The magnificent Temple of the
Jaguar at Tikal.
A little after 3 am we awoke from
our slumber to something of a shock.In the jungle
canopy above the lodge, a howler monkey demonstrated
exactly why they are so named. These monkeys, locally
known as baboons, make loud gutteral growls that
are often mistaken for the call of a Jaguar. This
particular Howler was up in one of the trees in
the courtyard which all our cabanas opened up to,
so we all had front row seats to his performance.
He continued his "howling" for about twenty
minutes, and then took a break. Shortly before the
sun came up, he started howling again for another
good half hour... there's no sleeping in late when
you have natures alarm clock outside your door.
After our early morning wake up call,
we hired a guide to take our group through the ruins
of Tikal. Our guide, Juan, had been guiding at Tikal
for about fifteen years and was very friendly and
informative. While talking to him about our expedition,
he proudly proclaimed that he helped lay out the
trails for Camel Trophy in Mundo Maya in Guatemala.
Rather than take us straight to the
ruins, Juan took us through some of the single track
trails or "shortcuts" in the jungle showing
us some of the indigenous flora and fauna of the
area. Because Tikal is a National Park, it is home
to a tremendously diverse array of animals. Along
the way, he showed us a species of giant catapillar
about six inches long that lived in the trees. Evidently,
they never turn into butterflies, but spend their
entire lives as catapillars.
catapillars cling to the jungle trees.
As we walked through the jungle paths,
Juan explained that the ruling class of the Mayan
people primarily used trickery to convince the commoners
that they were the favored of the gods and thus
worthy of ruling. Among the tricks they employed
was using acoustics in the architecture so that
when speaking from the top of a temple their voices
would be amplified and had a bizarre chirping echo.
In addition, the priests would use a type of signal
communication to relay from temple to temple across
the region, and thus "predict" to the
commoners when the rains were coming.
After years of inbreeding, the rulers
dumbed down and couldn't remember these little tricks
of the trade to keep the commoners in awe. The commoners
then believed that the gods had abandoned their
rulers, and so they left the cities. Or at least
that's one theory.
Nathan and Tracy
standing beside a massive caber tree.
of the caber tree were covered with "air
plants" where they were able to extract
valuable sunlight. atop the canopy.
Tikal was once a powerful capital
of the Mayan world. All Mayan cities were built
without use of the wheel (the Mayan believed the
wheel was a sacred symbol) and without beasts of
burden to move the rocks. The stones were carved
using flint as a tool. After the people abandoned
these great cities, the jungle soon grew over them
and covered the temples and buildings with dirt
and foliage, where they would remain, forgotten
for nearly a thousand years.
Scars from gum
harvesting adorn a chicle tree. Slashes were
made dozens of feet up the trees, and drip
chicle sap down into each other at the colecting
base. The gum is then gathered up in a burlap
bag wich the chicle farmer then coolects.
ruins of Tikal.
The main square
Tikal was then re-discovered in the
1800s by chicle farmers who would come through the
forest harvesting the gum from chicle trees. In
the late 1890s, the first anglo came to the ruins
of Tikal and did some exploring. Because the ruins
were engulfed by the jungle for more than a millennia,
they were well protected and preserved from the
elements. Now that many of these ruins have been
excavated, they are once again exposed and have
begun to decay. The solution that archeologists
and preservationists have come up with is to pull
the outermost stones out, cast them and then replace
the outer layer with either replica stones or with
fiberglass casts which look identical to the originals.
The Mundo Perdido
(The Lost World) temple in Tikal.
one of the first european explorers to these
ruins, left his signature on the wall of one
of the rooms.
A coate rests
n a tree root near the Temple of the Jaguar
Tikal has a series of four temples
lined up in a row. Each temple is slightly out of
alignment from the others. The temples are arranged
in such a way that the inner room of each one lights
up in turn on a seasonal equinox. Juan took us through
the woods to Mundo Perdido (the Lost World) another
set of ruins in Tikal. Along the way, he showed
us some tarantulas and even picked one up to show
us it's fangs. He had an interesting method of enticing
the spider out of the hole. This consisted of putting
a bit of spit on the end of a stick. The tarantula
would smell the saliva and come out to defend it's
nest, once out of its nest, he picked it up by its
thorax, which effectively immobilized it.
comes out of its hole.
at 'im, he's a beaut...
climbs the stairs to the top of Temple III
and Luis descend the steep steps of Temple
After touring the Mayan ruins, we
made our way back to the lodge by way of a short
cut. Along the way we saw a group of iradescent
butterflies flittering through the jungle, as well
as a well camoflauged walking stick bug. While stoping
to look at the interesting fauna, some of us became
separated from the main group. We stopped to look
at the walking stick and Craig Reece even picked
it up in his hand. Upon returning to the lodge,
we told Juan about picking up the walking stick.
He responded with a suprised look on his face. "Why?"
I asked half jokingly "Are they poisonous?"
"I am told that they are," was his deadpan
butterfly found in the forest.
A walking stick
bug tries to camoflauge himself in the middle
of the trail.
We bid Juan farewell and as a way
of saying thanks for the tour, we gave him some
shirts and toys to take back to people in his village.
He also gave us some information as to where we
could send some supplies that are very much in need
here (ie. toothbrushes, vitamins, etc.). Juan said
he would be more than happy to act as our contact
and distribute supplies if we could send anything
his way. He was more than grateful and said goodbye
with a tear in his eye.
A Mayan stellae
erected at the base of Temple IV.
guide, Juan, with Dorothy and Tracy.
After a long day hiking through the
hot jungles of Guatemala, everyone was tired. The
rest of the day was spent just relaxing and enjoying
the sounds of the jungles. Some took advantage of
the nearby swimming pool, while others took naps
right in the reception area of the hotel lodge.
After a week of travelling and long
days, we'll have a weclome respite tomorrow. It
is should be a short day, with only a border crossing
and arrival at Blancaneaux Lodge on the itinerary.
Sam is excited to get to Blananeaux as his family
flew in directly to the lodge and will be awaiting
our arrival there.
A few people headed back into the
park to attempt to watch the sunset from atop one
of the mayan temples but the rangers found them
and kicked them out of the park before the sun had
set. Tomorrow morning some of us are going to try
to get into the park early and go to the top of
Temple IV to see the sun rise, supposedly a magnificient
experience. We have no doubt our howler monkey friend
will wake us up with plenty of time to spare.
After a long
day of hiking through the jungle, Sam Simpson
grabs a nap in the lobby of the Jungle Lodge.