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    Is This the Isthmus? Tour – Guatemala Part 19

    Tuesday, September 19, 2017
    Tikal, Guatemala

    Our guide, Julio, mugs it up at Tikal, Guatemala.
    Our guide, Julio, mugs it up at Tikal, Guatemala.

    Today at 8:00 am, I hopped on a mid-sized tourist shuttle bus for a 75-minute ride northeast from Flores over to Tikal, the most revered site of Mayan temple ruins in Guatemala, which flourished from around 300 BC to 900 AD. Upon arrival, we were given a few minutes to grab a snack “to go” from a cafe across the street. Then we all met up in front of a large scale model of the Tikal temple complex inside the Visitors Center. There, our excellent guide, Julio, with the aid of a laser pointer, gave us a long lecture on the history, orientation, function and meaning of each temple. (He would go on to do this at each temple we stopped at, as well as in the jungle between, offering up some info on plant and animal life, as well.)

    A scale model of the Tikal temple complex at the Visitors Center in Tikal, Guatemala.
    A scale model of the Tikal temple complex at the Visitors Center in Tikal, Guatemala.

    Next, we went on a pleasant 20-minute stroll through the jungle, where we (barely) saw a couple of spider monkeys high up in the trees. Arriving at Complex Q, which was built in 771 AD, we got to climb up onto one of two smallish, twin, flat-topped pyramids, which was really cool. Actually, it made me feel really warm, even though it was hotter outside than the interior of a sperm whale’s lower intestines. “Twin-pyramid complexes were regularly built at the great city of Tikal to celebrate the end of the 20-year k’atun cycle of the Maya Long Count Calendar.”–Wikipedia

    One of the twin pyramids of Complex Q at Tikal, Guatemala.
    One of the twin pyramids of Complex Q at Tikal, Guatemala.

    Our second stop was at Temple IV, which “was built around 741 AD, and is still one of the tallest and most voluminous buildings in the Maya world. The pyramid was built to mark the reign of the 27th king of the Tikal dynasty, Yik’in Chan K’awiil, although it may have been built after his death as his funerary temple.”–Wikipedia. Climbing on this temple is forbidden, but luckily, there’s a long, steep wooden staircase on the left side. The top offers a grand view of a vast jungle expanse dotted with other majestic temple tops jutting out here and there in the distance.

    A view from the top of one of the twin pyramids of Complex Q at Tikal, Guatemala.
    A view from the top of one of the twin pyramids of Complex Q at Tikal, Guatemala.

    After a short rest break at a hut that sold cold drinks, we passed a couple of small, unexcavated temples that were still covered with soil and foliage. We were on our way over to Mundo Perdido, the largest ceremonial complex dating from the Pre-Classic period (before 250 AD). There, while Julio lectured for a few minutes, we got to glance at Temple 5C49, which features “prominent talud-tablero architecture, a style associated with Teotihuacan in Mexico. Talud-tablero consists of an inward-sloping surface or panel called the talud, with a panel or structure perpendicular to the ground sitting upon the slope called the tablero. This may also be referred to as the slope-and-panel style.”–Wikipedia

    Walking through the jungle toward Temple IV at Tikal, Guatemala.
    Walking through the jungle toward Temple IV at Tikal, Guatemala.

    The massive, jungle-covered Temple IV at Tikal, Guatemala.
    The massive, jungle-covered Temple IV at Tikal, Guatemala.

    From Mundo Perdido, it was a mere hop, skip and a jump over to our last guided stop: The Great Plaza, dominated by the magnificent Temple I, my personal favorite. There, Julio gave his final lecture of the day, and cut us loose to either leave in time to catch the 3:00 pm bus back to Flores, or stay and visit any other temples we may have missed. Unfortunately, the bright sunlight was quickly blocked by grey and black clouds just before I could take photos of the Great Plaza, which really made them suffer.

    Temples I and II jut out of the jungle in the distance as a girl shoots a photo on top of Temple IV at Tikal, Guatemala.
    Temples I and II jut out of the jungle in the distance as a girl shoots a photo on top of Temple IV at Tikal, Guatemala.

    “Dedicated in 732 AD, Temple I is known as the Temple of the Great Jaguar due to the presence of a carved wooden lintel above a doorway representing a king sitting upon a jaguar throne. An alternative name is the Temple of Ah Cacao, after a ruler buried inside. The structure is a funerary temple associated with Jasaw Chan K’awiil I, a Classic Period ruler of the polity based at Tikal, who ruled from 682–734 AD. Temple I rises 47 meters (154 feet) over the Great Plaza, and is topped by a funerary shrine.”–Wikipedia

    A close-up of Temples I and II jutting up out of the jungle at Tikal, Guatemala.
    A close-up of Temples I and II jutting up out of the jungle at Tikal, Guatemala.

    At around 1:30 pm, the usual afternoon rainstorm dumped bunch of water on us. Luckily, I had my umbrella on hand, and avoided getting majorly soaked. At this point, I saw Julio sitting at a picnic table under a big thatched hut roof, giving some kind of Mayan numerology readings to a few members of our group. After snapping a portrait of Julio, I climbed up another long wooden staircase to the top of Temple II to shoot a few depressingly grey photos of the Great Plaza, including Temple I and the North Acropolis.

    A crowd shoots photos on top of Temple IV at Tikal, Guatemala.
    A crowd shoots photos on top of Temple IV at Tikal, Guatemala.

    “Temple II (or the Temple of the Masks) is a squat, massive structure dating to 700 AD. Today, it stands 38 metres (125 feet) high and is the most thoroughly restored of the major temples at Tikal. Temple II was built by the king Jasaw Chan K’awiil I in honour of his wife, Lady Kalajuun Une’ Mo’. Preliminary excavations of Temple II started in 1958. On December 21, 2012, more than 7,000 tourists visited Tikal to celebrate the supposed end of the world. Many of these tourists climbed the stairs of the pyramid, causing reported damages.”–Wikipedia

    Temple 5C49 in the Mundo Perdido complex at Tikal, Guatemala.
    Temple 5C49 in the Mundo Perdido complex at Tikal, Guatemala.

    The jungle, as seen from the top of Temple 5C49 in the Mundo Perdido complex at Tikal, Guatemala.
    The jungle, as seen from the top of Temple 5C49 in the Mundo Perdido complex at Tikal, Guatemala.

    At around 2:30 pm, I decided that I would skip the 3:00 pm bus back to Flores and explore some more temples instead. I figured, “I may never visit Tikal again, so I better take full advantage of it.” So, I headed back over to Mundo Perdido, where I climbed up the front stone steps to the top of Temple 5C49. I just sat perched up there in the quiet for a while, enjoying a killer view of the jungle. (By this time, most visitors had already left Tikal.) Then I climbed back down and checked out all four sides of the adjacent massive Lost World Pyramid, two sides of which are still covered with soil and trees.

    The front of the Lost World Pyramid in the Mundo Perdido complex at Tikal, Guatemala.
    The front of the Lost World Pyramid in the Mundo Perdido complex at Tikal, Guatemala.

    “The Lost World Pyramid (also known as the Great Pyramid) is the focus of the Mundo Perdido complex. It currently stands approximately 31 meters (102 feet) high. The Lost World Pyramid was one of the most massive construction projects ever undertaken at Tikal, and, in common with the rest of the complex, was periodically rebuilt throughout its history. The version now visible is the fifth, dating to around 250 AD. The masks that once adorned the sides of the building are now so eroded that it is not possible to determine if they were anthropomorphic or zoomorphic. Traces of painted stucco on the final version of the pyramid reveal that at some point the exterior was painted blue and red.”–Wikipedia

    The overgrown backside of the Lost World Pyramid in the Mundo Perdido complex at Tikal, Guatemala.
    The overgrown backside of the Lost World Pyramid in the Mundo Perdido complex at Tikal, Guatemala.

    Next, I stopped by the The Plaza of the Seven Temples, “which takes its name from a row of seven small temples dating to the Late Classic Period (600–900 AD). The plaza has a surface area of approximately 25,000 square meters (270,000 square feet), making it one of the three largest plazas in Tikal. It also features three ball-courts and human heads carved into the surrounding stone walls.”–Wikipedia. This place looked awesome with its ancient rock facades covered with soil, moss and grass.

    Some moss-covered ruins at Tikal, Guatemala.
    Some moss-covered ruins at Tikal, Guatemala.

    As I exited the Plaza of the Seven Temples, the Sun peaked out from behind the clouds, which caught me by surprise. So, I hightailed it back over to the Great Plaza to shoot some photos of the glorious Temple I basking in the golden light. (You never know, clouds could easily obscure the sun again at any given moment.) As this was my final stop of the day, I made it count, sitting for quite a while up on the observation deck near the top of Temple II and soaking in the grand view of the sunlit Great Plaza down below.

    The Plaza of the Seven Temples at Tikal, Guatemala.
    The Plaza of the Seven Temples at Tikal, Guatemala.

    Our guide, Julio, draws a graph in the dirt at Tikal, Guatemala.
    Our guide, Julio, draws a graph in the dirt at Tikal, Guatemala.

    Around 4:45 pm, I exited the Great Plaza and headed back toward the Visitors Center. In the jungle, off in the distance, I heard a huge crowd of howler monkeys completely going off. It sounded like some kind of nightmare world of ghosts and dinosaurs screaming at each other. I wanted to record it really bad, but it was in the opposite direction and my feet and lower legs were way too fatigued to schlep over there.

    An intricately carved face on the roof of Temple II at Tikal, Guatemala.
    An intricately carved face on the roof of Temple II at Tikal, Guatemala.

    After another pleasant 30-minute walk through the jungle, I reached the Visitors Center. I was surprised at how desolate it was. The only other people around were just a few employees going home on motorcycles or on the occasional shuttle van. I was getting worried the final bus at 6:00 pm would not show up. Eventually, about nine other foreigners straggled out of Tikal and, sure enough, we ended up getting packed into a small shuttle van right around 6:00 pm for the long ride back to Flores.

    Temple I rules the world of Tikal, Guatemala.
    Temple I rules the world of Tikal, Guatemala.

    Words and photos ©2017 Arcane Candy.

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