Then to Tikal, the major Mayan ruin in the Peten (Northern Guatemala). We found preparations for the next day (the actual Baktun end day, by general consensus) everywhere. The morning national newspaper, Prensa Libre, said that road improvements to Tikal were finished in time for the celebration. Tell that to the fellows spreading asphalt, painting yellow lines, and grading shoulders. The newspaper also said that all accommodations were full except for camping. That should have given us a clue. Because of the Baktun, everything in the National Park was upturned–entrance gates were moved, roads were being re-bricked with trip lines invisible except to tourist ankles, personnel were swarming, walls were being painted, and most importantly for us, camping was not allowed–“is cancelled” for the duration.
The site, however, is as impressive as you could imagine.
While G. rested and recouped, Sarah set off to find us a place to sleep. A pleasant young tourist agent, part of a corps of hundreds, when told that the newspaper said camping was available, suggested that the same paper probably also said Guatemala had a good government. We found a room-with-shared-bath at the Jungle Inn, which was just fine (no camping, but other accommodations were available) and we arose at 4 am to take an early tour to see the sun rise from the top of a pyramid.
The sun rose into impenetrable mist but we heard the jungle wake up (howler monkeys particularly) and watched the tourists, including several meditators who managed communion for at least 45 seconds at a time and a set of Eugene sorts who burned cornhusks and Mayan incense upwind of the whole pyramid-top crowd and then fell into an extended group embrace.
We walked on through other plazas, buildings, temples and ball courts, surrounded by deep and chattering jungle. Lots and lots of folk were getting ready for the big celebration in the evening. We were particularly struck that the Mayan participants–dancers, spiritual leaders, etc.–were walking, carrying their gear. The chubby white guys in uniforms, police, tourist police, military and park service, were all in trucks and newer cars, most driven fast down the same roads that walkers used. Es Guatemala, by now not so surprising, but still sad and a little scary. The day was becoming hot, busy, and crowded so we headed out, convinced as we passed the lines of trucks and buses going in that we were headed the right direction.
At Yaxha, a neighboring ruin where our friend at Tikal had assured us camping was open, and where the tourist magazine in Antigua extolled the newer camping palapas, the camping was also “closed for the duration.” Driving the 6 km into the ruins was also closed. (Pay 5 quetzales for parking and wait for the tourist bus.) We stopped instead at a private field where the owners had set up a campground, plus two cabanas, a palapa, and a comedor.
The comedor at the Yaxha Campground
The three generation family was very friendly. Sarah took Vilma’s blood pressure and made a friend for life. We took the afternoon off. I was still a little shaky from my tourista tummy woes and appreciated an hour in a hammock. Sarah made a terrific packaged chicken noodle-with-added-veg soup that was exactly what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, as I got better she got sick and we stayed in the green. cool quiet for two nights after everyone else left and as they closed the place down around us. Vilma kept coming over with fruit, medicinal tea, and to see how we were doing. Most telling: We moved the car up next to the palapa after everyone else left, so we would have shelter if it rained again. At about that time a police truck drove by. Vilma and her husband promptly came over looking for us because they could not see the car where it previously had been, and they had seen police go by and were concerned. They were relieved to find us still there.
By the time we left we felt like family
I toured Yaxha on the day the world ended and enjoyed more ruinas in the jungle. This site was, again, massively impressive, and we tourists were outnumbered by the t-shirted staff and Red Cross volunteers. I guess everyone was at Tikal, making Yaxha a great place to see as the world began again in this next Baktun. I climbed a pyramid and looked across the treetops at another down the way.
Yaxha: pyramids in the jungle
Yaxha is on a pretty lake. The sign intrigued me. I think the crocodile does not like to get soap in his mouth, maybe.
Do not use soap in the lake. It annoys the crocodile.
On the third day we arose and drove into Belize. Belize is very different from Guatemala. It is Caribbean, notably more prosperous (more expensive), British influenced (was a colony until 1981), has better roads and infrastructure, more black faces, more diversity generally. We haven’t seen scrawny dogs dodging traffic, nor do we see so many people sitting who appear to have nothing to do. We are in Belize City, at the Red Hut Inn, where we blog in AC and on a rooftop terrace and have been welcomed by innkeepers Julie and Lewis, a delightful couple with 5+ languages, 5+ small dogs and a contagious welcome. Tomorrow to Caulker Cay, snorkeling and sunburn and Caribbean R & R.
Though it’s a relief to be clean, healthy and relatively safe, there’s much about Guatemala, failed government, lawless racist history and all, that we will miss and mull over in these next months of travel towards home.