Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 17.0859, -89.266

Driving from Belize to Guatemala was an adventure --

Woke up fairly naturally at 7am or so. Packed, then went for coffee and nibbles. Hit the highway around 8:30 or 9.

A little trouble finding our way out of Belize City but roads were generally well-marked, and once we had crossed the river, we were fine.

The Western Highway through Belize is nice -- though typically there is no shoulder, which can make passing people a bit hairy at times. Most of the landscape early on in the drive was flat, with marshes. Then a few limestone hills began appearing as we moved up towards the highlands.

We drove past Belmopan, the capital of Belize -- their Brasilia, according to our guide book. (So hot and humid and without natural breezes, no one wants to live there.) Then through the town of San Ignacio -- nearly ended up going the wrong way across a one-way bridge, due to construction detour, but found another way through town. Followed the main thread of the traffic back to the Western Highway.

Eventually, we reached the Guatemala border. It was easy and pleasant through Belize immigration and customs. We had to pay to have our car sprayed for bugs by Guatemala at the border (about US$2). Then had many forms to fill out to get through Guatemala immigration ... everyone was nice, helpful, and efficient. Then had to get a pass for our car (and pay more fees). Finally -- we were in. One last fee for the toll road ... Tikal -- straight ahead.

Or not.

The road was awful. Dirt and mud with massive potholes. We needed to stop constantly and weave around the potholes. For the first several kilometres, we never reached even 20 km/hr in speed. We kept thinking -- if it's like this all the way to Tikal, we'll never make it. And, there were no road signs, and it was never obvious at junctions which was the "main" road. We were never sure we were even on the right road.

We finally came to a place where a road crew was working. After that, the road improved somewhat. A few more km on, the road became paved, although the number of very deep road-wide potholes made for frequent rapid breaking and unpleasant bounces. And still no road signs -- nor other roads joining ours.

We drove for almost an hour, unsure of our location, then at last we saw a sign for Tikal. We were only 30 km away.

We paid our entrance fee (about US$20 or so), then drove in. The road inside the park was amazingly good -- at least compared to what we had just traveled. We reached the ruins area and found our hotel.

Our room was not yet ready, but we were hungry, so we had a very expensive and very mediocre lunch at the hotel restaurant. It was nearly 3pm by this point, so we decided to visit the ruins.

We showed our tickets and we were in. We decided to begin with the perimeter sites as we should focus on the main plaza area tomorrow. It is hot and humid, but surprisingly bug-free.

We climbed the first couple of small pyramids, with the jungle barely cleared around them. We saw Complex Q&R, then Group H. After those, we had a long walk down the Maudslay Causeway -- seeing no one else around. There were many spider monkeys in the trees, and we saw several large black birds crossing our path.

We reached Temple IV, the first massive temple. There were very steep wooden steps up to the top. We climbed. As we neared the top, we heard roaring sounds in the distance, as if a dying jaguar was howling into a loud speaker -- howler monkeys. We sat on top of Temple IV, gazing at the very famous view of the other temple roof combs rising from the jungle, fascinated by the sound of the howler monkeys in the distance. As we walked around the top of the temple, we heard another howler monkey coming from the opposite direction.

Down the steep wooden steps, then out to Mundo Perdido. We saw a long line of leaf-cutter ants -- so many that they have actually made a track, like a game trail, through the ground cover.

We were still climbing pyramids. From Mundo Perdido, we walked to Temple V. Here, there were eight flights of very very steep wooden steps, so steep they are almost like ladders, going up to the top. We climbed and were rewarded by stunning views of the other temples, plus a gorgeous breeze. The light was beginning to fade, and it was growing cooler. We climbed back down -- backwards, like a ladder -- then headed to the Grand Plaza.

The Grand Plaza is a very impressive collection of classic Maya pyramids, plus roof combs. The large ones cannot be climbed -- but I'm grateful at this point, as it is still quite hot. We did go up a minor set of buildings, and, again, the views were lovely.

It was nearly 6pm -- closing time. We walked back to the hotel, a walk of about 15 minutes. As we neared the hotel, we heard that same amplified, urgent howling, coming from the area of our hotel. The kids gripped my arms -- save us from the monster, mommy! But they are just howler monkeys. At times, it sounds like a plaintive puppy. We hope that it doesn't continue all night.

We checked in, then went for an immediate swim. The cool water felt so good. Back to our rooms, which are separate huts spaced apart through the jungle, the air was fine with the fan on. I worried briefly that a fer-de-lance could squeeze in between the door and the floor, but decided that it's unlikely they'd come looking for me.

We didn't want another mediocre meal at our hotel's restaurant, so we walked down the hill (in the complete dark) to the Jaguar Inn. Their food was much better -- less expensive and much tastier. We all had full meals, plus wine, for less than we paid for lunch at our hotel. Plus, the Jaguar Inn restaurant has more atmosphere -- and candlelight. (Our hotel has more interesting rooms, however; we think we made the right choice there.)

We walked back in the dark. The guards were a bit confused, as we were the only ones out and about. But the stars were gorgeous; Orion, so clear; Betelguese. Venus. And perhaps Jupiter. Lovely. So happy. So relaxed.

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