Tikal, Guatemala — Mayan Temples in Deep Jungle
Tikal, Guatemala — Mayan Temples in Deep Jungle
The ruins of Tikal lay deep in the jungle of Guatemala. They can be reached by first going to the city of Flores that is situated on the shores of Lake Petén Itzá. After checking into a hostel, I searched for a place where I could quench my thirst. I found a shack at the end of a wooden dock with a delightful and calming view of Lago Petén where it was also possible to skinny dip. I sat at a table with some funky-looking travelers after bathing in the refreshing and clear lake.
Chantal was from Quebec, in her early twenties and on a six-month trip. Her red hair, green eyes, freckles and a never-ending smile pleased the eye. Jason, a very cool-looking dude from Germany with long, curly black hair and a handsome face with prominent cheekbones, was on an extended journey. His eyes were so dark and deep it was hard not to get lost in them. Last but not least was Akasha from Minneapolis, a good looking Mexican-American girl in her early twenties who wore a white hat and John Lennon glasses that sat half way on her stubby nose. She was on her first trip exploring the world outside the USA. All three of them were sipping on fresh juices as they discussed a strategy on how to spend the night hiding inside the ruins of Tikal. I quietly overheard their plan how they could travel there the next day when they, out of a sudden, turned their heads towards me. Instead of asking me standard questions, such as: what is your name, where do you come from, what are you doing for a living, and how long have you been traveling, they only asked if I had been to Tikal yet. I hadn’t, so they promptly invited me to join them on their adventure.
We got up the next morning at 4:00am and entered Tikal National Park — a UNESCO world heritage site — at around 6:00am. The sunrise on top of one of three massive stone pyramids that overlooks the jungle canopy was amazing! The ruins of Tikal offered us a spectacular 360 degree panoramic view — of seemingly endless jungle surrounding us in all directions. Roars of distant jaguars and sounds of exotic creatures waking up to the rising sun accented this extraordinary, primal landscape. Their calls felt like music to the soul.
One could easily spend the entire day climbing through the pyramids and viewing the ancient remains of this impressive Mayan City that stretches over many miles. The edge of Tikal was not well-defined, since there was no fence, only signs marking the end of the protected tourist zone. We were warned not to leave the secured tourist sector, where heavily armed guards stood ready to protect visitors that could potentially be robbed or killed outside the safe perimeter.
Guatemala has a rough history of a cruel civil war and stories of both locals and foreigners being violently murdered were not uncommon. Despite all the potential travel dangers at that time, the remarkably impressive site made the risks worthwhile. Our jaws dropped from soaking in the sacred vibrations of that ancient place! We certainly had not had enough of it when the time came to leave. We urgently had to find a hiding spot an hour before the official closing so that the guards would not kick us out. Hiding in the jungle turned out to be easy, and our plan was to meet after sunset on top of the Jaguar Temple.
I was hiding with Jason, and Chantal was with Akasha. It was totally dark, and using flashlights was out of the question, if we wanted to remain hidden. The moon had not yet risen, so the night was pitch black. I asked myself if it would be possible to step on poisonous snakes, and the quiet voice of my intuition answered, “Certainly!” I thus had to be extra careful to not panic. Jason and I climbed the very steep steps leading to the top of the Jaguar Temple silently so that no one could hear us. When we arrived at the top, we reconnected with Chantal and Akasha. Then we heard voices as a group of loud travelers also arrived at the top of the Maya temple. They had had the same idea, so we all sat together overlooking Tikal at night, watching the stars and listening to the night sounds of the jungle.
Some hours passed like this peacefully, but around midnight, two Mexican guards appeared unexpectedly. They were not happy to see us. We had brought a bottle of rum with us to bribe the guards with, just in case they found us. Instantly, Chantal jumped towards them smiling with the bottle in her hand. She tried to convince them in her broken Spanish to enjoy the night, but they did not want to be persuaded easily. After about an hour of negotiation, Chantal had to change her strategy. Leaving now was not an option, since half the night was already gone, and sunrise was not far away. We knew that most people appreciate American dollars, so it would probably only be a matter of how much money they wanted to let us stay.
We were all in our early twenties, and a US dollar was worth a lot more back then. Also, we had a limited amount of cash and wanted to pay these guards as little as possible, while still being sure that we could spend the rest of the night in the incredible ancient temple. Chantal eventually convinced them to not kick us out and they left happy with the rum and the dollars only to send their buddies back a couple hours later to try the same trick. We had to pay them off too and finally spent the rest of the night inside Tikal peacefully smoking joints and laughing a lot.
After this special bonding experience, Jason and I decided to travel together with Chantal and Akasha as a quartet.
That story is from the book, Transcendental Journeys – A Visionary Quest for Freedom. Curious to know more?