December 6, 2012
We left Antigua on Tuesday for an epic all-day journey to Flores in the north of Guatemala. We took a shuttle from Antigua at 7:30 am, which got us to Guatemala City around 9 am. We then caught the 10 am Linea Dorada "first class bus" to Flores - this bus was much like a regular old long distance coach with the air conditioning cranked to the max and the toilet barely functioning. Traffic coming out of Guatemala City was dreadful and then there was an interminable section with endless road construction, so we ended up rolling into Flores about 3 hours late at around 9 pm.
After resting in Flores - a very pleasant town on a small island in a large lake - on Wednesday, we spent Thursday at Tikal National Park, which is to Mayan Guatemala as Machu Picchu is to Incan Peru. The park is a vast area of jungle dotted with a wide variety of Mayan temples and other ruins. Some of the ruins have been fully excavated and exposed, while others remain partially or fully covered in the jungle undergrowth that hid them from the world for hundreds of years until the mid to late 1800s. One of the highlights of our visit was climbing to the top of the tallest temple-pyramid, Templo IV, where you can look out over the jungle canopy below you and see the tops of some of the other pyramids poking up above the tops of the trees.
This view is also famous for appearing in Star Wars (ep. IV).
While we were exploring the ruins, it was hard not to compare them with the Incan ruins we'd seen in Peru. The Mayan ruins here are generally much older than, for example, those at Machu Picchu, and the stonework certainly looked and felt older. It tended to be darker and more crumbly-looking and discoloured. Tanya described the ruins as feeling more sinister and foreboding than those in Peru. The style of the buildings is completely different too, for example, Templo I (Temple of the Great Jaguar):
Another fun aspect about Tikal was hiking along all the jungle trails between the clusters of ruins. Since we were there from about 9 am to 2 pm, much of the jungle animal life was probably asleep, but we still managed to see quite a few interesting critters. The cutest was a koatymundi, like a slimmed down raccoon with a pointy nose and a long striped tail. We saw about seven or eight spider monkeys swinging through the trees and heard the ferocious sounds of howler monkeys (although we didn't catch sight of any of these). At one point while Sierra and I stopped to look up into a tree to see what we thought might be another spider monkey, a tarantula fell down from the tree branches onto the ground, missing Sierra's head by inches. It spanned about four inches across and was furry and pale brown. After I'd taken a photo of it while it remained motionless, Tanya chucked some leaves and a twig at it to see if it would move, and sure enough it did, running and jumping (!) away. Finally, as we were waiting for the bus to take us back to Flores, we saw some iridescent occelated turkeys.