Our taxi driver advised us to get to bed early, rise with the chickens, and head for Tikal as early as possible, before the heat of the day, and before the tourists arrived. I guess he didn’t see us as the typical tourista, and his advice was well worth heeding. We’d become accustomed to retiring early since the sun sets at about 5:00 PM in the Guatemalan winter months so getting up at 4 AM was a piece of cake. Finding some place open for breakfast at 5:30 was a little more difficult. But with a little wandering, actually right across the street, we found simple breakfast fare, and we were ready to go when the bus arrived at 7:00. Forty minutes later we entered another world.
In the photo below I’m standing at the foot of Temple II near one of the many Mayan sculptures depicting one of the gods who ruled this world some 1600 years ago. I felt insignificant in the shadow of this 38 meter pyramid built in 700 AD in honor of the ruler Jasaw Chan K’awiil I. Using the wooden stairway on the left side I climbed to the entrance to the tomb, steep and shaky, but nothing compared to actually climbing the stone steps of the original structure. There are six large temples ranging in height from 25 to 70 meters; photos cannot accurately portray these amazing structures. You have to be there, standing at the top to appreciate their grandeur. From the tomb entrance I took the photo below of Temple I, at 47 meters, dwarfing Joy at the very bottom of the photo.
You can just begin to grasp the majesty of Tikal in the photo of Temple I. I climbed the Northern Acropolis to look out over the Grand Plaza and stood amazed that the Mayan race could construct these huge structures so many years ago. Many of you are familiar with the Mayan people; they are short, very short in stature, but these temples and structures are huge. For me, a giant among the Mayans, to climb the steps, I had to place a hand down on the step above me and boost myself up, step by step to reach the top.
All the statues and carvings depict strikingly tall rulers (gods?) in whose honor these temples were built. Where did they come from? Where did they suddenly go? It is estimated that between 100,000 and 200,000 people lived in this ancient city, and somehow, they just vanished without a trace. This huge empire made up of present day Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, just fell apart. As yet, history has no plausible explanation, only guesses, as to what happened to this amazing empire.