One of the temples, side view.
Today was an eye-opener to say the least.
Hello from Guatemala-
-where many people live in shanty shacks
-where the dogs and other livestock roam injured and starving in the streets
-where there is not enough money to provide purified city drinking water
-where of course, irregardless of all the notes above you can always get coca-cola and internet wi-fi [even at the mayan ruins!]
What we saw of Guatemala today brought me to tears. Tremendous poverty, starving animals- pigs, horses, cows, goats, chickens, dogs everywhere along the road, in the road, up on the hillside visible from the road. It was absolutely horrific.
This morning we made our way piecemeal to Tikal using a cheap taxi (US $3) to the border and then clearing customs into Guatamala where we caught what we thought was a legitimate taxi that took us all the way to Tikal.
View of temple 1 from a distance.
Our day trip included having our camera partially destroyed by a careless child who ran into me and getting ripped off and stranded by our taxi driver. A little girl bumped into me hard near the border and knocked the camera out of my pocket and the led screen cracked. The camera is still useable but only by looking through the viewfinder as the lcd screen is toast. The taxi driver who ripped us off picked us up in the Guatemala border town. He was fat and happy and taught us some spanish in his broken english. We negotiated and agreed on 300 Quetzal (about $40US) for the round trip. The road to the Tikal ruins from border sucked- mostly dirt and full of potholes; I am sure it has broken plenty of axles. I sobbed when we passed the starving animals along the roadside.
So sad. And all the child laborers carrying water, wood, laundry, etc along the roadside broke my heart as well.
We got to the ruins and the driver said "Goodbye, I leave you now". WHAT?! "Oh, you want me to stay? Yes, that is another $300. That is what I meant to say originally". Gah. There is no public transportation to or from the ruins, so we were really in a bind. We agreed to his new terms yet there was more. He wanted 200 of the 300 Quetzal then and there or he was leaving. Everything in us said don't trust him, but we felt we had no other choice so we ponied up the cash. Of course he left as soon as we were out of sight, but we didn't find that out until after we finished hiking the ruins.
Once we paid our park entrance fees ($20 US pp) we marched up to another tour group that was already in play that consisted of an american couple from Brooklin and a guy from Australia and asked if we could join them if we contributed to their tour guide's fee.
This is the cheapest way to get a guide at the ruins. Carlos was our tour guide and he was awesome. We saw so many great structures - temples, markets, ball courts, public buildings, residential structures and more. The rainforest vegetation is amazing also. I felt like a proud culinary chef when I could correctly identify allspice trees based on the smell of their leaves. Mayans are a sad lot- they did not know God, they lived in fear of mythical Gods and practiced human sacrifice - sometimes to appease the Gods and sometimes to provide an important city resident who had died with a slave in the afterlife. Eventually they dissolved as a society. And yet, for all of that, they lived so much more lavishly in terms of city engineering standards and societal understanding of math than the peoples who currently occupy Guatamala.
Still, the Mayan ruins at Tikal were AMAZING- we did a 4 hour 4.5 mile tour with Carlos that included climbing all the ruins---some 18 stories high. I discovered I have a latent fear of heights when I could not bring myself to climb Temple 5. Visitors are no longer allowed to climb the original limestone steps that are over 1000 years old and instead the park authorities have constructed a series of VERY narrow wooden upright ladders beside the structure to allow access to the top. Absolutely terrifying to even look at. I'd rather climb the original steps; they are at a less steep angle. Overall Tikal awesome and we got great pictures. We heard a whole bunch of howler monkeys, saw spider monkeys, parrots, macaws and wi-wi ants. And we stood at the famous spot where a Star Wars Episode 4 scene was shot.
Our muscles are tired.
You can read all about the great city of Tikal here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikal
It's worth the read to learn about this city and its inhabitants from 4th Century BC to the 900s AD.
We had a quick lunch after the tour on the grounds where I cried over our discovery that our taxi driver had predictably left us stranded. We hitched a ride back to the Cayo district of Belize with the folks we had completed the Tikal tour with. We were so lucky they were also from Belize and heading our way. We had to pay fair rate to their driver to get back of course- another $50 US. So, to recap, we had taken our own route as recommended to save money over the official tours to Tikal from Belize- and instead ended up paying about $20 US more when all was said and done.
Carlos knows everyone so he asked around the other taxi drivers were were appropriately waiting for their passengers and found out the guy who scammed us was a truck driver who just pretends to be a taxi driver to scam some cash occasionally from gullible tourists. :( So my advice to you, dear readers, is to just suck it up and go on an official escorted tour of the Tikal. Eva's in downtown San Ignacio offers the tour as does Maya Walk Tours across the street from Eva's and both are priced at approx $75 US pp.
Dinner tonight was rice and beans and stewed chicken again at the Trek Stop restaurant with tropical fruit smoothies.
Note: I did more research after returning to the USA and found that the animal welfare problem in Guatemala is just the tip of the iceberg.
Jon sits atop one of the structures at Acropolis Central
They are a nation in crisis and cannot or will not care for their children or elderly any better than their animals. In Guatemala City there are over 1000 orphaned street children, most of them dumped there by their parents who did not want them or could not afford them. Dirty and sickly, surviving on garbage and prostitution income some of them are as young as 4 or 5. And when the elderly become too expensive and unable to contribute to the household they are subject to being dumped on the streets as well. I don't know what else to do about the situation in Guatemala except pray. It seems so overwhelming a problem it would be hard to know where to start to provide assistance.