Tikal and Tamales

Published: September 15th 2008
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Tikal is definitely one of the well worn stops on the backpack circuit of Guatemala and rightfully so. To not go to Tikal would be the equivalent of not going to Macchu Picchu while in Peru or missing out on Chichen Itza in Mexico. Although I didn't find the death imagery as prevalent at Tikal as I did at Chichen Itza it was still exciting with the added bonus of howler monkeys roaring in the distance. I was a bit thrown off when I first heard the howler monkey. Having never heard them previously, I thought it would have been more of a high pitched "eeeeeh eeeeh" like some of their distant relatives in the ape family (my apologies if the scientific classification is way off. Its been awhile since I took Physical Anthropology back in the undergrad days). Rather, the howler monkey sounded more like a deep roar one that would likely scare the crap out of anyone were they walking deep in the jungle in the early morning.

We had the option of taking the sunrise tour of Tikal which involved getting up at 3:30 in the morning and then taking the bus to Tikal and walk in
view from Temple IVview from Temple IVview from Temple IV

ignore the scaffolding
the dark to climb Temple IV to watch the sunrise. Having done the Macchu Picchu trek to get up early in the morning on the fourth day to see the sunrise at the Sun Gate, I was more inclined to sleep and do the regular 6:30am tour. We had a tour guide all to ourselves who was quite familiar with the area. When I questioned him on the practice of archaeology in Guatemala, it appeared as though the archaeological focus was on the Mayan period. Does the tourism potential play a role in determining which sites will be excavated and later used to stimulate the local economy? Surely there have to be pre-Mayan sites of significance in Guatemala.

The town of Flores on Lake Peten Itza was beautiful with a circular main road and houses painted in vivid colors. It was certainly a town you could never lost in as you would just head towards the nearest point of water to find your way back. We had a chance to visit a local woman named Gloria who taught us how to make tamales at her home. I was pleasantly suprised by how tasty these were and appreciated how they were a weekend treat for families. The corn meal dough marinated with chicken and a delicious tomato sauce before cooking for hours over a banana leaf covered oven stoked by smoldering wood. Gloria's backyard opened onto a beautiful cenote where residents were known to go in for a dip despite a resident crocodile.

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