The ruins of Tikal

3am has never been my favourite time of the day, except perhaps when I’ve come from the other side, but the promise of watching the sunrise over the Tikal mayan ruins was enough to force us out of bed and take the cramped, uncomfortable shuttle bus ride to the national park at that time.

We got to the park just before 4.30am and was guided, stumbling, through the jungle to reach the base of temple number 4 to watch the sunrise. We climbed up and sat on the narrow, steep steps and sat waiting: it was quiet, cool and meditative, one of my favourite times on this whole trip so far - and we didn’t even see the sunrise as it was so foggy. We’d later learn from our guide that the the city planning and the architecture of the village was focused around the sun and the steps of the temple were such that ceremonies could take place facing the sunrise.

From there, we wandered around the ruins, particularly the plaza major where the nobility would stay - when you see pictures, it’s the place with the two structures facing each other. Apparently each building took about 40 years to build and each one featured different types of steps upon which the different people could walk: the smaller, uneven steps for the workers, who tended to be much smaller people and the larger, higher ones for the upper class who were taller. For temples only for nobility, the workers’ steps were covered up with ramps once contstruction was complete and these ramps were then used to roll the bodies of sacrificed people down following ceremonies. Fascinating stuff. No one knows why Tikal was built were it was: it’s isolated, in the middle of the jungle with no river running nearby - they used the quarry made from removing stone to make the city to create a lake - and when the natural resources ran out, the people moved to another area.

I kept daydreaming about being part of the group in 1848 which discovered the ruins while trekking through the jungle, cutting through big mounds to uncover the treasure. It’s an adventure story and full of fascination - indeed, one of the fellow guests at our hostel, a 50-year-old Austrian, travels for months from mayan ruin to ruin to discover more and I can understand why. He told me that Australia has a number of great courses in mayan history, something I’d be interested in looking into should I return there.

When we finally returned to Flores, I couldn’t do much more than snooze and chill out.

We’re leaving here on the overnight bus to get to Antigua tonight so I’m off to discover the Flores mercado now and also find out what Huelga de Delores is all about as it starts today…