Amazing, Awesome, Spiritual, Surreal. These are only a few of the words that come close to describing the experience we had this morning. After waking up at 3:45 AM to meet our guide we headed to Temple IV for the sunrise. Walking through the jungle to the temples in the pitch black with our head lamps on was cool. Listening to all the nocturnal animals was something. I think it was the only time I have had my own personal armed escort. We had a guy following us with a shotgun in case a jaguar decided it needed some northern white meat.
We climbed to the top of Temple IV and sat in the dark waiting for the sun to come up, listening to the jungle below. I can’t describe to you what it felt like to watch and listen to the jungle wake up with the dawn. Picture the sun peaking out from the horizon, gradually lighting the jungle with a mist hovering in the canopy top, with the top of ancient Maya temples coming out of the mist. To add to this experience Howler monkeys were heard talking to each other and birds of every kind flying around including parrots. This was everything and more from what I had envisioned. I can count this in the top ten things I have witnessed in my life.
Once the sun came up and morning had begun we headed out in search of ruins. During the next three hours we hiked and climbed our way through the park. Tikal was one of the most powerful and important cities in the ancient Maya world. Maya began settling Tikal in 700 B.C. and began building as early as 400 B.C. The last building were completed in 810 A.D. Tikal reached its zenith in the early Classic Period around 200 A.D. and became the dominant kingdom under King Jaguar Paw during the 4th century. Starting 900 A.D. Tikal’s power started to wane and by the end of the 10th century was abandoned.
All the boys climbed the Temple of Talud Tablero. It did make us nervous to watch them race up the front of the temples steep steps. Boys will be boys though. When we got to Temple V Tyler and I climbed the steep steps to the top. What a view! You looked out over the jungle with the Great Plaza tops (Temple I and II) above the canopy. I hadn’t brought a camera up, so I called down to Amy to climb the steps. I know it was something for both of them to come up so high because I know they are both afraid of heights. Even I was a little nervous. This temple measures 190 feet and was built around 700 AD.
The last stop of the tour was the Great Plaza. It lived up to its name. It has a temple on each end of the plaza. These are Temple I and Temple II. You can climb Temple II and get a great view of Temple I. The whole thing is surrounded by different structures including the king’s throne and residence. We had befriended two young travelers who told us that they paid the park guards a little cash and were able to camp within the king’s residence overnight. They both said it was very cool, but very spooky.
After our visit to the park we headed back to the Jungle Lodge for some food and a little R&R.
After sandwiches and a nap we headed back into the park for sunset. We figured we would end our day the way we started. We actually got to see a few things we missed on our first pass through the park. We ended the day at the Great Plaza for sunset and were some of the last people in the park. As dusk closed down the day we headed for the entrance. The jungle gets dark awful quick and our hike back to the lodge was quite an adventure and this time we didn’t have an armed guard.
Today we got to visit and walk through one of the greatest Maya cities in history. We got to see numerous types of wildlife including toucans, parrots, howler monkeys, crocodiles, and spider monkeys. We also got to experience a sunrise I will never forget. This is one day I won’t soon forget.
The next morning we only had time for a quick walk around the park and a trip to the souvenir stands. This was our travel day. We had to drive for 2 1/2 hours to reach the border to Belize and then drive another 2 1/2 hours to reach Belize City. Once we reached Belize we had to take back our car and board a a water taxi to Caye Caulker that would take another 45 minutes to an hour.
Arrival at last to paradise. Stepping off the boat I can already feel myself slowing down. In fact the only street sign on the island says “Slow Down”. Like I said Caye Caulker is one laid back place. There are no cars here. People travel around on bikes and golf carts. The island is only 5 miles long and 1-2 miles wide. It began as a fishing settlement and later became popular in the 17th century for buccaneers to get water and fix their boats. This is mainly a fishing village where everyone speaks creole. It is an interesting mix of nationalities and personalities. For dinner we went to a place called Wish Willy’s. It consisted of a few tables and a grill. We ordered four lobster meals (2 tails each), one chicken, and some shrimp. The total with drinks came to under $50. Even better while we waited for them to grill our food we played tic-tac-toe in the sand by our table. After filling our bellies with lobster we headed down front street, which one of three main road on the island the other two being middle and back. We found an ice cream shop. You can always count on our boys to find the ice cream shop no matter where we are. I don’t know if it was the atmosphere or it was the fact I was so relaxed I was almost drooling, but I think I discovered the greatest ice cream in the world. Nick had Belizean fudge, Tyler had rocky road, Alex had key lime, and Amy and I shared coconut and key lime. I already am looking forward to the next visit.
My goal for the next week is to not ever wear shoes. With the culture on this island I don’t think it will be a problem as long as I remember to “Slow Down”.