Bahia de Huatulco, Mexico - Tikal, Guatemala - Flores 1 - 3 Dec 2005

Magic Maya ruin sunrise in Tikal

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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 him there.
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.

View of Flores island while on final for Tikal airport

Temple IV from which we watched the sunrise

Temple I and Grand Plaza seen from temple II

Local bus with colourful Guatemalan women

Temple I, II and III emerging out of the mist at sunrise (2nd day). Seen from temple IV

Small species of toucan in Tikal

JAlbum 6.0 Copyright: Angela & Flemming PEDERSEN

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