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Trip Report Trip Report- Tikal

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David Martinez (yes, I found it. David's number is 671-2345 in Belize) picked us up at Matus Car Rental where we dropped off our rental car and we drove to the Guatemala border. As I've said before, I've travelled for many years without guides or drivers. There was just somethng about the way all the locals said "It's usually ok" and "Most of the time there is no problem" which was not the answer for a mother travelling with her daughter. When we pulled to the border crossing, David told us to go into a small building and give them our passports in order to cross. You pay a small fee to an unsmiling Belize Border agent and then you keep walking about 10 feet to another desk in the same building and pay another small fee to an unsmiling Guatemalan Border agent and then you walk out. David had pulled over to another building to do some sort of paperwork about driving his car through. I saw some local people meandering about the area, several soldiers with guns but nothing threatening. It definitely has a different feel though. It was a pleasant drive, about 90 minutes, and we stopped and ate a good lunch at a small outdoor cafe just outside the arches to the Natl. Park. There was a wild turkey walking between the tables and a dozen tiny baby chicks (baby chickens, not turkeys) of every color just outside the cafe with their mother. David stopped again and filled out a form for another guard. We drove through the arches on to Tikal Inn. David came into the hotel with to be sure everything was ok.

Tikal Inn is pretty basic lodging, managed by friendly people. It's right at the entrance to Tikal and next door to the other two Park hotels - Jaguar Inn and Jungle Lodge. Tikal Inn has a large, nice pool. Our room was clean, but old, with two Queen beds. $90, including breakfast and dinner. Decent shower. The electricity is only on from 6 am to 8am and 6pm to 10pm so you must bring a flashlight. Dinner wasn't too good, edible when washed down with beer. Breakfast was fine. We were told not to drink the tap water, not even to brush our teeth with it.

We went into the Park immediately because it was already 3 pm. Tikal is amazing. The tour buses are gone by late afternoon and we saw less then a dozen tourists the entire time we were there. We had no guide, but we had guide books so we wandered happily. We climbed Temple V and there was a uniformed guard sitting at the top. He spoke no English and I speak only basic Spanish but we managed to have a discussion anyway and he offered to be our escort through the park, even showing me his ID. I won't release his name in case he's not supposed to do this, but he walked us through the park for a few hours, showing us new excavations that were not open to the public and pointing out monkeys and birds. We told him we wanted to watch the sunset so he took us back to Temple IV. We climbed it and sat there for an hour, waiting for sunset. Temple IV is the tallest building at Tikal, about 230 feet high, rising above the forest canopy. There was a flock of toucans walking around in a tree just below us. You can see the other temples rising up out of the forest and green parrots chasing each other and when the sun starts going down, the colors of the temples change. A few more people joined us. I struck up a conversation with a young Japanese woman sitting next to me and it turned out she is the niece of my brother's former boss in Atlanta. It was sort of a surreal moment. Here we sit, maybe 8 people, from different countries, taking each other's pictures, high above the jungle canopy and watching the sun set on buildings that were an integral part of the lives of a people whose civilization disappeared over a thousand years ago.
It started getting dark and our gaurd/guide motioned that we should now leave. I am no chicken, but I was very glad to have him show us the way out of the park. We each had a flashlight but it was DARK. It's a bit of a walk from Temple IV to the entrance. It was a very nice thing for him to do, and he had no problem accepting a bit of cash from us.

We had the good fortune to have an archeologist , who was looking to pick up some extra cash, drive us the next morning to the Flores Airport. She brought the Mayan history alive in that 60 minute drive. We had no trouble at Tikal, but I met an older American couple back at the Belize Airport on their way home, that had a much different experience. She and her husband were staying in The Cayo (I won't mention the hotel because its not their fault) and left with a few other couples for a day trip to Tikal the day after we did. They drove the exact same route we did. About an hour into the trip, their van came upon a group of men blocking the road, holding guns and machetes. They made everyone get out of the van and robbed them, including taking this woman's wedding ring. They took what they wanted out of the van, including people's shoes and one man's jacket. Fortunately, they didn't hurt anyone. I had heard that it was not wise to be in a vehicle clearly marked for tourists which I guess stands out like an ATM machine for bandits. Its such a shame because Guatemala needs the tourist dollars, but I can't say I'll go back nor could I say that I feel confident recommending other people to go to Tikal. If I had heard that story prior to our visit, I would never have taken my daughter there.

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