Guatemala & George Lucas
Adventures in Central America!
We boarded our van at 7am for our big excursion into Guatemala to visit the massive ancient Maya city of Tikal. It took just an hour and 15 minutes to arrive at the border, and we disembarked our van accompanied by swarms of men wanting to exchange our money. We stood in line for about 30 seconds before clearing Belize customs and immigration – quickest border crossing ever! We walked across “no-mans land” in between the border, and passed quickly through the Guatemala customs and immigration. On the other side, we met George, our Guatemala driver. It is illegal to drive a Belize vehicle in Guatemala, so George guided us to our new vehicle and soon we were out on the newly paved freeway that would take us to the ancient city of Tikal. George filled us in on the scenery passing by our windows, and left the freeway several times to show us the shores Lake Macancha and Lake Peten Itza along the way.
We stopped outside of the park at an obvious tourist trap, but at least they had clean bathrooms and water to wash your hands. We avoided purchasing any of the overpriced goods here, and picked up Danielo, our national park guide. Just a few more minutes down the road and we had finally arrived – we were at Tikal National Park! We parked the car near a cluster of thatched roofed café’s – George’s hangout for the day – and set off on foot into the park. I knew Tikal was an immense area, but hadn’t realized just how far we’d be walking this day! We hiked for over an hour through the dense, steamy jungle, Danielo pointing out along the way different plants and animals.
Finally, a gigantic structure appeared through the forest, and looking up, up, up, we finally were standing at the base of Temple IV, Ryan’s dream come true. Not too many people are aware of this unless they are serious fans of the Star Wars movie, but back in 1977 George Lucas filmed a portion of the original Star Wars movie from the top of Temple IV. Of course we were headed to the top, so we joined the line snaking their way up the never-ending staircase and arrived breathless at the top of the temple. The sun was merciless above the jungle canopy, but we posed for the famous Star Wars shot and other photo ops, soaking in the incredible view from the top. Once we couldn’t stand the heat anymore, we descended the staircase again. Sweat soaked, we paid way too much for a cold gatoraid, but at that point it seemed worth it!
We set off again through the jungle, Danielo pointing out various things along the way such as pits dug by the maya for food storage, rain reservoirs, and remnants of broad paved highways. We passed gigantic structures such as the Sun Temple, residences and numerous other buildings in various states of excavation. Spider monkeys and the curious coati mundi (raccoon like creatures) kept us company on our journey, birds and forest life always busy and noisy around us. We lingered in the plaza which was believed to be the north entrance to the city of Tikal, poking our way through the surrounding buildings and seeing the grand staircase which now, thousands of years later, is falling into decay from the jungle’s influence.
We paused at the impressive Temple V, a steep faced building of huge stepping stones. The staircase for the tourists was located next to it, but was so steep that it was more like a ladder ascending the 15+stories to the top. Deciding that I was better off not falling off the top of the building, I sat on the ground and watched as Ryan made his way up to the top. So steep and tall that he was a miniature version of himself before arriving at the top, I was glad to be on solid terra firma! (Once back down my fearless husband confessed that he nearly passed out at the top from the height – the guy who isn’t scared of heights!)
After continuing through the jungle, we finally arrived at the Grand Plaza. This expanse of green lawn is surrounded by enormous structures on all sides. We clambered our way up the broken side of the temple to peer down into the face of an excavated face of Chaac, the Mayan rain god. The sun again was brutal, so we wandered around as long as we could, trying to get past the extreme heat to soak in the incredible experience of this massive Mayan city. We retreated back under the jungle canopy for our return trek back to the entrance to the park. I browsed a few of the local vendors selling their wares and purchased a few items to remember our day in Guatemala before we had a welcome cool soda and the ever present chicken, rice and beans at the park café.
The drive back to Belize was uneventful. Ryan and I were mainly silent as we attempted to sort through the experiences of the day. The day held so much - wandering the ancient streets, courtyards and buildings of the awe-inspiring Mayan people. A culture so advanced, yet so mysterious, exploring their ancient city was an experience difficult to put into words. Once arriving back on the beautiful grounds of Pook’s Hill, Vicki’s smiling face was there to greet us. Relaxing in the refreshingly breezy lodge, we popped open cold bottles of Belikans and sorted through our thoughts and impressions of Tikal with Vicki before heading up the hill to our cabana to clean up for dinner.
On our way back down the hill to the lodge for our typical “happy hour” mingle time before dinner, we noted that the blazing hot sky was clouding up. A break from the heat would be a welcome change, but I was a bit sad to not see the vast night sky on our last evening in Pook’s. Another round of fresh chips and salsa and adventure stories under the thatched roof, we relaxed in the company of our fellow guests. During our lantern-lit dinner, the breeze shifted. Lightening started lighting up the jungle around us, and a deluge opened up outside. It was so cozy, with our sun-heated skin, full bellies and camaraderie of our new friends, while the storm showed its drama on the other side of the screens. None of us felt like returning to our cabanas, so we all went back upstairs. Cat and Dave again lit the candles and lanterns that the wind had blown out and the wonderful cooks brought us all steaming cups of tea. The rain was pounding away on the thatched roof, and we all enjoyed a leisurely evening of laughter and tea while the breeze blew in and the rain pounded around us. Before too long, our bodies gave way from the adventures of the day, and we all made mad dashes through the downpour for another cozy night, snug in our thatched roof cabanas.