Zentraveler digs Tikal, Guatemala!

On the road again I have just landed at the Guatemala City airport. Joining a few other backpackers we hire a taxi for Guatemala City. The city looks like ants have broken out and are going to run you down. Is it an illusion or are the cars, buses, motorcycles and people in warp speed? You better keep moving my new friend informed me or you will be history.

Using the same budget game plan that I try to employ every time I travel. We settle in on a small hotel about three blocks from the main hotel. The fee is $9.00 for the night with no hot-water, but what the hey, like my father used to say: “you aren’t going to buy the place.” Tomorrow I will get up bright and early, go to the expensive hotel for breakfast, and find a bus that is heading in the direction of Tikal. That’s the trick— finding the right bus station that will take you in the direction you want to go. Don’t try to use logic. Either use the internet and get your info, rely on the Lonely Planet Guidebook or ask lots of questions to fellow travelers. Each Central American city seems to have their bus stations in secretive spots— which often don’t reflect the direction or anything else for that matter.

Cruising out of town on a directo bus we have sped by most of the pollution and crazy driving traffic. This bus is equipped with pull down movies, has a restroom and cold drinks on the front seat. Most of the locals no longer look out of the windows. They put their seats in relax mode, and either watch the flick or close their eyes and hope for the best. Not me! I have to look at every cow standing in the field, every horse trotting along a side road and watch for anything I can see— including kamikaze bus drivers. When buses pass on a long stretch, the horns begin to blow, some yelling takes place, and we are off to the races. It’s something you cannot explain. It must be a macho thing.

This is the time to reflect— take a few deep breaths, give some of your best prayers and even resort to thought patterns like this: ” Surely the bus driver isn’t going to kill us all by driving faster than the wind.” I remember seeing pictures of his entire family when I boarded the bus. He throws it into third gear and broad slides the bus around a dangerous curve. By now I am closer to heaven or hell then I ever want to be . Still alive you say thank God, Hail Mary and marvel how calm the bus driver proceeds down the next hill. Near the bottom he comes to an abrupt halt, stops and lets three families out near a tiny village— set along a small stream against the jungle. You spot a nearly naked dark child with blonde hair playing along side a native hut. Women are carrying corn on their heads along the roadside. You look up on the side of a mountain and see people harvesting corn on the steepest slope imaginable. One farmer has a machete and has his arms around a small tree to keep from falling.

Pedal to the metal we roar up the next hill and proceed to our next destination, which is the town of Flores. “Flores is a small slow-paced village with Caribbean sensibility, pastel-colored buildings and friendly people. Flores is situated on an island in Lake Petén Itzá, 45 minutes by road from Parque National Tikal and 2 hours from Cayo District in Belize.” belizex.com

Flores is a great stopping spot where you can eco-adventure on the lake or enjoy exploring the cobble-stone streets flanked by handicraft stores and charming houses, many of which are small hotels, guesthouses and restaurants. Spending the night there we made arrangements for a local bus to Tikal. We pass thru some beautiful scenery and get to see living examples of rural Guatemalans. A typical family may have a small hut with open doors.You can see their brightly colored hammocks hanging in the main room for sleeping and a variety of chickens, turkeys, and small garden plots. Just a quick question? They have been living this way for thousands of years—- maybe they know something we don’t.

Tikal is nothing short of majestic. If you had to spend time in only one Mayan Ruin you have hit the mother-lode in Tikal. If you have an interest in archeology or just want to see for yourself how they built a magnificent city in the middle of the jungle—this is it! You have arrived. Make sure you have some good footwear, because you won’t beleive how large this Mayan Ruin site actually is in size and stature. One of the locals told me what we can see is only a fraction of their past civilization.

The ruins are expansive with evidence of Mayan temples, paths thru the jungle, where you will see and hear a variety of birds darting through the jungle with their colorful plumage. If you are extremely lucky you may even get a glimpse of the highly prized and revered Quetzal bird.(the Quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala and symbolizes freedom.) Howler monkey families are moving along the canopy— feeding and sounding off as they scamper along. If you want to photograph them you better be quick. Em boys can move.

You could spend weeks at The Tikal Ruins and and still would not see it all. Some have compared the construction skills to those of the Egyptian pyramids .Many of the remnants of Tikal reveal the culture of this ancient city in Guatemala. The great temples are just the beginning. The Mayans excelled in many different fields, and testaments of their achievements are found throughout Central America. Their calendar developed from the stars and solar math is even more accurate than our modern day 365 day calendar. The momuments paid tribute to the rulers of the past, and were meant to please the deities. In addition to their obvious achievements in construction, the Maya also excelled in the arts, astronomy, and glyphic writing. Though little is understood, what is known is fascinating.

As you walk through mazes of jungle trails you try to comprehend how advanced these Mayan people were and what happened to them. That ‘s one thing you probably can’t blame on George Bush. You leave Tikal with a feeling of awe and wonder. You tip your hat to the advanced civilization they had built—- without modern tools and before the wheel was invented. The good news is: Archeologists have years of searching for answers and you the tourist will be able to enjoy this national treasure for a very long time. You should definitely include Tikal on your list as you travel through wild and beautiful Guatemala. Zentraveler says: Do yourself a big favor and book a trip to Guatemala— you will love all of the diversity, bright colors, dramatic scenery, friendly hard-working people, history and more.

Trying to get a bus to the Belize border from Tikal— the bus driver tells me and a blonde swiss back-packer that the bus is jam-packed full, but if we want to go we can ride on top of the bus with the luggage. “Sure why not”— she says as she throws her backpack on top with one arm. Off we go, hanging on for dear life, as we proceed through miles and miles of mud. The bus swerves out of a rut and I am thinking it’s about to turn over. In a hunched position I am getting ready to jump as the bus suddenly rocks back in forth and eventually levels into the next set of ruts. Hanging on to the tiny side rail I think to myself you have really done it this time— you will never make this trip alive. I can see the headlines now: A group of backpackers and locals slid down the ravine and were all killed. Local authorities blamed the accident on poor road conditions and pointed out travel was not recommended this time of the year during the tropical rainy season.

The bus got stuck in the next batch of deep muddy ruts. We all got out of the bus and waited. A large cattle truck came along, hitched a chain around the front bumper and had everyone from the bus push from the backside. The mud sucked one of my shoes into some kind of a quagmire which was lost forever. We finally arrived on the Guatemala /Belize border crossing. This looked like a town out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie. Just a good ole dusty cowboy town with a few bars and a couple of places for lodging. The next morning we headed out of town toward Belize City in a torrential downpour and thanked our lucky stars we had seats for the long trip.


Inwardly strive to develop the capacity of mindfulness; outwardly spread the virtue of uncontentiousness. Shed the world of dust to seek emancipation.

– Kuei-Shan (771-854) —–dailyzen.com

THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW: Why did people put gargoyles on buildings? Gargoyles are weird stone figures which are half human and half animal or half bird. They sit on edges of roofs of many old cathedrals, palaces, and other buildings. But these frightening figures are not there to frighten away passers-by; they serve a very useful purpose.

Gargoyles are actually waterspouts to catch the rain as it flows off the roof. This water is piped into the mouths of the gargoyles and is emptied into the street, instead of dripping down the sides of the building and damaging it.——bigsiteofamazingfacts.com

THINGS YOU MAY WANT TO SAVE: Endangered Species! Endangered Means There is Still Time, but the clock is ticking faster then you can say nanosecond.

ZENTRAVELER SAYS: Travel inwardly and outwardly to discover the real You!

Follow the Zentraveler Blog often for Travel, Health and Zen-like stories and such. Where else can you get a three in one blog for the price of free.

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