Maya ruins at Xunantunich, Belize (Jonathan Brunger)
As the early sun rose, our bus to Tikal was already on the road. Mike, our guide and driver, meanders down the bumpy, dirt road from Pook's Hill and towards the border to Guatemala. Today we entered Guatemala and spent the day at Tikal National Park. As soon as we arrived to the border, Mike jumped out and lets us know we will walk across the border from here, meeting up with Roberto, a Guatemalan driver, on the other side. Going through customs was a cinch with Mike there to guide us. The whole process took 10 minutes and then we are in a different Central American country. Guatemala immediately felt different. Spanish-speaking, and more rural, this country is rich in culture, coffee and Maya traditions. Roberto is a friendly bilingual driver, willing to make plenty of conversation and planning a nice coffee stop along the way to the ruins. Now that we are in Guatemala, Mike played a role as an escort to make sure our journey goes well but our guides are Guatemalan for today. There was understood protocol and sign of respect among guides in Belize and Guatemala that each takes the lead in his or her own country. We drove another 40 minutes to the entrance of Tikal National Park, stopping along the way to sip shade-grown, organic coffee and peruse the shop for a hammock or piece of pottery to purchase. Roberto and Mike found a splendid guide to lead our trip around Tikal for the day. With the sound of the Montezuma Oropendula in the air and Spider monkeys crawling in the trees above us, off we go for a day of hiking through the Tikal ruins. The weather was great with it being hot but at least overcast, and the crowds were sparse on this day. There were areas where we didnâ€™t encounter any other visitors. We had the chance to climb some of the temples and enjoy the views, not only of the immediate plazas below but of the countryside. Were those other tree-covered hills in the distance covered and hidden Maya sites? Possibly. I will never forget being on one of the largest temples and listening to the howler monkeys. The bass, volume, and duration of their howls was incredible. What a great progression in learning about the Maya! We started out with an impressive but smaller site in Xunantunich, had the chance to visit the cave and see the Maya belief and importance of the underworld, and then ended it with Tikal.
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