Flores and Tikal

Our boat left at 8.30am.

It was raining and I felt like I had left family.

It was a sombre affair. Caye Caulker blues. But all good things must come to an end.

I slept most of the boat ride into Belize City but the second we hit land, the adventure started all over again. We were on a bus tearing through the run down capital. It was the kind of run down that happens over time from lazyness more than anything. Beneath the cracking paint and unswept pavements, lurked a beautiful colonial city, with dashes of new builds and development.

A look of Belize City from the bus terminal. Not much going on. As is the case in most of Belize!

But we were set for the border. A 4 hour stretch to Menos Melchor, past San Ignacio on the bumpy but trusty highway.

Only waking into full conscious for the brief border crossing that involved getting stamped out of Belize, paying the leaving tax and natural preservation tax and then getting stamped into Guatemala after a short walk over the very unclear, international line.

Guatemala is full of lush vegetation and jungle with small outcrops of civilisation. A few rickety thatched villages, streamed past as we sped down the run down roads towards Flores.

The town is an island, at the edge of a lake, connected to the land by a spit of road into Santa Elena. We arrived at about 6pm and checked into a reasonably priced hotel at the north end of the isle. There was one main reason for this.

From our balcony, enfolded a view that was stunning. The placid lake with all it’s reflective elegance was the picture on the wall of our room. A moving watercolour painting that had me amazed as I dozed off reading Shantaram.

The view of Lago Peten from the balcony

We had organised our trip to Tikal in the morning, leaving at 4.30pm. This meant we had to have an early night, so we went out to explore the island and find dinner. We hadn’t eaten all day, bar a snickers on the boat over from the Caye.

It is a sleepy little town, not much going on, but the tapestry of interwoven roads and multicoloured houses made it an interesting walk. We had some burritos from a very friendly Mexican man on the side of the road and returned via a long walk around the cusp of the island. Taking in the fresh air and the light speckled lake as the sun fell behind the forest layer on the horizon.

We slept.

4.00am our alarm went off. We had packed the night before but it was a chore getting ourselves up nonetheless.

Me, at 4.30am. Those that know me well, I am not a morning person. Let alone a stupid o´clock person.

The bus picked us up and was full of other young travellers. I slept. So did most.

We arrived at Tikal at around 6am and after having a coffee, we began our trek through the humid, wet and sticky jungle. We walked about half an hour south of the site to see the Temple of Inscriptions. The path was slippery with moss and the walk in the hot rain had us sweating a lot. The temple came out of the jungle, surprising us. It was reasonably large and a spectacle. The inscription was on a large upright slab at the head of a round sacrificial alter. The second we stopped, we were engulfed by mosquitos so we began the walk back into the thick of the site, and the Grand Plaza.

As we made out way through thicker jungle we could hear howler monkeys screaming above us. A small tapir crossed the road in front of us and we realised we were in the heart of another world.

A view of the Grand Plaza from Queens temple.

As the jungle subsided, the Grand Plaza opened up to us. Two large temples facing one another. The story goes that King Jaguar Paw lived in one temple and from his rooftop abode, he would watch the sunrise. Across the plaza in the facing temple, his wife would stay and his gift to her was a view of the sunset. We climbed the queen’s temple and overlooked the plaza of various smaller buildings. The construction could not be faulted and it’s location magical. After spending more time in the foggy jungle we decided to finally make our ascent of temple 5. The largest. It was nearing 11am and the sun had finally began to burn through the cloudy sky.

As we went around the bend to the top, the view immediately hit me. An affront to my senses. We were above the tree line. Above the jungle. We could see for miles around us. A never-ending ocean of lush green forest until our eyes gave way to the horizon. It wasn’t just this visual affront to the senses, the sounds of the jungle were loud and raucous. Howler monkeys yelped and barked as they swung from tree to tree, a break from the deafening din of the treetop insects.

On top of the world.

As the sun broke through, we saw the peaks of the other temples breaking out from the jungle layer. One last battle won by civilisation over the nature that had reclaimed this land.

My thoughts turned to how these great towering temples were created. Awe and wonder are natural responses but I also felt a little sceptical (naturally) about the capabilities of the Maya race. Would they really have been able to engineer and construct these gigantic stone monoliths? I’m not straying off into the whole ancient astronauts theory, but my mind defiantly dabbled with the theory. Although it felt like I may have been leading down a path of great injustice to this age old race. They probably had the man power and devotion to construct these buildings of worship. And they had stood the test of time and the slow but relentless attack of the jungle around it.

It was one of the greatest views I have had the privilege of witnessing. I appreciated the work put into it and drifted off into my own imagination of what this city once looked like.

We walked down and ventured further into the jungle, making a few of the track detours as we went a long. We saw more monkeys and a whole host of insect life, including a fuzzy caterpillar that looked like a discarded piece of flush. It only animated itself as we approached. Otherwise we could have quite easily stepped on it!

It neared the time of our bus departure at 12.30pm so we headed to the entrance of the park to have a cold drink before the drive back.

Back into Flores and I was feeling dehydrated and shattered. The afternoon was spent refuelling and relaxing by the Lake, which now took on a new life in the days heat and sun. Boats flew past, blue and red. Children jumped off the pier trying to impress their shy friends safe on land. Tuk Tuk’s raced pass, adding their interesting little horn to the concoction.

It was a perfect place to recoup.

We slept early to get our bus to Rio Dulce with a plan to make it to Livingston the next day. Tired and delirious, I drifted into a deep, dreamless slumber.

Adios Flores!

-U.Mirza

P.S. Patrons of grammar, please excuse any mistakes, as the internet fluctuates between existent and non-existent, I hastily post these blogs!!

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