We said “Hasta la vista” to Claude at Huatulco airport.
Claude was heading for Canada by commercial airline but plans to be in
Santiago de Chile by the time we arrive there at the beginning of February,
so we can swap some more stories and consume more good food and wine with
We started IFR from Bahia de Huatulco at 11’000 feet, great weather the
whole way, and cancelled IFR at San Cristobal de las Casas to be able to
route direct at 11’500 from there to Tikal and avoid a long airway detour.
The isolated CB cloud tops over the mountains were only slightly above our
cruising altitude. After a 3 hour flight, we arrived at Flores (also known
as Tikal) airport. To our pleasant surprise, there was no airport hassle at
all – it was just like arriving in a European airport The sat phone had been
useful again as we were able to confirm our ETA to Jungle Lodge beforehand,
so the driver was waiting to take us to Tikal.
Our room was fine, but the restaurant was deserted and the food mediocre. It
was a dark, rainy evening and we were tired so didn’t think of venturing out
in search of a more congenial place. Also, we wanted to find out how to get
to the Maya ruins the next day. We wanted to arrive there shortly after dawn
but had no clue as to how long it would take to get there. The hotel
receptionist told us that we would not be allowed in to the ruins without a
guide and that there were no dawn excursions. The whole point of staying the
night in Tikal was to see the temples as the sun came up through the mist
and listen to the howler monkeys, so I insisted with the receptionist. He
said all he could do was to try calling the manager to ask for permission to
allow us to go with a private guide – who would still have to be found.
I could see the reception from where we were sitting having dinner, and the
receptionist didn’t appear to be trying very hard to phone the manager.
After dinner, I asked him what progress he’d made. He said he hadn’t been
able to get hold of the manager so the only solution was to ask one of the
hotel security guards to accompany us. For that, we would have to pay USD 50
because he’d need to bribe the park guards to let us in before the park
opened at 6 a.m. He said that in order to get to Temple IV (the best spot
for viewing the other temples) as the sun appeared, we would need to get up
at 4.30 a.m. to leave at 5 a.m. Flemming knew that the sun rose at about
6:15 a.m., so we would get to Temple IV in ample time if we left at 5:30
a.m. We therefore told them not to wake us before 5 a.m.
The next morning the knock on the door came at 4:30 a.m. We were furious
that they hadn’t followed our instructions and shouted from our bed that we
would not get up before 5. They left, but came back at 4:45! Eventually, we
got up and set off in the dark with the armed security guard. When we
reached the park entrance about 15 minutes later, some money changed hands.
We didn’t see how much but guess that most of the USD 50 went into the
receptionist’s pocket, a lesser portion into the security guard’s and the
rest of the pickings were divided between the two park guards.
We continued along the path by torchlight and listened, fascinated, to the
howler monkeys that sounded more like a thousand King Kong gorillas! We
arrived at the foot of Temple IV just before sunrise and climbed up the
steps to the lookout point. A group of tourists was there already with their
guide. They had booked their sunrise tour from another of the hotels, the
Jaguar Inn. When we told the guide about the deal we had had to make to get
into the park, he was shocked at the amount we’d paid and suggested we
complain to the administration. We also knew by that time that it wasn’t
necessary to visit the ruins with a guide, as long as one arrived after
opening time at 6 a.m. Never mind – we’d made it there, even though we could
have paid USD 20 between us instead of the USD 50.
We had a brief glimpse of the temples after sunrise and then it started to
pour with rain. Kicking ourselves for not bringing our emergency rain coats,
we waited until it almost stopped and then headed back to the village for
breakfast, not at our hotel but at the Jaguar Inn.
It rained a lot that day and I wasn’t all that thrilled with Tikal. I
suggested to Flemming that we return to Flores that afternoon. He didn’t
agree. There was an Internet café at the Jaguar Inn, and he needed to
contact Mapiex (the FBO at Gelabert Airport in Panama City) to get
overflight permission for Nicaragua. He had been able to contact the civil
aviation authorities in El Salvador with the fax number that Mapiex had
given us upon obtaining permission for our way north, but the number they
gave us for Nicaragua didn’t work. So we spent a few hours on the Internet
and then went back to the park when the rain finally stopped. We saw a few
more temples, but although it wasn’t raining, it was cloudy and damp and the
paths were slippery or muddy.
After dinner at Jaguar Inn – which was far more friendly than the Jungle
Lodge – we retired early to bed. We were going to give Tikal another chance
the next morning, and without the services of a ‘guide’ this time. Also, we
knew that there was no need to enter the park before 6 a.m. so no need to
bribe the guards.
The gamble of staying an extra night seemed to have paid off. We awoke to
clear skies and headed off to the park in good spirits. But back at lookout
point on Temple IV, I was disappointed to find that the temples were
invisible. They were hidden behind a thick mist. We waited patiently and
then, lo and behold, the sun started to penetrate the mist and it started to
clear. The Temples appeared one by one through the mist, accompanied by the
eerie sounds of the howler monkeys. A magic experience! I was so glad
Flemming had insisted on giving it a second try.
Once most of the mist had dissipated, we decided to explore the Mundo
Escondido site. There was a lot of squawking going on there and we saw green
parrots flash past as we climbed one of the temples there. From half way to
the top of the temple, we were at the same level as the branches of the
surrounding trees. Thus, we could look across to small toucans in one tree
and a colourful woodpecker in another.
It was also at Tikal that we saw our first agoutis – a large rodent about
the size of a small dog – with back legs that look too long compared with
the front ones. We spotted a fox-like creature in the hotel grounds, but I
was unable to find out the name of it.