This is a series of posts about Belize and Guatemala that starts here.
Tikal would be a bucket list visit for anyone. This is from the itinerary:
“Tikal has over 17,000 stone buildings, most of them unexcavated. Our guide has a wealth of knowledge about Tikal and the Mayans—he helps you hear the roar of the crowd as if a Mayan king were making his entrance. From the scene of Temple V in ‘Star Wars’ to the growl of the Howler Monkeys, Tikal offers an experience like no other.”
At dinner with our guide, José Luis, he told how he had studied with professors of archaeology, anthropology, and cosmology at the University of California Berkeley and Yale. “Study” probably isn’t the right word. He had spent months at a time consulting with these professors in Berkeley and New Haven and had hosted them here. I don’t think he had an actual degree in anything, but so what—he was from the local area, had been a guide for 30 years, and had read and studied and consulted with other experts. He was a seeker, curious, open minded. José Luis was soft spoken, with a shaggy mane of hair and big mustache that make me think of Albert Einstein. He was also that wisest kind of man—who knew there was much he didn’t know.
The rooms at Casa de Don David were basic. A bare bulb hung from the ceiling, and the beds were so crammed into the small space I had to climb over the foot of Liz’s bed to get to the bathroom. My mattress sagged in the middle and the pillow was lumpy.
“Are you okay with AC?” I asked. “I don’t really like AC, but I’ve got Restless Legs and they’re always worse when it’s humid.”
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Liz replied. “But we could just open the window.”
“Do you prefer to have the window open?” I asked.
“I’m fine either way,” she said.
“Okay, then I’ll turn on the AC.” I waved the remote toward the window unit above her bed.
“What if we opened the window?” Liz hinted again.
“You said you didn’t care either way,” I answered.
“Well maybe we could sort of open the window just a little bit.” And so we turned on the AC and left the window open a crack.
The next morning we assembled at 5:30am in the lodge, gulped down cups of coffee, and inspected the bag lunches the kitchen had prepared. The gluten-free people handed over their sandwiches and cookies to others.
Mike’s wife, Joan, appeared with a black eye and her arm in a makeshift sling. Her hand and wrist were puffed up to twice their normal size, and horribly bruised. “I tripped on a sidewalk paver,” she explained. We suggested she see a doctor.
“Don’t worry about me; I’ve got high pain tolerance from my fibromyalgia.”
That’s good, I thought. It would be really inconvenient if her wrist was broken and she had to be airlifted from Tikal.
We piled into the van with one extra person, José Luis. Stan was a good sport and huddled in the luggage section in the fetal position.
As we entered the grounds of Tikal, José Luis warned that we must never, never, never wander off by ourselves.
“The jungle is so dense,” he explained, “that once you are a few meters in, you can’t hear or see the road.
“There was a German explorer who thought he would go of on his own, since he had climbed Kilimanjaro and paddled the Amazon. He had a GPS. But GPS don’t work here. It’s a dead spot. He was missing for four days and nearly died of exposure. We have to rescue people all the time”
“How far is a meter?” Liz asked no one in particular. “I can never remember my metric system.”
“It’s about the same as a yard,” Stan answered from the back. “A yard and a few inches, I think.”
“Close enough for government work,” Liz said. I had never heard this phrase before and didn’t give it much thought until the third or fourth time Liz used it.