getting ready by flashlight and emergency lamp, I pulled myself out of bed and got ready for the journey through the jungle. In the lobby the guide had hot coffee waiting for us. There were about 15 or so people already gathered ready for their sunrise experience. Some looking perky and others like they’d rather be in bed. Being the morning person, as soon as I’m up, I’m ready for the day and going strong until it’s done! The groups split off by guide and off we went.
It was pitch black as we walked down the dirt path to the sound of howler monkey’s growling in the distance. An eerie sound. The guide shared that they used howler monkey’s to create the sound of T-Rex. I’d believe it. Only half of us had packed flashlights so the others hugged close following our light. Who knows what might be lurking just outside the flashlight’s range. It was a 45 minute walk to Temple IV where we’d watch the sunrise around 6am. He kept us as a pretty low key pace and stopped periodically to shine lights on various ruins and share with us facts on what each was, how they fit into the overall ‘city’, etc.
When we reached spot between Temple I and Temple II, he had us stand over a stone circle and listen as he created an echo between the two temples. Some people heard it reverberate 3-4 times. My lousy ears couldn’t hear more than 1-2, but alas. It was still fascinating. The darkness was beginning to lift and although we still needed our flashlights, the sky was starting to turn a slight blue and it was clear dawn was coming. Temple IV is the highest temple and the staircase is quite long. Many people had to stop a few times, especially with the humidity. Even I was a bit winded by the top.
As we all huddled on the stairs that towered well into the sky, we could see over the trees at the tops of a few of the temples. It was magical. The howler monkey’s were in full force as the sun rose as if they were surrounding on all sides. We all sat in almost complete silence. The midst quickly came in and engulfed us in it’s cloak. Today we would not see the sunrise. The morning hike, the juggle walk, the guided tour, the mystical fog surrounding the temples, the eerie sounds of monkeys, it was all well worth it. Having reached the temple in complete darkness it was heavenly ascending down and realizing we were in the middle of a stone empire with temples and ruins everywhere.
Ready for breakfast it was time to return. The guided sunrise tour included both dinner for the prior night and breakfast from a set menu. Being a creature of habit, I got the fried eggs, refried beans, and fruit. Despite the fact it was only 9am, the heat of the day combined with the humidity created an intensity that was difficult to shake. After a bit of a work out, I enjoyed some time in the pool. Luckily the Jaguar Inn was full, because I’m so glad to have landed at the Tikal Inn with their lovely pool.
The food at the Tikal Inn was good, but I was curious what the food at the Jaguar Inn would be like so made a gander across the way to go check it out. Their lunch menu was quite extensive and I was pleased to see so many coffee and wine options. My kind of place. The hostess was lovely and spoke great English. She recommended the chicken pita sandwich. Normally the word sandwich makes me grimace, but I went with it and so glad I did. It was absolutely delightful, fresh ingredients, made with care, complex flavor combinations. Jaguar Inn wins for best meal so far hands down.
Following lunch I wanted to finish seeing everything Tikal had to offer. My last time at the ruins the guy I came with got really sick and we had to cut the visit short. Joy of sensitive stomachs and Central America. This time I wanted to see every single temple, going one by one on the map until I felt I’d seen it all. It’s hard to imagine I’d be back for a third time, so this was my moment. I pulled out the map and realized it wasn’t the most intuitive to orientate with, and I’m even a map/logistics/directions person. Eventually I got it sorted and was on my way!
Every time you leave and enter the park, they require you to pass through the check point. The check point is exclusively in Spanish. Though they seem used to those of us with broken Spanish and those without any Spanish. The map has time marked on each of the paths so you know how far you’re walking to get to the next temple. Some of the temples are quite a bit away from the center. The park is not a hot spot for tourists, so much of the long treks between temples were just me and the jungle for the 20-30 minute jaunts. Occasionally there would be a sound of something off in the depths of the jungle (hoping deer and not jaguar!). Luckily the only thing I saw was monkeys, little cuddly baby monkeys.
The temples were impressive, towering giants that remind of how amazing humans are to be able to have architected and built such marvels as early as the 4th century BCE. It reached it’s height between 200 and 900 AD. Just incredible to think of the amount of people that lived at this site, between 10,000 and 90,000 people. How this was a functioning city, with commerce and residence. The Mayans are suspected to be small people though the steps to the temples are quite large, and the heights of some of the temples are upwards of 200 feet high!
After a full day of scouting out every temple and taking hundreds of photos, the sun was starting to show signs of setting soon and that meant the long walk back through the jungle was higher prone for jaguars! Choosing the shortcut through the jungle, there was still a little daylight for another delightful swim in the pool before dinner. The parrots were out and flying about landing in the trees surrounding. Their chirps were magical and very distinctive. I found myself mesmerized with their beauty. Unlike the Mayan ruins in Copan Honduras, which I also visited 15 years back, Tikal has the green parrots, still quite lovely.
Having eaten such an incredible lunch at the Jaguar Inn, they won over the dinner choice as well. Chicken in a light cream sauce with a local spinach equivalent paired with fresh vegetables. Oh how I love vegetables. Unlike everywhere before, red wine wasn’t the only option, they actually had different varietals to choose from. Such a good choice to dine there! It was a long and delightful day that couldn’t have been more perfect.
Now off to bed as the bus back to Belize leaves at 7am.