Published: March 2nd 2008March 1st 2008
Tikal is a set of Mayan ruins in the north of Guatemala
There's something about getting up ridiculously early in the morning that adds to the atmosphere of a day's outing. So I resisted the urge to break my alarm clock when it went off at 3.15am, telling me it was time to get downstairs and wait for the bus for the "sunrise tour" of Tikal, one of the greatest sets of Mayan ruins set in dense Guatemalan jungle. An hour's bus ride and a half hour walk through the ruins later, I was sitting atop one of the tallest and western most of the temples, facing due east as the sun rose over the whole mist shrouded complex - complete with its own jungle soundtrack of howler monkeys screaming their tits off, birds chirping and the odd jaguar roaring through the jungle. The various temples appeared first as silhouettes through the mist in front of an orange sky which I thought looked pretty cool, even though I was quietly wishing for a triple shot espresso to miraculously appear out of nowhere to get me through the rest of the morning.
Since my last blog entry, the following week was pretty much dominated by things ancient and Maya, so much so that
I´m actually feeling a little ruined for ruins and think I´ve seen enough for the next little while! My first stop was the ancient ruined city of Palenque
which was my last stop in Mexico. I spent the better part of a day wandering around the jungle ruins in fairly intense heat, climbing ridicolously steep pyramids to the tops where I would find other tourists gulping water and hiding in what shade they could find. As a sign of the commonality of the routes being taken by many backpackers, I might have walked into the ruins by myself, but over the course of the next few hours I bumped into no less than 5 seperate people all travelling by themselves that I'd already met over the previous few weeks. The ruins were pretty impressive, and a local Maya youth offered to take me for a walk through the surrounding jungle to see what we could see for 150 Mexican pesos, although he came down to 100 pesos very easily as someone had already told me that's the going rate. We went on a pretty cool walk through the jungle, got to see some fairly massive spiders and a
couple of wild boar, plus some monkeys crashing through the trees above us. Afterwards I headed back to the jungle lodge I was staying with in and saw a bunch of peeps who I first met in my hostel in San Cristobal and had a fairly long night of card playing, beer drinking and bollocks-talking.
The next morning I went on a day tour to what are probably the most spectacular waterfalls I've ever been to, known as the "Agua Azul" (or Blue Water) which are just out of Palenque. Rather than just one set of falls, the Agua Azul cascade gradually down the hill, providing lots of cool pools and mini-falls to swim in addition to the main set of pools at the entrance to the park. I spent about 3 hours there with some other folk in the same van out there as me, it was a really beautiful place with lots of tropical jungle growing everywhere.
After Palenque I headed off to Tikal in Guatemala. Having done the ruins of Palenque independently, I opted to sign up for a guided tour of Tikal just to see if they have anything interesting to say. Also they
One of the many pyramids at Tikal in Guatemala
"encourage" you to take the sunrise tour at Tikal by only letting people who have paid to be on it into the park before sunrise - people who choose to go independently have to wait till after sunrise before they're allowed through the front gates. The tour was fairly interesting, but having got up at 3.15am to get out there in time I'm sure I only heard about half of what the guide said! At least that half was interesting ;-) Most of you have seen Tikal on telly before, as it was used in the original Star Wars moving as the Rebel Base planet that the assualt on the Death Star was launched from. If you need reminding then click here
After Tikal I spent the next night at a cute little backpackers retreat called El Remate which is on the shores of a nearby lake. I'd finished at Tikal by 11am and found some accom with 3 others who'd just arrived in El Remate from the same tour as me, and spent a very lazy and pleasant afternoon drinking beer by the lakeside and playing Rummy, and going for a swim in the turquoise
lake. I left for Belize the next day, but on my one full day in Guatemala I got to wear my Dr Ropata Medical Centre - Guatemala
shirt. Of course most people didn't get it, one old american woman even asked me if I'd been a doctor in Guatemala, but the one kiwi girl on the trip pissed herself when she saw it, and insisted on writing down the web address of the online company I got it from. I'll be retuning to spend 3 or 4 more weeks in Guatemala after I finish here in Belize.
My first stop in Belize and final bout of Maya ruins was the small but lively town of San Ignacio. The highlight of my time there was a full-day tour to some old Maya caves called Actun Tunichil Muknal
- but this wasn't your ordinary tourist cave, there were no walkways or lights here. Instead, we actually had to swim into the cave (the water was way too deep to wade through it) and spent the next few hours negotiating some pretty tight spaces with torches strapped to our helmets, including walking neck deep in water through passages so
narrow I had to turn side-on and get through them. After a while we came to some chambers high up in the cave, where there were skeletons of people the Maya had sacrificed (complete with shattered skulls and warped ribcages from when they would have had their hearts ripped out still beating) and other offering of ceramics and obsidian. It was generally a pretty cool day, although one oddity arising out of it is that the guide told us that because a few tour companies do it now, there's quite a lot of rivalries between the various tour companies so they all have to send an extra person to watch the van while the guide is in the cave with us, otherwise tires get slashed and bags of sugar get poured into the gas tank as different rival companies vie for their share of the market!
Another intriguing thing that happened when I was in San Ignacio was a huge festival of reggae/dancehall for one night, with loads of locals going and a fair few other Belizians driving in from other towns just to go to it. I was lucky I had my hotel room, as it became clear
He´s from Jamaica, mon, but was playing in San Ignacio, Belize, the night I was there.
that there were no spare rooms in San Ignacio that night. The headline act was a chap called Spragga Benz who'd flown over from Jamaica for the festivities. It was a pretty cool night, and even though it wasn't always the sort of music I'd listen to the fact that the fairly huge crowd of a couple of thousand got it into created a pretty good vibe and a good night was enjoyed by all - including me and a couple of others from my hotel who wandered home fairly hammered at about 4am.
And that's about all for now. I've had an awesome time on some of Belize's islands since then, but that will be the the subject of my next blog!
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