David McCarthy, New Haven, CT

Tikal, Guatemala

Tikal – Is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centres of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It is located in the archaeological region of the Petén Basin in what is now modern-day northern Guatemala. Situated in the department of El Petén, the site is part of Guatemala’s Tikal National Park and in 1979 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tikal was the capital of a conquest state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya. Though monumental architecture at the site dates back as far as the 4th century BC, Tikal reached its apogee during the Classic Period, ca. 200 to 900 AD, during which time the city dominated much of the Maya region politically, economically, and militarily while interacting with areas throughout Mesoamerica, such as the great metropolis of Teotihuacan in the distant Valley of Mexico; there is evidence that Tikal was conquered by Teotihuacan in the 4th century AD. Following the end of the Late Classic Period, no new major monuments were built at Tikal and there is evidence that elite palaces were burned. These events were coupled with a gradual population decline, culminating with the site’s abandonment by the end of the 10th century.

Getting there
Completely exhausted, I had forgotten what day it was and thus deemed it impossible to make to Tikal by bus from Antigua if I still wanted to make my flight home. Thinking it was a day ahead, I missed my actual chance at the 9 hour bus trip to Tikal because I only had 3 days left in Guatemala. Determined to see the ruins I was not going to give up. I immediately began price shopping for plane tickets, and soon enough I was off to Tikal. Arriving in Flores at 9:00pm I spoiled myself and stayed at the only hotel with a pool being that I was not going to have enough time to enjoy and explore the town. Asleep by 12:30am and up byt 5:00 to catch the 1.5 hour bus to the temples, I was more than excited!

The Climate
Very very very very very very hot.

Being in the Mayan Ruins
Stepping off the bus, I was starving and the only thing available to eat were pre-made sandwiches and tea. I bought one and hastefully removed the packaging. At first glance,  it seemed something had died in it. An English girl I met on the bus said that it looked good to her. After her first bite she nearly vomited and we both requested our money back.

Site Map

Within a few steps inside the jungle at about 7:00 am I was able to hear the jungle come alive. Monkeys were screaming and birds were yelling, it was quite intimidating.

Standing in the presence of the temples was an experience like none other. They were massive, everywhere, and extremely far apart.  To walk from one side of the ruins to the other takes about 2 hours. I met up with a private tour guide and picked his brain in the main plaza for about an hour and a half. He taught me all about the Mayan calendar and the meaning of the temples all around. They were a very smart people, with mathematical skills far superior then ours today.  He told me that this site would be similar to the Las Vegas of today.  He said that in there heyday there would of been no trees, the jungle was completely cleared out like the metropolises of today.

There wasn’t any food available in the inside the ruins other then chips and cola. The only substance I had consumed were a few bottled waters  and a colas. I had not eaten that entire day till 5:30 pm. I photographed the first meal that day, you can view it in this gallery. =]

Walking aimlessly through the rain-forest, I found a worker excavating a newly discovered pyramid. Being by his side for 20 minutes or so we struggled through the language barrier and were able to have a few conversations.  After which I asked  him for a few  Mayan ceramic fragment artifacts, he was very nice and gave me some. He also told me to be quiet about it, that he and I could be in a lot of trouble if anyone found out.

Getting out
I had only one day in Tikal, and spent every ounce of it at the ruins. I was all set and ready to catch the 4:00pm shuttle back to Flores to then catch the plane out. The bus driver decided to skip the 4:00 shuttle back to Flores and force everyone to wait for the 5:00 shuttle because there was not enough people for him to make a profit. With a plane ticket for 7:00 out of Flores to Guatemala city and a quick turnaround from there back to the states, I was completely helpless. Nevertheless, we departed from Tikal at 5:30. However the driver went out of the way to drop off all his friends that worked at the ruins at their homes. He knew that I had to go the airport. Trying to be nice he then went even farther out of the way to bring me directly there without telling me. We showed up at the airport but my bag was still at my hotel. Now I had to get to the hotel and back to the airport in 15 minutes. Repeating the phrases, aprisa and por favor along with dishing out generous amounts of money, I made it in time to walk on my plane.

Thinking that they would not allow me to keep the artifacts, and not wanting to go to a third world jail, I decided to hide them in my checked luggage. One of them slipped my eye and remained in my carry on. I was extremely frightened that they would know what it was and call the local authorities. A tourist who saw it said, “oh wow that’s that?” I replied with, “ohh I don’t know, I found it.” I was allowed to run back to the baggage check and reinsert it into my bag after a lot of convincing. After rechecking my bag, I then walked right onto the plane; sigh.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 7th, 2009 at 5:41 pm and is filed under Photography, Travel Photography. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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