Monday, February 08, 2016

The great Mayan complex Tikal

On my last post, Flores, I explained we took a bus from Rio Dulce. But just before arriving at the bus terminal the bus stopped and dropped off ourselves and another Western couple. A van was waiting to take us across to the island and our hotels. The English speaking coordinator convinced us to buy our transfers to Tikal and back - plus the return bus to the Rio - from him. This was a bad mistake as it turns out. A pretty decrepit car did pick us up and drop us off at our hotel at Tikal but no one picked us up 3 days later and we had to hire a taxi to get us back to Flores. And then we couldn't find a bus at the station going to the Rio at the time of our "voucher" or someone who would accept it in payment. So we lost about $60 - not the end of the world of course but we felt pretty stupid trusting someone like that.
This is a panorama Scott took from the top of Temple 2 looking towards Temple 1 over the central square of the complex
We had made reservations at the Jungle Lodge just outside the entrance gates to the complex. It bordered right on the jungle and spider monkeys entertained us in the trees outside our bungalow. Our room had just been redecorated and was really lovely and comfortable with a very modern bathroom. We enjoyed the very nice pool after arriving and made reservations for a 4 hour tour the following morning. We had dinner that night in the restaurant and although the food was fine, it was very expensive, especially the drinks. We had our remaining lunches and dinners at the local place next to the museum - Comidor Tikal. The afternoon happy hour prices at the pool until 5 pm are still a good deal at Jungle Lodge.
One of a troupe of spider monkeys that entertained us.

Sitting around the lovely pool at the Jungle Lodge
Tikal was the capital of one of the largest Mayan kingdoms and although temples here date back to 350 BC the height of development was the Classic Period 200 - 800 AD. The site was abandoned in the late 10th Century. After "discovery" by a local and the information republished in Berlin, archaeologists and treasure hunters began visiting the site. It has been completely mapped and covers an area of 6.2 square miles. It had no source of water available other than rainfall and had 10 reservoirs to hold reserves. The Tikal National Park, a greater area of 222 square miles surrounds it.
Tikal has been partially restored by the University of Pennsylvania and the government of Guatemala. The pyramids, palaces and monuments are built of limestone and some tower over 230 feet high. Broad causeways built of packed and plastered limestone linked the various sections of the city. The central city held as many as 90,000 but maybe over 400,000 lived around it.
We were able to climb 2 of the tallest pyramids on wooden staircases built to stop the harm from tourists climbing the stairs (and to keep them from harming themselves). On our second day there we got up at 3:45 am and went on the Sunrise Tour - hiking over an hour in the dark through the jungle to the "music" of the howler monkeys and birds to the tallest temple at the site, number 4. We climbed to the top and sat in the dark to watch the sun come up. Unfortunately the mist was so strong we didn't see a thing! But it was atmospheric for sure.
As I mentioned earlier, we had to make our own way back to the Rio Dulce. We took a "collectivo" leaving from the bus station at Flores - it was PACKED with people and things. To the point that Scott and I had our legs up in the air at times. The driver had to unload the pile in the front of the mini bus every time anyone got on or off - which was often. And his driving was hair raising at times. Needless to say - no seat belts. But we got back safely. Now we hope to head down the river tomorrow and over to Belize on Wednesday. Wish us luck!
Temple 3 is only partially restored, the top and
 the bottom are uncovered

The view near the top of Temple 4 from the wooden stairs

Scott sitting at the top, that's my knee at the
 bottom - this is Temple 4 in the daytime.

From there you can see the tops of several pyramids in the distance

Temple 2 - we climbed up to the top on a wooden ladder and took the panorama you can see on the top of the blog
Temple 1 and the central courtyard
The turkeys here have marvelous plumage
Scott waits next to me in the dark
You can get an idea how steep it is.
The huge acropolis on one side of the main square. The palapa roofs protect some of the remaining carvings and stelas
Scott's legs are packed in with all the luggage - which has to be removed
We thought they couldn't get one item more in the bus until
this woman came in and found a place to stand!

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Flores, Peten, Guatemala

While the deck replacement job on our boat was progressing (slowly) we took 4 days off to visit Flores and Tikal. It was a 4 hour bus ride to Flores where we spent one night. The old part of the city is built on an island in Lake Peten Itsa. It is now joined to the newer part of the city on the mainland by a causeway. Flores was originally the Mayan town of Noh Peten and was populated by the Itsa Mayan tribe that relocated here from the Yucatan the 13th Century. It was the last Mayan state to hold out against the Spanish conquerors until 1697. They razed the Mayan city and built over it. It looks very much like a Mediterranean town with brightly colored wooden and stucco houses. This is a popular resort community in Guatemala and many daily flights connect it with Guatemala City. There are lots of very good hotels and restaurants to choose from. We stayed at Isla de Flores Hotel and it was great. You can check it our on or We got the cheapest room at $79 per night and it was very comfortable and attractive with air conditioning but not much of a view. Rooms with views and balconies are available for not much more. We had dinner at Casa de Enrico's, a favorite of Daphne's (owner of our Marina Tortugal) and thought it was amazing. It's small with tables overlooking the lake and we ended up spending the evening talking to the couple at the next table and the owner, Enrico. The food was excellent and the owner so gracious and charming. It was a night to remember! And so was our lunch the next day both for the quality of the food and the view (not for the company as we were alone). Terrazzo was highly recommended on Trip Advisor and no wonder - take a look at the picture of our avocado salad here. Beautiful view from their second floor terrace. Just walking around this tiny island is fascinating. Saturday night was busy with people all enjoying the restaurants and walking the streets. Street vendors sold local foods down by the water and we've heard from many folks that it is both delicious and safe to eat. However we wanted to sit down and have a long relaxing meal. On Sunday we felt like the only people up in the morning until we found the cathedral on the top of the island - packed with people. After the service they had a charming ceremony for the first communion boys. Besides the church there is a park and a evidently well used basketball court! We'll be back to Flores another time for a few days of R & R! But now we were heading on to Tikal - covered in my next blog post.
Our hotel Lago de Flores

The sun filled charming lobby

We were sorry we didn't have time to take a tour around the lake - 

This pink flamingo usually goes on a front lawn!

High water levels on the lake have flooded the first ring road

Luckily you can still walk on the sidewalk

Narrower roads run uphill from the lake

This photo give you an overview of the island

The Terrazzo Restaurant where we had a wonderful lunch

Luckily we shared this fabulous avocado salad and then a pizza
Rooftop terraces on some of the homes provide extra living space and beautiful views.

It was Sunday and we watched this happy First Communion group

Here looking up at the alter - same scene

The hard to find the alley leading Enrico's at night

Sunday was such a quiet day especially in the morning