And the travels through Central America begin. First stop: Tikal.
From the shores of Belize, we flew to Tikal for a day tour. Hot, humid, and full of tourists, Tikal was not the secluded natural wonder that I had imagined, but it was as picturesque as the post cards and worthy of its reputation.
The park is in the jungle—hanging vines, wild noises, shifting leaves—the real, freaking jungle. The dirt paths are well-trodden, but the park is flush with foliage in hundreds of shades of green. With all of the tourists, it was hard to glimpse a monkey or an elusive quetzal, but we could hear the birds conversing all day, with flashes of bright feathers every once in a while.
The University of Pennsylvania has been excavating Tikal for decades and the work they have accomplished is unbelievable. With architecture dating back to 4th century BC, covers over 570 square kilometers with over 3000 palaces, temples, and burial grounds.
In the “Great Plaza” lie burial sites, the residence of the Mayan royal families, and the most famous structure of Tikal: Temple #1, the Temple of the Great Jaguar. Over 200 feet tall, this is the structure most often seen on post cards and web sites.
Walking among ruins always gets me thinking about the lives of peoples past. How different it must have been, and how similar. Were people happier then? Were they obsessed with progress too? What were the popular foods? What did they dress like? Did little kids aspire to be Mayan gods instead of astronauts and lawyers? Did they have our equivalent of “sports stars”? What did they value most? How was the wine? Has there always been an excuse for miserable people to be miserable, whether it be a 9-5 or weed whacking in the jungle? And why are the stairs spaced sooooo far apart? Were the Mayans giants?
All I know is that if “church” was at the top of all of those stairs, 400 BC Tikal is no doubt where religious divergence began.