I arrived in Flores early evening on Monday, October 27. Flores is a small town on a small island in Lago de Peten Itza about 400 yards from the shore. Technically I don't think it is still an island since a road was built on an artificial spit of land created to connect Flores to the mainland and the town of San Benito. Flores and San Benito are the most convenient places to stay when visiting the Mayan ruins of Tikal. I found a basic but acceptable room for 50 Quetzales, about $6, at Casa de Lancandon. I went out to eat and when leaving the restaurant noticed a few people nervously eyeing a dark lump on the sidewalk across the street. I looked closer and saw that the dark lump was a curled up boa constrictor, about six or seven feet long. Some of the local people were cautiously trying to shoo him back to the lake, which was about fifty yards away, but the snake wasn't moving. That's when I decided I need a shirt pocket size camera to keep with me all the time; I missed a good picture.
Okay, on to Tikal. I got up very early to take a 5:00 a.m. shuttle to Tikal, arriving about 6:30. I went in with three other people at the entrance and hired a guide, but he was a waste. He didn't seem to know much about Tikal, to make up for this he talked slowly and repeated himself a lot. I guess guides are hit and miss; the one in Copan was excellent, while I would have been better off on my own in Tikal. However the Tikal guide was good with tarantulas.
Info on Tikal, mostly from my guidebook. The area of Tikal was first settled around 700 BC on a low hill in an area of swamps and rain forests. Archaeologists speculate people settled there because there was a great deal of flint in the area, and flint was the primary tool material of the day. Flint made the area wealthy enough to start building and by 200 BC there was a complex of buildings on the hill. Wealth, power and conquest made Tikal an important city of about 100,000 in the sixth century. Most of the great temples were built in the seventh and eighth centuries. Sometime around 900 AD the city went into decline, speculation is that the land was exhausted and the local climate was changed by clear cutting of forests; whatever the cause the city was abandoned and the jungle reclaimed it. It was rediscovered in the nineteenth century and Indiana Jones style excavation ensued, followed by more modern excavation and restoration in the twentieth century. In the 1970's it made the big time; it was used in a scene in the first Star Wars movie.
Now for the pictures. First up is the La Ceiba tree, an important symbol in the Mayan religion. The roots reach into the nine levels of the underworld, the trunk is in this world, the top reaches into the 13 heavens and the La Ceiba ties them all together. The Mayans, under pressure, were able to reconcile the Christian veneration of a wooden cross with their belief in the La Ceiba world tree:
Here is an interesting contrast--a partially restored pyramid and an unrestored pyramid:
Here are some of the wild turkeys that are common in Tikal. They are protected in Tikal and quite bold. Outside of Tikal they are fair game. The next day in Flores I had wild turkey for supper, they're very good:
Temple IV, the highest in Tikal and second highest pre-Columbian building known. Pictures of the temple, the stairs leading up Temple IV, and some shots of the top:
The view from the top of Temple IV. In the second and fourth picture are the tops of Temples III and V (I think). These are the "Star Wars" views:
A coatimundi. These critters are like the raccoons in many U.S. parks, fearless freeloaders looking for a handout:
While wandering between sites our guide pointed out a hole in the ground and then coaxed this lady out. The big tarantulas are female, the males are much smaller and occasionally eaten by the females. Our guide seemed to know this one and let us pose with it. I appreciate spiders bug eating habits and I'm not exactly arachniphobic, but would rather keep a respectful distance. I'm impressed with myself for being able to pose for the last two pictures:
Back to the temples, starting with a peek at Temple I through the jungles, then the great temple of El Mundo Perdido (The Lost World). There are four older pyramids underneath this one, the earliest dating to 700 BC:
Recently excavated Temple V and the stairs leading up:
The view from the top of Temple V looking down, and a picture of an unexcavated pyramid next to it. The jungle does a good job of hiding things, it is easy to see how these cities and massive buildings could disappear for centuries:
More pictures from the top of Temple V. In the first picture is Temple II on the left and Temple III on the right, they are at either end of the Great Plaza. The next picture is a zoom of Temple III:
The climb down from Temple V:
Now for the Great Plaza, with me in front of Temple I in the first picture and Temple II in the second, followed by more interesting pictures of Temples I and II without me:
The Royal Residences bordering the Great Plaza, followed by the plaza between Temples I and II with the Acropolis in the background:
The ball court and north Acropolis:
Me in the Royal Residence area with Temple II in the background, followed by a picture of a room in the Royal Residence. It doesn't look like much, but the thick limestone rock walls offered protection and some relief from the brutal tropical heat. The next picture is of the entrance to one of the wings of the Royal Residence:
Pictures of a Stella and wall mask in the north Acropolis:
After ending the guided tour I wandered a bit on my own, but only took a few pictures. Below is of the Temple of the Inscriptions, where I didn't find any inscriptions. The next picture is of a model od Tikal at the entrance:
Another wildlife shot. Late in the day while waiting for a shuttle back to Flores I saw this fox crossing the parking lot. Nothing spectacular here, but I rarely see a wild fox while I'm holding a camera:
After a one day at Tikal I ate in Flores and found a nearly empty bar showing "The Sixth Sense". I had never seen it before, it is now my favorite ghost story movie. I spent the next day arranging a crossing into Mexico and writing and mailing postcards, which had become part of my routine before leaving a country. This is my only Flores picture, taken from the back of Casa de Lancandon. It is a composite of the lake view from the island/town of Flores:
Once again I arose painfully early (I'm not an early person) on the morning of October 30 to catch a 5:00 a.m. shuttle to the border with Mexico. There is a brief description of the trip back in the Guatemala main page.