November 07, 2008

The Mayan Kingdom in Tikal

Press HERE to view a slide show from
Tikal and Rio Dulce

The Streets of Flores
 The Streets of Flores
Tikal's Structures
 Tikal Pyramid 1
 Tikal Pyramid 2
 Tikal Pyramid 3
Tikal's Animals
 Animals at Tikal

Blackbirds in Flores

We had heard awful stories of crime in Guatemala, especially stories about buses and vans being stopped by armed gangs that would rape and rob the passengers. We also heard stories about crazy bus and truck drivers that created danger on the highways. Finally we heard stories about terrible roads that could turn impassible with a light downpour. I am happy to report that on our journey to Tikal we saw none of it. There were enough police to stave off the robbers. There was only a moderate number of trucks and fewer buses. And except for a couple of rough spots, the two-lane road was better than most in poor countries.

We rented a car for a week at $30 per day. Both convenience and the cost of bus travel drove us to this transportation alternative. Gas is still over $3 per gallon here, but our rental gets about 35 miles to the gallon. We got the car and were off by 9:00 AM Saturday morning. We got to Flores just before dark some eight hours later.

Sunset in Flores
 Sunset in Flores

San Felipe
 San Felipe
Lago de Izabal
 Lago de Izabal
The Garden at Rio Dulce
 Garden at Rio Dulce

Flores is about an hour south of Tikal. It is a lovely tiny city that lays on a small island in Lago de Peten Itza. The town is loaded with little hotels and guesthouses, not to mention a good number of eateries. Many of these establishments are on the lake’s edge with great views. It appears that where ever tourist go food prices are a tad higher than you might expect in say Mexico. Hotel rates are by the person, so they are rarely an excellent bargain for two people – one yes, two no. For two the cost starts at $12 per night, with no breakfast, no clean drinking water and no wi-fi, but they usually have a TV and AC – although you do not need the AC now. Betty and I stayed at a nicer hotel for about $27 per night. Flores is very comfortable. We took it easy on Sunday. Betty was not in top form; something she ate did not agree with her.

On Monday we drove to Tikal. Tikal is a world heritage site. It is an archeology site that is equal in scope to the Incan Machu Picchu. Tikal is a Mayan ruin. It covers a large area with many buildings and at least five temples that rise 190 feet, 18 stories, and are totally incredible, given that they were built 1000 to 2000 years ago. Take your time viewing the photos and remember that they are only thumbnails. So, click on them and see a lot more than what is in the thumbnail. Besides the ruins, Tikal is an amazing jungle sanctuary. We saw exotic birds, a roe deer, coatimundi (Central American raccoons), and another odd looking giant rodent. We returned to Flores late in the afternoon, totally exhausted. For the second evening we went out to see the sun set in the hills beyond the western edge of the lake, a stunning view.

On Tuesday we traveled to the Rio Dulce, which is more of a lake than a river. The lake is called Lago de Izabal. We invited Peg, a fellow traveler, to join us on our trip south. She gladly accepted and we had a great conversation during the three hours to Rio Dulce. She is a lot like Betty and me. It was good to talk books, politics, travel and life. When we arrived in Rio Dulce, we decided to go upscale for a few days. Our plan was just to take it easy. Unlike the coolness of Antigua, the heat and sun in Rio Dulce was a lovely change. We just wanted to suck it all in. Our hotel, Vinas del Lago, had nice rooms, a good kitchen, beautiful grounds, a swimming pool and wi-fi. Wednesday and Thursday were all rest and relaxation. Oh, there is a great tourist site just 300 meters from our hotel. El Castillo de San Felipe is a old fort that protected the lake from pirates and allowed Spain to extract taxes from shippers. The fort was rebuilt and preserved some fifty years ago. The fort really gives you a good sense of a new world outpost. The grounds around the fort are lovely. Many families played on the shore and in the water and ate picnic lunches. Other than this short visit, we have just taken it easy – sunning, swimming, eating and drinking.

We are off to Guatemala City now. I will try to post something next week.

Tikal: Towers Rising from the Jungle Floor
 Sunset in Flores

Posted by bill at November 7, 2008 08:23 AM

Well I am glad you do not take the "urban legends" that scare people away seriously. They say this and they that, but who are "they?". I also enjoy the travel on my own in Mexico. I sometimes feel safer there than in some parts of Minneapolis. They do protect the tourists, as they bring in the cash. Have fun on your travels as I know you and Betty always will! Margaritaville

Posted by: Margie Sanroman at November 7, 2008 10:30 AM

Wow, just beautiful! I hope that you and Betty are well and enjoying your travels. You two are an inspiration, especially on this gloomy Minneapolis day.

Posted by: Alex Saint Croix at November 7, 2008 02:14 PM

Dear Bill and Betty:

I am greatly impressed with your can do attitude regarding travel in Guatemala and just renting a car. The only people I have heard of getting robbed, killed, or spirited away by nefarious types have been mormons looking for mythic proof their "Book of . . ." may exist somwhere hidden among the ruins. (I grew up in a mormon family and can attest to their general weirdness and propensity to wear Rolexes while riding public transportation in Guatemala and other 3rd world countries. They are nice but not the brightest world travelers.) Tikal and Rio Dulce are two of the most beautiful places I've been in the world thus far. There's a woman who runs a "hammock hotel" along the Rio Dulce; a 'Mericuhn who went to Belize as a Peace Corps volunteer when the country was still called British Honduras. She found paradise in Rio Dulce and I swear her feet never quite touch the ground as she welcomes and tends to back-packing guests.

I hope you get to visit Chshicastenango -- a small city built along the ridge of a mountain -- and its famous pastel-colored cemetary. Again, rumors of robbers freeing tourists of their material possessions is more myth than reality, although it has happened a few times. I think the problem visiting the cemetary is that actual indigenous shamans are just pissed at all of the tourists wandering through and staring at their private ceremonies so they end up ranting and railing at unwanted rubber neckers in attempt to scare them off. Also, Lago Atitlán is worth a visit if, for nothing else, just to take a launch across the enormous volcanic lake to the opposite side to hike the streets of Santiago Atitlán and seek out "Chibe", a real Tz'utujil Mayan totem of worship. His location changes from residence to residence each year. To visit and beseech his wisdom, bottles of Aguardiente, cheap rum, and American cigarettes are expected as offerings. Last time I visited with him he was into being blasted by a mix of hip-hop and ranchero music.

I'm interested in this trip you two are plying through Mesoamerica. Tell Betty to drink a bit of the local teas. No doubt you've long since discovered that for a country which prides itself in growing some of the world's finest coffee beans you end up being served Nescafé Instant whenever possible.

Remember, take nothing but foot prints and leave nothing but pictures.

Wishing you nothing but the best.

Posted by: William the Nash Person at November 7, 2008 02:28 PM

Hey Bill & Betty, thanks for including me in your blog. I continued on to Antigua, love staying with Ruth, and met up with another single Americana. I fly home tomorrow, and I thank you both for making the trip that much richer. Stay in touch. By the way - Sandra flies out on the same flight with me in the morning...small world.
Happy Travels!

Posted by: Peg at November 7, 2008 06:05 PM


Posted by: Mickie at November 9, 2008 12:33 AM