Sunday, March 23, 2008

Tikal Ruins

Tikal is the a sprawling capital of Ancient Mayan civilisation. The best time to see it is at sunrise, when you climb the imaginatively titled Tower IV and wallow solitarily in the satisfaction of having beat the crowds. ‘Beat the crowds!!’ the tourists, tour operators and hotel staff all say. Apparently it’s hugely important to beat the crowds around Tikal, and with our visit falling on Easter Sunday, the most crowd-inducing, holidaying day of Latin America, we joined a sunrise tour, which is the only way to gain pre-dawn entry to the park.

The light rose, and we were greeted with the stunning sight of ancient tower tops poking out of thick jungle canopy, while toucans - wild toucans! - jumped around in the trees. Equally astounding was the amount of people gathered to witness this spectacle. Unfortunately, there was a crowd of people who also wanted to beat the crowd, and we beat the crowds only by joining what could not be described as anything other than a crowd.

Morning madness

The guide had obviously previously been employed as a cartoon character used to educate children with learning difficulties, and he made many feel like mentally inflicted infants as he took us through the site spewing copious amounts of kitsch one-liners designed to keep short attention spans from wandering off on their own into the surrounding park.

These are the stairs they used to use

And now we use ladders to get up the towers

And wander off I did, to be amongst the quiet and stillness that can only be found when you’re alone in ruins thousands of years old. Plenty of others did too, so it wasn’t just me who was bitter.

We explored the ruins, walking along jungle tracks between towers and climbing whichever pyramids had been deemed suitable for touristic clambering. When the proper crowds did start to trickle in, they were nothing like the heaving throng we had been warned about, and in fact it was rather interesting to watch Guatemalan families picnicking and doing holiday things. We spent most of the rest of the day people watching from the shade of the limestone monoliths, a wonderful alternative to sweating through the intense heat of a Guatemalan sun at full power.

This is what a tower looks like before it is excavated

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