Even though we had our eyes glued to the little television in our room (the whole Swine Flu story was just breaking) most of the evening, we had no problem waking for our 5am bus to Tikal. Even at 5am, it was still pretty muggy. We made the 60 plus Kilometer trip squeezed into a mini-van, and arrived without incident. We purchased our tickets, and started walking under the jungle canopy making our way through the sprawling ruins of Tikal. But not before checking out the "Do Not" sign......
Which would have taken one several minutes to read.....and led to the inevitable question, "was breathing allowed?"
The park itself is a set of trails which meander up, around, and through the ruins. The grand scale of the pyramids are pretty amazing, rising up in the air piercing the jungle canopy. You also soon come to understand that only a fraction of Tikal has been restored. All of those mounds and hills you walk past are structures waiting to see the light of day.
According to what I've read, Tikal was first settled around 900 B.C.....yes, B.C. It was a minor settlement until the collapse of El Mirador between 250 - 150 B.C. when the first ceremonial structures were built. By 250 A.D. Tikal had become an important, and powerful Mayan "state". In 562 A.D. Tikal was crushed, and period called the "hiatus" began. For 130 years, no new structures were erected at Tikal. In 682 A.D. Tikal once again gained power, and a frenzy of new building began. At the height of power it is estimated that Tikal's population topped 100,000 and the city covered almost 20 square miles. By the 9th Century A.D. Tikal began feeling the strain of population growth, and eventually the city was abandoned until it's rediscovery.
Without a doubt, the most impressive area of Tikal is the "Great Plaza". This large grassy area is dominated by two towering temples. Temple I towering 44 feet, also known as the "Jaguar Temple" is probably the most well known structure in Tikal as it is shown in most of the tourist photos and literature.
Directly facing it is Temple II (Temple of the Masks) at about 125 feet.
As you can see, there are some fairly steep stairs up Temple II, from which you can get a good view of the "Great Plaza".
It's hard to believe that building of the Great Plaza had already been underway during the time of Christ!
And like many things in life....it's much easier going up, than it is coming down!
As grand as it all was, for some strange reason "temple fatigue" set in pretty quick for me. Though the Missus was having a grand time. She being the one who never met a set of stairs She didn't want to climb. She even scaled the 190 foot Temple V, and got this wonderful shot of Tikal rising out of the canopy.
By noon we both had seen enough, and caught the first minibus back to Flores. The minibus thing was interesting, as tourists were squeezed in, and than even more room was found for locals who used the vans as an informal bus service to get from location to location.
We arrived back in dusty Flores famished. We had given a thought to trying out one of the wild game restaurants across the causeway in Santa Elena, but after reading that much of the wild game is poached, we decided to give it a pass. I had also read about a restaurant owned by a German Architect who specializes in monument conservation named Dieter Richter. Apparently, Mr Richter has worked on many remote sites, and has a restaurant called Café Arqueológico Yaxha. On the map, the Cafe seemed to be very far away, on the other side of Flores. But Flores, being perhaps the length of less than 3 football fields wide, it was just a 10 minute walk, taking the long way.
The interior is bright, and photos of various Mayan sites are posted on the walls.
And among the Hamburguesa, pancakes, and various versions of spaghetti was a page of "Mayan" specialties. We placed our order, and in keeping with restaurants in Honduras and Guatemala, we waited. Waiting for your meal in these countries is not a bad thing; it means that your meal is being prepared fresh. Sitting with a growling belly for an hour is not uncommon as we found later on in Copan.
The Missus ordered the Filete de Pescado al Tikinchic:
Unlike the Yucatanian Tikinchic I've had the "sauce" was not citrus based, but tomato and pepper based. The Black Snook (robalo) was cooked to perfection. The Missus loved this, and even enjoyed the mass produced corn chips!
I ordered the Pollo con salsa de Tamarindo:
This was a piece of boneless, skinless chicken thigh glazed in a tamarind sauce. The chicken was tough and stringy, kinda to be expected. The sauce was super tangy and puckery, and I think I detected a hint of soy sauce? Nevertheless, it was tasty. This was not bland in the least bit.
Curious, we also ordered the Yuca con Hierba Mora.
At first we were disappointed that the Yuca was just served on the side as with our other dishes. In essence it was a scrambled egg dish......but a scrambled egg dish that we enjoyed! The greens had an interesting mildly bitter and astringent effect, which heightened the flavor of everything else.
So after I return home, I look up Hierba Mora, and gasp! Everything I find lists it as Black Nightshade, which got my attention. Especially the part that read "When mature they should be considered poisonous as they may contain high levels of solanine, but in general the plant is not as poisonous as many of its nightshade cousins." Yikes! But reading this publication put me at ease. Within the document it lists the plants use as a pot-herb in Guatemala, saying that young plants areconsumed in large quantities.
It could have been that we had not eaten since the night before, but this meal left us more than satisfied.
Café Arqueológico Yaxha
Calle 15 de Septembre
Flores itself was a pretty dusty town. It didn't help that all the streets were dug up. Instead of streets you had trenches, some of which were ten feet deep.
In some instances, shops and building were isolated, and you had to cross those trenches via planks. As was the case in the local Tienda (market).
In others words, I got to say that I had to "walk the plank to get Agua Pura (water)". I'm sure that all the construction was for the good of all the future visitors.....
In Flores, was stayed at the Hotel Casa Amelia.
The rooms were modest, but clean.
Dig the curtains made from burlap sacks!!!!
But Casa Amelia had one commodity we relished, well two. Air conditioning, and a (small) television.
And we had a view of Lake Peten Itza out our window. The Missus took this photo of kids being, well, kids using a sunken boat as a swimming pool.
And in spite of the wonderful sunset:
We both knew it was time to move on.......