FROM MY JOURNAL
MORNING AT TIKAL
Ugh. Two days in Flores vomiting and miserable, and a lurking Andreas anxious to get on to our Holy Grail of Tikal, constantly running to the tour agents and in and out of my room not quite believing that I was really that sick? Then finally, dragging myself out of my sickbed in my vile hovel of a room, walking down the street to the small tour bus at dawn and seeing the sunrise and feeling hope for the first time again. Life on the road is perilous but never a bore.
I had booked a really luxurious room as I needed TLC and wanted to be able to really enjoy Tikal and its evidence of Pre-Classic mastery and beginnings vital to the early days of the Mayan civilisation as a whole. The Grandmother of their start finally uncovered from the jungle cover and its secrets brought forth.
The hotel was at the very gate of Tikal (I always do this now as you’ll be walking plenty when you arrive at the sites, offices generally are about a mile away from the bus stops and carparks) and I was very grateful to go fancy after fucking Flores. I had a lovely dinner and retired early arranging to meet Andreas in the morning for the early doors at the ticket office.
Top tip: You need a respite from the bloody buses and shitty cheap hovels that normally wouldn’t be that bad but when you are really sick you need some creature comforts. I never knew what had poisoned me but I do know that I couldn’t even move for two days and vomitted constantly. Always, always take activated charcoal for any poisoning eventuality. If I had have known about it I could have stopped the problem in its tracks. I would have been regularly taking it throughout that section of the trip as a precaution. Please add that to any shopping list for first aid I have ever suggested!
All kinds of faena jumped out at you or flew above your head or scuttled in the undergrowth as soon as you walked up to this ancient site. Sadly it was pissing down but nothing could spoil it for us victorious travellers and we walked onto the main Acropolis drenched but not caring as we were in awe of what we saw.
Clearly, as all the timelines keep shifting on our Prehistory, we can only just about evaluate how early a lot of these sites are. Tikal though was clearly an early start. When you realise that the Maya had an incredible habit of building one thing on top of the other then this Russian doll effect means that you can take nothing at face value. Just because that pyramid is in the Classic style doesn’t mean to say a few onion skins aren’t underneath earlier versions. The site that the ancestors used was of more importance than their construction although they built over the earlier versions with much respect This can be seen at the Great Pyramid of Cholula.
Away from the main plaza and pyramids is another section that I explored alone. These were not the stars being crumbling relics but one had the oldest glyphs found in Tikal crumbling on the back of the temple (Temple VI). Here I ambled around alone and had the whole of the next few relics to myself.
I get so emotional when nobody else is around, and I try to commune a bit with those ancient ancestors and feel their lives. It sounds really corny but I feel a lot more spiritual these days thanks to these experiences and it has served me well in these turbulent times.
LATER THAT DAY, YAXHA.
Well, this was a bit of a drama to be honest. Andreas had departed and I had booked a car to take me rather off-piste to this ancient site. My driver had had to get a four-wheel-drive to let you understand the final track in the jungle. This site isn’t visited by many and there’s a reason why, it’s hell to get to.
The main road there is as straight as any Roman road and the sun was finally out. I had dried off and felt very optimistic despite Andreas not being with me (can’t really remember why now it does seem rather odd!)
Anyhow as soon as we got off the main road it got really hairy and very uncomfortable as there were ruts about two feet deep and we did, in fact, get lost en route. However, finally, we arrived after about an hour and a half from Tikal. The driver stayed put in the car for a kip as they are discouraged to come with their charges for some reason.
I pranced off cocky and excited as per usual and indeed the first bit is very easy and well signed but things were to change for the worse when I strayed off to more distant parts of this massively spread out and magnificent site.
I only saw three tourists there and very occasionally a guard. The signs suddenly completely disappeared. and I was left on a long and barren path heading towards the ominous sound of howler monkeys becoming nearer. Now if you hear these chaps with a throng of people it’s not so unnerving but when you’re completely alone and lost it’s terrifying. I had to continue as by now I was hopelessly lost. There was no map included in my entrance fee and my map on my phone was useless, I had to go directly towards the sound of those clearly very dangerous creatures who were furious I had invaded their territory and would surely rip me limb from limb. They were clearly the souls of the ancestors and indeed were furious at another European invasion.
SOME HOWLERS IN THE JUNGLE.
I got to what appeared the object of my desire which was an unusual building just a bit before I huge sweep of steps before the huge lagoon there. Another extremely loud and close deep grunty howl was heard directly above my head and I’m ashamed to say I started running. Now unbeknown to me what appeared to be a smooth bit of dirt was, in fact, a waterlogged section of slick mud and my feet went from under me and I went arse over tit.
I actually hurt myself and grazed my hands in that filthy mud bath and my phone got a massive dose too as did my skirt and my face! I was upset and deeply shamed even though I hadn’t spotted the tiny guard coming from the back of the ruin I had been interested in wanting to hear who was making this noisy fuss and disturbing his siesta.
I was whimpering and horrified by my phone and myself being covered in green mud. The guard was the tiniest person I have ever seen but oh so kind. He took me to the ladies and waited for me while I washed up. When I came out he asked if I wanted to go to the lagoon down the sweeping stairs and path but I was too rattled and even looked sideways at my diminutive new friend in case he posed a danger. Travelling solo does do this to you from time to time as you do have to be on your guard.
However, at that point I was freaked because my phone was showing no picture and with shaking still bleeding hands I tried, again and again, to wipe it with the by now filthy bits of loo roll. Finally, I sussed out that my sim card had shifted over the lens on impact so I slid it back in place, I could still take photos. The guard then reassured me that howler monkeys are not at all aggressive just very noisy….
The chap was lovely but sadly I forget his name I was too shaky but he told me they have to live there for three weeks of the month as they all live over 80 kilometres away and only be home for the rest of the month. It must be very lonely and hard, we don’t know how lucky we are. He too was lonely as the guards aren’t allowed to be out of their sections so they don’t gossip. He was delighted to amble around with me and chat and see his pals.
By the time I found my way back I was amazed I was in one piece and apart for the slight alarm of not seeing my driver (they always have a kip somewhere) I got back on the road without further ado and we drove back to more modern civilization quietly after I showed my war wounds to my driver and told him about being saved from the howler monkeys and certain death.
yaxha AND ITS OUTER BITS
Alert: This is why I include this huge Biosphere and its ancient cities into the Preclassic era where I believe it belongs. Rather than this blog becoming out of date I’d prefer to be presumptuos and place it as very early settlements in this rich area of lowland. You too will have to think in this way as now more and more discoveries are being made globally to poopoo our preconceptions of early civilizations. So enjoy what you read below as a relatively up to date version of the area.
Yaxha in Guatemala is part of a complex of different Mayan cities that were settled at the shores of Sacnab and Yaxha lagoons. It is one of the few Mayan sites that preserves its original name, meaning Green (Yax) Water (Ha).
The political geography of the site was defined by the presence of water in its surrounding area. These water basins were used from the very beginning of the Mayan civilization as migration and exchange routes and also as natural borders.
Although there are earlier examples in Belize and other sites these two I actually got to in my travels. As wonders go they are high on my list however now I’m learning more about the Maya I wish when I went to Belize I didn’t just go to Caye Caulker to snorkel but to go and see some of their very early Mayan settlements. This part of my long trip from South America I did with my old pal Andreas and I think we needed a rest after the madness of Guatemala thus far and before attacking Antigua and the lake and volcanoes of Atitlan. Below I list the ones worth noting and the ones I have yet to go to Out of the Holy Trinity of Tikal and Yaxha I did pass on Nakum which is even harder to reach but is apparently well preserved because of its difficult access (apparently impossible in the rainy season)
ON TIKAL, A BIT ABOUT ITS HISTORY
Guatemala’s dense jungle is the Crib of the Mayan Civilization. This particular place hosts the biggest and best-preserved Mayan city, Tikal.
In Tikal you will find around 3,000 structures like temples, terraces, ceremonial platforms and plazas. All of these structures were connected with an aqueduct system that filtered the water of around 90,000 people it was originally thought but listen to this.A recent investigation made in 2018 with laser technology discovered around 60,000 undetected Mayan ruins. Scientists were able to create a map of the jungle floor in just 50 hours of work thanks to this amazing technology. Tikal Guatemala was revealed to be four times bigger than it is nowadays. It was thought that the entire Mayan population reached around 2 million people. Then on more investigation, the figure has been upped to a whopping ten million!
This is why the history books are constantly being rewritten, and whether we like it or not human history doesn’t just go back thousands of years but millions although the powers that be wanted to keep it quiet.
A bit about Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo.
“Within the National Park Yaxha-Nakum-Naranjo lays another famous Mayan site: Naranjo. This important city was in a constant war to keep its hegemony; it controlled Yaxha for many years. It’s even more strategic location between two important rivers (Holmul and Mopan) made Naranjo a powerful city, positioning it along with Tikal’s as most important. It also had strong links with Caracol in Belize and Calakmul in Mexico.Topoxte
Topoxte, together with Cante and Paxte were three islands in Yaxha Lagoon that played an important ceremonial role in the area. Topoxte, being the biggest island, showed an increase in the construction of their structures during the collapse of the Mayan period. This particular phenomenon makes the small city an interesting place to see the structure style of the Maya from the very beginning to the end of their boom.” (from Enjoy Guatemala)
LATE PRE-CLASSIC: A QUICK REMINDER OF THE ERA AND IT’S CITIES
Santa Rita, Cola, Cahal Pech, Lamanai and Cuello were important middle pre-classic sites in Belize. In the Peten region of Guatemala, Uaxactum, Tikal and Nakbe were developing centres of Maya civilization. Later sites around 900 B.C. include La Blanca and Chalchuapa. An important site was Kaminaljuyu, located where Guatemala City is today on Lake Miraflores. Cerros, Nohmul, and Lamana El Pilar, only 50 km from Tikal, was firmly rooted by this time. Major public constructions of platforms and pyramids are found throughout different sectors of the site.
The late pre-classic stretched from 400 B.C. to A.D. 250. The important sites from this time period include Kaminaljuyu, El Mirador and San Bartolo. While previously scholars assumed that Maya civilization didn’t manifest until the Classic period, now they know that all of the achievements of the Maya formed in the late pre-classic. The Maya were practising writing, mathematics and calendrics. Maya art of the era include stone carvings and painted murals as well as fine ceramics and jewellery. Trade, agriculture, population and territories all expanded. At times chiefdoms warred with chiefdoms. Monumental public works in the major late pre-classic cities included pyramids, ball courts and stone causeways or roads. Kaminaljuyu and El Mirador were both cities with large populations. While smaller, San Bartolo contains painted murals that greatly expanded our knowledge
THE START OF THE PYRAMIDS AND MONUMENTAL BUILDING IN LATE PRE-CLASSIC.
The Maya were practising writing, mathematics and calendrics. Maya art of the era include stone carvings and painted murals as well as fine ceramics and jewellery. Trade, agriculture, population and territories all expanded. At times chiefdoms warred with chiefdoms. Monumental public works in the major late pre-classic cities included pyramids, ball courts and stone causeways or roads. Kaminaljuyu and El Mirador were both cities with large populations. While smaller, San Bartolo contains painted murals that greatly expanded our knowledge of the Maya.
I will leave you with a reminder that these very loose dates for the so called Preclassic have only be placed such due to the unexplained first fall of the Mayas at that time. Their re-emergence is therefore dated as the Classic period. This by no means indicates that they did not have a large amount of the wonders in the the earlier period after all a huge majority of these monuments are not accurately dated. Just keep an open mind is all I’m saying, the ancestors are probably having a good laugh at our expense as we wallow around in misinformation of the ‘experts’