With it being Holy Week, we were told most of the workers would not be in on Thursday and Friday. So we decided those would be the days we would venture further inland, specifically to Tikal, a huge Mayan site. In fact, Tikal is the largest Mayan city they have uncovered, an empire really. It controlled all the other Mayan cities across Central America during its peak. Chichen Itza was neat to see, but Tikal is amazing.
The small hotel I picked to stay at is 20 minutes from the ruins. They were fantastic. I made all the arrangements over email with them for 2 rooms, a private guide and shuttle to the park and bagged lunches. Once that was all arranged I mentioned to them that I just needed to solidify our private shuttle to their Hotel, 4 hour away from the Rio Dulce. They emailed me and said they could book us private transportation from and to Rio Dulce as well, and for a few dollars less than the company we had been planning to book with. How easy did that make things for us. La Casa Del Don David, in El Remate is where we stayed, and their service was top notch. We planned the trip with short notice, and I was worried with it being Holy Week, and a big travel/vacation time for Guatemalan’s, that I would have trouble booking, but this place took care of everything!
They are a family run business, and everything went as smooth as could be. Their shuttle driver arrived 20 minutes early to pick us up at our marina. We loaded up and hit the road. The drive to El Remate in the Northern part of Guatemala called Peten was beautiful. Of course it took a bit to get out of the crazy traffic in Rio Dulce, but after leaving the town, the countryside was beautiful, hills and mountains all around. Cattle grazing in the fields, skinny cattle, not like our fat cows in the US. We could see farms where corn would soon be growing after the dry season passed. We made one bathroom stop along the way, but I am sure the driver, Rene, would have stopped anywhere we asked. He did not speak much English, but he answered our few questions as best he could.
We arrived less than 4 hours after leaving and were shown to our 2 air conditioned rooms. David happily volunteered to stay at the hotel while Matthew took his nap in the cool rooms. The accommodations were very simple and maybe a bit old, but super clean, so I had no complaints. Their 5 star service more than made up for the simple rooms. Besides, a clean room and beds to sleep in were all we needed. It was large homesite with 2 or 3 buildings of hotel rooms, each building had 3 or 4 rooms in it. They had a lovely yard, and covered gazebo where they hung hammocks and had a chess board. The kids enjoyed swinging in the hammocks—even though Benjamin fell out and gave himself a large goose egg on his head. It was very hot, so after Matthew was settled in for a nap, the kids and I went for a short walk to the lake.
El Remate is situated on Lake Peten Itza. The water is extremely clear and parts of it look like Caribbean turquoise waters. The hotel told us that all docks are public so you can walk down the road and pick any dock you wish to swim from, she said the best dock was about 2 km down the road though. The lake does not have any “beach” areas, everyone swims from a dock. And everyone was indeed cooling off in the lake. We didn’t make it to the “best” dock. We made it about 1/2 km, before the kids really wanted to pick any dock. So we picked a dock and walked out to the end, and in went the kids. There were a few other people swimming off this particular dock and many at the other docks nearby. It seems there is a dock about every 100 yds. The kids had a great time swimming around, jumping from the dock into the water. I chatted with a couple of teenage girls that came to swim. One of them knew a few phrases in English and she really wanted to try to talk with us. They were nice girls and swam with the kids for a bit.
After we headed back to the hotel, the kids wanted to play in the hammocks again. I had notice driving thru the small towns here, that most homes do have hammocks hanging on their front porches. In Mexico either I never noticed the hammocks, or they don’t use them there, but it always seemed like a hammock was just another “thing” to sell to tourists. Here as I walk down the main market street and see hammocks hanging, I believe they really are for the locals to buy and use.
While the kids were playing in the hammocks, David and I got Matthew up and went for a walk into the village. Isabel decided to come with us too. El Remate has several woodworkers in the village, but only a couple of shops. Most of the wood workers take their items to the hotels to sell to the tourists. We stopped at the few shops and I purchased a wooden spoon set. I really do love to use wooden spoons or kitchen tools, so I love that I can buy something locally made here that I really will use and love, rather than a knick knack that will collect dust and eventually be tossed away. They have several types of wood here that they carve from, and they make many different Mayan statues and items representing the culture. At the hotel the kids were told they could each pick a small carved wooden gift. Calvin had already picked a little Cayuca, or canoe. The others were waiting till tomorrow.
Dinner was included with our price of the rooms. At 6pm we headed for the small restaurant above our rooms. Because the hotel is so small the menu consists of one meal option, and a vegetarian option. We all had rice with Chicken, vegetables and a white sauce. We were told this is a traditional Guatemalan meal. While waiting for our food, the owner brought us a local fruit picked from his trees to share with us. He has lots of different trees in the garden local to the area with signs about them. This fruit is sapodilla also called chikoo sapote. He easily broke them open for us, gave us a couple of plates and spoons and said to scoop out the fruit and eat. They sort of tasted like the custard apple we attempted to try in Belize. Sort of like a cross between brown sugar and a papaya. Different and interesting. He then told us that the sap of the Chikoo Sapote trees are used to make chicklet gum. They are locally grown in Guatemala. love trying stuff like this. We had been told about the sapodilla fruit at Tijax marina, but I hadn’t found any in the markets to try, so this was a great experience.
The next morning came early for us, rising at 5am. We decided to leave as early as we could to get in as much of Tikal before the heat and crowds hit. The park opens at 6am, so we met our guide and driver, Rene and Samuel outside the hotel at 5:30am. It took about 20 mins to drive to the park entrance, and once the gate opened, another 10mins to the parking lot. Tickets to enter the park were about $20 US per adult, free for the kids. From the parking lot it was at least a 1/2 mile hike into the Grand Plaza. Along the paths we looked for crocodiles in a pond, but didn’t see any. We looked for birds, we saw a few parrots and other pretty birds. And we watched for monkeys too, but didn’t see any yet. We did find a colony of leaf cutter ants. We know, ants don’t seem cool enough to mention, but these are ordinary ants. They are hard working and busy ants, and they seriously cut a road in the leaves at least 6 inches across and 25 feet long to carry their food to their nest.
Samuel our guide was great. He had an ear for the birds so he could point them out to us, and had a lot of info about the ruins we were seeing. He was great with the kids, holding hands with Isabel or carrying Matthew on his shoulders. He has 4 kids himself, his youngest now 14 years old. We were able to see a small variety Toucans, we heard the large kill bill Toucans, but weren’t able to see any. But along the trails we did see spider monkey’s swinging over head a few times. We also saw several Coatimundi’s foraging around for food and the most beautiful turkey I have ever seen. Yes a turkey, oscellated Turkey, with beautiful irridescent colors. We had to keep Calvin from chasing the turkey.
This tree is central to the Mayan Culture and sacred to them. It is a Ceiba Tree. They believed the 4 main roots pointed on each compass point, N, S, E, W. And that the roots helped them reach the underworld just as the branches help them reach heaven.
Just after arriving at the Grand Plaza, I was able to take a photo or 2 of Temple 1, and then my camera battery died. It said fully charged when we left that morning, and then it died. Not fair. Savannah had brought her 2 MP camera, so many of our photos are from her photography. She has been watching Kylynn, and is gaining a unique eye for photos and I am often surprised at how great many of her pictures are, like the one above of Benjamin wrapped in the hammock. In fact she really probably needs a better camera.
Back to Tikal… When we told the kids we were planning a trip to Tikal, they got excited. We didn’t need to explain to them that it was an ancient city. One of their favorite activities is listening to the books Tennis Shoes among the Nephites, by Chris Heimerdinger, on audio file. Over the last few months we had been working our way thru books 10 and 11 while under way on the boat. In these books the characters visit and talk about the city Tikal, the evil Teotihuacan Army, and Prince Jaguar Paw, along with many other characters and places. This got the kids really excited to go to Tikal, as it was in their book. And they started asking if some of the characters were real. I told them they would have to ask our guide. So they did. The Teotihuacan’s did invade Tikal sometime in the mid 700AD century, and the King of Tikal at the time was Jaguar Paw, in fact he built what today is called Temple 1 and the Teotihuacan’s killed him. The remains of his body were excavated from Temple 1 by archeologists. Calvin and Savannah couldn’t believe it! The picture to the side is of Savannah in front of Temple 1, Temple of Jaguar Paw.
Across from Temple 1 is Temple 2, which you can climb. David, Benjamin, and Calvin made the trek up the stairs. I was saving my energy for the big climb of Temple 4. Savannah and I explored the North Acropolis or what our guide had called the Cemetery, where many of its rulers were buried for over 500 years. There are several stelae and artifacts in this area supporting this. It was a large structure in its day and much of it was restored, but the restorers had dug so many holes and tunnels looking through the structure that much of it collapsed. They saved what they could, but the roofs are gone. There are restored masks of the Rain God and the Sun God. This area of Tikal was occupied for over 1500 years. Incredible.
Across from the Cemetary is the Residential Plaza or Central Acropolis, where many of the noble or Royal families of the Mayans lived. We explored that on our way out as we had to pass back thru the Grand Plaza to exit. It is kind of like apartment or or condo buildings. You can walk thru and see stone platforms for sleeping and areas sectioned off like in a living area. Samuel explained to us and showed us in the buildings that part of their collapse over the years was a lack of building with the Roman Arch. Had they understood the necessary component of a keystone in an arch their buildings may have survived in a better condition.
Leaving the Grand Plaza we walked past Temple 3, the most recently built Temple at Tikal. Only the top of it has been restored, but you can see how most of the other temples would have appeared when the Spanish discovered the city in the 1800s. The stone structures sticking up out of mounds of earth that had since been growing on top of the structures.
We finally reached Temple 4, the largest Temple in Tikal and built before the others. Here we climbed a wooden staircase attached to the side of the Temple, over 200 steps to the top. The view is amazing. Birds flying thru and above the trees. You can hear the howler monkeys in the distance and Toucans and other birds singing. The temples poking up thru the jungle. It is beautiful. When the Mayans built Tikal, there was no jungle here, not much water either. They built large reservoirs to catch the rainwater. The landscape was different. But as the city was abandoned and the environment changed and became a rain forest, the jungle grew over the city to how we see it today. It now rains 10 months out the of year here.
David had carried Matthew up the temple, but he climbed down every step himself, holding a hand of course. On Isabel’s way down a monkey swung thru the trees right in front of her, just a few feet away. Calvin was keeping a running total of all the steps he went up and down for the day, so he climbed Temple 4 twice to increase his count. He ended the day with a total of 1554 steps climbed.
From Temple 4 we walked over to the Astronomical Complex. These were some of the first structures built in Tikal beginning in 600BC. It is often referred to as the Lost World. From the largest structure the Mayans would climb to the top of the flat platform to watch the sunrise. Behind the structure, built in a row are 7 temples. As the sun would rise each day they would note which building it was rising over to mark their calendars. When the sun rose over the temple to the farthest left, it was summer solstice. Rising over the center and largest of the 7 temples, would denote spring and fall solstice. And over the temple to the far right, winter solstice. The plaza surrounding these 7 temples were all built prior to the Grand Plaza structures, and in its time would have been considered the Grand Plaza.
From here we walked to Temple 5. This temple is different from the others. Built mid 700AD, it faces North. Samuel pointed out that it is directly south of the North Acropolis. All the other temples at Tikal either face east or west. It is also built differently than the other temples, and looks more like the Temples we saw while visiting in Mexico. Samuel told us that was because the Teotihuacan’s influenced how this temple was built, and they brought their style from Mexico.
Stelae, or slates of hieroglyphs were discovered all over the city explaining the rulers that built the different temples and including the calendar or timeframe they were built. Many of these are hard to read to our untrained eyes, but you can still see the calendars or markings on many of them. Samuel showed us on the stelae how the Mayan calendar was written and even had the kids help read one with him.
We missed many of the other structures that have been uncovered, but Tikal was a city of thousands of buildings. We also missed seeing Temple 6 and its complex as it was about 1 mile walk to the north. We had been exploring the park for 5 hours when it was time for us to leave. The kids did a great job, considering the amount of walking, we think close to 5 miles by the time we reached the van waiting for us. The heat was setting in so we were grateful for the shaded jungle paths. The park crowds were growing and growing. As we headed back thru the Grand Plaza on our way out, it was so crowded. When we had arrived after 6am, there were maybe a dozen people exploring the plaza, now there were hundreds. We had to walk against the crowds to exit. We were really glad we arose so early to see the park at the time we did and enjoy it in the cooler hours and without the crowds.
After a quick stop in the tourist markets to pick up a few postcards, and a plain hat that David had been searching for and was happy to find in Guatemala for $7 US, we loaded into the van with Rene, who had been waiting all this time in the parking lot for us. We headed back to the hotel to drop our guide, Samuel. The kids remembered that they needed to pick out their little wooden gift from the hotel. Calvin already had his, so David took Benjamin, Savannah, and Isabel inside. I also wanted to make sure our charges had been paid in full. The other great thing about this hotel was they provided an online payment system. Since we had our visa credit cards cut off from the fraud charges in Mexico, I had grandpa use his Visa to make our deposit on the trip online. After we arrived, they emailed him the balance so he could log in and pay the remaining bill. I wanted to make sure that was taken care of, and it was. This allowed us to keep our needed cash, not to mention the little amount of Quetzales we had managed to get for other things. Benjamin picked out a Cayuca like Calvin, Savannah picked a little wooden Coatimundi, and Isabel picked a little cloth Guatemalan girl in traditional clothing. Suzie picked a wooden Toucan. We said our thanks and goodbyes, and back to the van for the 3.5 hour drive back to the Rio Dulce with Rene. As we travelled back we passed thru several small towns or villages. A few of which had “processions” occuring as we drove thru. Processions are the religious parades of Semana Santa. It was interesting to see even these small groups of people walking down the street carrying their small float depicting Mary the mother of Jesus, or of Jesus on the cross.
The entire trip was great, and one I would love to do again, to see more. It was also a great time to go, while so hot during the day, it’s not rainy and there were hardly any mosquitos. Which made it nice to not have to worry about catching Malaria or Dengue. We were glad we had paid the extra money for the private shuttle so we did not have to worry about traveling on the bus or the safety of the kids. And the private guide for our group made it so we could go at our own pace and the kids could ask as many questions as they wanted or stop and look at birds or animals when they wanted, or swing from the vines like Tarzan. Now I just need to plan a trip to Copan in Honduras to round out our Mayan Adventures.