Day 127 – Tikal

We had booked a 4:30AM shuttle for Tikal, one of the largest sites of Mayan ruins. It’s different from the other known ruins because it’s hidden deep in the rainforest. From what our tour guide told us, it’s believed that most of the structures are still left to be discovered. We were able to check out all the major temples and climb all of them but apparently, in order to see all the structures that would take a whole month.

The moment the temples come into view, the sense of awe just washes over you. These structures are enormous, to say the least. Their sheer size is enough to astonish anyone but what really captured me was the how advanced this culture was. They invented the number zero for Christ’s sake! Being there made me realize that I know very little about my own ancestry – I probably know more about other historic cultures and civilizations. It’s quite a shame but I would love to learn more.

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The temple above is probably the most impressive one we saw that day. The Temple of the Grand Jaguar was built in honor of Ah Cacao (Lord Chocolate – I like him already). It stands on the east side of the Grand Plaza. On the opposite side of the plaza, facing the Temple of the Grand Jaguar, is the Temple of the Masks (seen below) – built in honor of the Ah Cacao’s wife. It’s a bit smaller, but apparently, when the relative equinoxes come around and the sunrise and sunset align with the temples – they cast shadows from each temple so that they are appear connected. Cool, huh?

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No worries, these slabs were only used for (human) sacrificial purposes.

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Temple of the Grand Jaguar again.

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View from the top of the Temple of the Masks: The Grand Plaza.

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I believe this is Temple V – and yes, we climbed to the top!

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Our tour guide was a bit unconventional (his name was Boris but he was Guatemalan.. uh, what?) so he told us that he’d rather take us through the rainforest to get from site to site instead of the normal pathways in order to be exposed to what the Mayans would have had to deal with. In the photo above you can barely make out the shapes of some howler monkeys. Note: they don’t call them Howler Monkeys for nothing – they are LOUD. We heard them throughout the entire tour and it sounded like lions roaring.

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This really cute snake held up traffic on the staircase up to Temple IV (the highest one in Tikal).

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Of course, we had to get plenty of handstand shots around the site. I hope we didn’t offend the Mayan gods.

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Days 119-120, Antigua

Crista (my godmother) dropped us of in Antigua so we could commence our backpacking journey. Antigua was really adorable with lots of church ruins, restaurants, shops, and tours. Its backdrop is also a volcano. The most beautiful part of Guatemala is definitely its natural environment – you’re never too far away from mountains, volcanos, lakes, rivers, or jungles.

Probably the most unassuming volcano ever. Yeah, that slight hint of a slope right there, what you thought was just sky? Nope, that’s a volcano.

One of the many churches we visited. Most had been hit by earthquakes and were eventually deemed nonfunctional and now serve as museums.

Of course, Chris had to climb everything.

One of the first meals in Antigua – this platter was incredibly filling: cooked veggies, chicken stew, some guacamole and a side of tamales. And the corn consumption commences!
Every church we passed had an incredible presence, just like they had originally been designed to have. 
A cute little park with a great view of the volcano. We went running our second morning in Antigua and stopped by here to do some squats. Yes, we were doing squats in Guatemala. The locals gave us funny looks.
This was probably my favorite church ruin – it’s the Catedral de Santiago. Completely ominous with huge pillars just sprawled as if the 1773 earthquake that wrecked had occurred recently.
Later that second day (after we both got sick with Traveler’s Disease) we somehow managed to gather enough energy to go hike Volcano Pacaya. Pacaya actually recently erupted in May 2010 so it’s very much still active. The ascent took about an hour and a half, maybe two, with a straight shot up. It was exactly the kind of physical activity I needed. The end result was amazing.
It felt like we were on top of the world.
The clouds would hide everything around us and then clear off and show off a spectacular view. That’s the crater of the volcano.
Once we got closer to the crater, the ground became considerably hotter. At some points I felt like my shoes were going to melt off. Our tour-guide placed some sticks and branches on top of a small opening and it soon went up in flames. [Anyone seen Volcano, the movie with Tommy Lee Jones? That scene in the train tunnel where the guy jumps into lava to save the passenger? Yeah, I kept playing that in my head.]Sunset on top of a volcano.