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Tikal

Tikal is about an hour bus ride from El Remate. Like most of the mayan ruins you can hire a tour guide or go about it on your own. One of the options for having a tour guide was the sunrise tour. The bus picks you up at three thirty in the morning and you hike to temple four and watch the sunrise from above the canopy. Sounds pretty amazing but sleep was more enticing after the long bus ride the day before. The Canadian girls who checked in the same time as us opted to take the sunrise tour and I was eager to hear about how it went. We scheduled a ride for ten o’clock.

Camera batteries charged and water bottles filled we crammed into the already full micro bus headed for Tikal. Being the only gringos aboard was nothing new but it was a little awkward when we had to stop and pay our twenty-dollar entrance fee. The locals waited patiently as we fumbled around mixing and matching our quetzals (come to find out they do not take U.S. dollars) luckily we had enough of the local currency to pay our way through. There is no grand entrance like at Coba or Chichen Itza. The bus dropped us off in a little round about area and we started our trek into the jungle.

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We didn’t make it far before coming across a massive Ceiba tree that towers two hundred and thirty feet over head! The Mayans believed that these trees held up the sky. After gawking for quite some time we made our way up the trail. We came to a map of the area as well as a fork in the trail. We took a right and headed for the plaza area. Not knowing we would run into a few temples along the way. As we came up on the plaza it was hard to tell how large it really was. I climbed up the stairs leading up a large structure, wound my way through the ancient stone and BAM there it was, the Grand Plaza in all its glory! Temple one to my left, temple two on the right, and the North Acropolis straight across the plaza.

IMG_2686Standing inside The Grand Plaza, looking around and up at the massive temple gives me an eerie feeling. Like someone or something is watching, just waiting to unveil itself. As I leave the plaza to head up another trail towards temple four I look up. There are two spider monkeys in the trees. Of course, a hoard of tourist is snapping a million photos. As I start back into the jungle I can hear what sounds like a recording of some crazy animal. I am convinced the park has speakers and are playing odd sounds for us so that our tour seems more authentic. Come to find out it was no recording. The sound was that of the Howler monkey. Supposedly the loudest land animal in the world. Had I not heard this terrifying screech myself I would probably not believe that statement, however, I have heard it, and I do believe it is true. The sound is hard to describe in words so I encourage you to make your own trip into the jungle to hear the monkeys mockery.

IMG_2804Temple four is massive. It rises up through the canopy and looms over all of Tikal. From the top I can see three other temples down below. The view is stunning and I can’t imagine what it would have been like at sunrise. As we head down the rickety stairway we run into the two Canadians who did the sunrise tour. Well, turns out they actually did NOT do the tour! They explain that they were waiting for the bus outside the hotel at three am…then four am… then around five they said screw it and went back to sleep! They were not particularly happy about this but they were still enjoying themselves nonetheless. WHEW, glad I didn’t book that tour!

The ruins of Tikal are supernatural and I can’t begin to explain the energy I felt there. The vastness of the grounds is astonishing and the sheer size of the temples is mind-blowing. I spent four hours wandering the trails of Tikal and could have spent another two. I am glad I did not hire a tour guide. From what I can tell when you have a tour guide it seems rather rushed, I would prefer to take my time and stop where I want. Having a book on the subject or doing some light reading previous to your own tour will provide just as much knowledge as any “multi-lingual” tour guide.

 

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Chichen Itza

The ruins of Chichen Itza sit in the middle of the Yucatan Peninsula. A three hour bus ride from Tulum. We arrived at the bus station around 9:55am for our 10:00am bus. Like most things in Central America it was not on time. We waited around for the bus to arrive and it finally did. We climbed aboard and made ourselves comfortable for the long  and bumpy ride. Benji brushed up on his mayan culture via Kindle, Emma read Game of Thrones, and I watched House of Cards season two.

Three and half hours later the bus came to a halt and its passengers emptied out like chickens running from a fox. Everyone eager to see this newly acclaimed wonder of the world. We found ourselves at an empty terrace (that I guess at some point during the day is a restaurant) and emptied out our PB&J onto the table. Lunch was finished and it was time to see this massive temple.

Upon entering the site you walk down a gravel road lined with vendors on either side. Tables overflowing with small silver trinkets and carvings of wooden masks forming their own forest. There are a few phrases the vendors know in english “Silver one dollar!”, “Very cheap very cheap!”, “Good price one dollar!”, “You buy!”.  It is endearing at first but that fades rather quickly. As the trees break the road comes to an end and opens into a massive field. In the center El Castillo looms overhead. Staring up at this massive  structure I feel as if I am merely an ant. It’s hard to wrap my head around how the ancient civilization built such a monstrosity.

Just past the great temple lies the “Thousand Columns”. I am not sure if there are quite a thousand or not but there are more than I could count. Walking through the first of the columns and out into another courtyard I am surrounded by more stone structures rising from the earth. I am amazed at how extravagant the city must have been. Upon closer inspection I can see the hieroglyphs that have been forever etched into the walls.

We wander through the forest and end up back in the center by the great temple. The ball field is on the opposite side of the pillars and is massive as well. Standing in the middle of the “arena” I picture mayans on top hooping and hollering for the players below. Exiting the ball field we cross by the temple and head back into the woods. Another gravel walkway lined with more opportunity to purchase trinkets. Surviving the road with all of our money we are spit out next to the observatory. It quite literally looks like a modern day observatory. I was astonished at the similarity. Passing the observatory I realize just how huge the entire grounds of Chichen Izta really are. We have been wandering about for nearly 3 hours now and still haven’t made it to the Sacred Cenote on the other side. We decide to pick up the pace and make our way over.

Standing on the edge and looking down on this massive hole in the ground with a diameter of two hundred feet, the Sacred Cenote has an eerie feeling. This was not used for drinking water as one would think but for offerings to the gods. People were sacrificed here in order to bring rain, healthy crops, or anything else the Mayan people needed. Leaving the cenote we shuffle back down yet another gravel pathway filled with “ancient artifacts” for sale. Surviving the road we are back at the main temple and have managed to see the entire site.

Chichen Itza was well worth our nearly seven hour bus journey. Breathtaking, inspiring, and mysterious are the three words I would use to describe the ancient site. I have to agree it is a must for those traveling to the Yucatan Peninsula. Seeing Chichen Itza gave me an understanding of the Mayan Peoples true capabilities.

 

Fly By El Castillo Thousand Pillars The Observatory

Tulum Ruins

Tulum, Mexico sits roughly 7 kilometers from the beach and in order to visit the ruins you either need to hop in a collectivo or take a cab. We opted for the collectivo. We were dropped off on the main road and it was about a fifteen minute walk to the entrance. This seven hundred year old city is believed to have been used as a port for trading jade and turquoise. There is a wall surrounding the three land bearing sides and a cliff seaside to provide protection from invaders.

The Mayan Ruins of Tulum are situated atop jaw dropping cliffs gazing out over the turquoise waters of the caribbean. The mayan name of Tulum was Zama, meaning “place of the dawning sun”. I can only imagine the people of Zama waking each morning as the sea gave birth to a new sun. This is home to the most breathtaking views of any mayan archeological site. It is no wonder why the name Zama was bestowed upon this bustling trading post.

A small doorway in the outer wall is the entrance to this mysterious city. As I take my last step through the passageway and out into the courtyard I am stunned by the pristine grass and what seem to be perfectly preserved ruins. Taking a left I wind upwards towards the edge of the cliff. Standing on top of the cliff I am able to look back down on the city. I can’t help but imagine it bright and colorful, full of people shouting like a modern-day market. Below me on the beach are a hundred tourist sun tanning and soaking up the salty water of the caribbean.

Moving back down away from the cliffs edge it seems to grow more peaceful. A path curves through the brush like a snake and I follow it willingly. As I look to my left there is suddenly a beach. A break in the cliffs provided the perfect landing spot for the century old ships. I can see the days catch and the new product from other trading post being unloaded as people stumble in the sand. I continue on and am overtaken by a smell that can only be attributed to a beautiful flower. I take a deep breath and inhale the soft aroma of the Frangipani. Aww… yes, this is the life. I close my eyes and relish in the moment. A historical site with great friends and the perfect aroma to match. A fantastic day indeed.

 

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