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Published: February 6th 2019
Yesterday was really our last day in Guatemala, spending most of it exploring and learning about Tikal. Our excellent guide, Ivania, has led us through five days here in Guatemala, visiting the top three places tourists generally go: Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and, finally for us, Tikal. Having only five days in this country we didn't have enough time in Antigua, as our whole little group of six on this OAT pretrip all chose to spend one of the two days scheduled for Antigua travelling to and playing on and near Lake Atitlan. But all three main tourist spots are gorgeous places, very much worth visiting. In this short time I have enjoyed Guatemala very much!
We are an interesting group, two couples and two solo travellers. I am one of the singles, and Yasmin is the other. She was born in Iran, and still has a heavy accent, but her English is almost perfect; she jokes with anyone who might criticize her English or attempts at Spanish by suggesting that she should teach them to speak Farsi. I think I'll stick with practicing my Spanish here, but somehow, before I came on this trip, I kept on with my French lessons instead. That seems like a poor decision now, but at home it was a part of my daily schedule. Trying to figure out why we do what we do is sometimes an exercise in futility. I'll just let this one go.
The two couples who made up the rest of our group on this pretrip were very different from each other. One couple, in their 80s, were the oldest people on both the pretrip to Guatemala and the main trip to Costa Rica, but were always very involved and connected to the group. The other couple pretty much stayed together by themselves, even eating lunch on our very first afternoon away from the rest of our group. That seems to happen more frequently than one might expect, that, for whatever reason(s), couples distance themselves from the group. I wonder why they choose to travel with a group if a couple wants to be alone? Why not simply travel on their own? But of course with a group tour everything is planned out, everything is taken care of, hotels, meals, transportation, the whole itinerary; it's like summer camp for grown-ups. Just come and play with new friends; no higher thinking necessary.
Lake Atitlan, the deepest lake in the Western hemisphere, is huge and gorgeous. Located in the heart of the Mayan world, we stopped a few times on our ride there just to look at its expansive beauty. Surrounded by volcanoes, it is a wonder to see. We took a motorboat ride across part of Lake Atitlan to a village on one of its shorelines, to walk around exploring a bit and to eat lunch. Our first ride across the waters was calm, placid, but our return trip was almost too exciting, as we jarred and bounced our way back to the original shore. Ivania told us after we had disembarked that no boats were allowed to go out onto the lake between the hours of noon and 3PM as the winds pick up so strongly then that the waves become dangerous. We got back just before 2:30PM, but other boats were still heading out, I expected for only a short ride. But even I, who love anything that bounces or sways or propels me into the air, was glad to be back on solid ground; on that boatride back we were more out of the water than on it.
Tikal National Park was our last truly wonderful stop in Guatemala for this trip. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was a classic ancient Mayan city with many structures: temples, pyramids, tombs, palaces, ball courts, terraces. Home to perhaps 100,000 Maya at its peak 1500 years ago, it was one of the most important cities at that time. We walked through the forest, watching for birds and wildlife, being amazed at the structures and all the planning that went into the building of this magnificent city. Unlike in Belize and Mexico, where Bill and I had clambered up the enormous steps on the fronts of temples, here in Tikal wooden staircases have been built behind the towering structures, making it much easier to reach the tops of temples without stumbling and crawling up the very high, sometimes crumbling, front steps. In fact, in the hopes of preservation, it is no longer possible to climb up the front block steps on these towers in Tikal, so taking the back way up is the only choice. A few of us climbed up three of the five main temples, and it was still a good workout in the heat and humidity. The air at the tops of those temples was refreshingly welcome; the views spectacular. And Tikal is full of animals: howler monkeys, macaws, toucans, wild turkeys (although, disappointingly, we didn't see any of those that day), and many groups of coatis crossing and criss-crossing the trails, tails held high, running into the jungle in search of food. The animals are not afraid of humans; after all, we are the visitors to their homes; we are the ones who need to respect them and their lives, their environment. Given the number of human visitors Tikal receives each year I was happy to find this was expected and honored, exactly as it should be.
(One note: the previous six blog entries had not had notifications sent to readers, so if you would like to catch up on my earlier travels to Sri Lanka and south India, those posts are available to read by scrolling backwards to previous entries.)
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