Mayan majesty in Tikal, Guatemala. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Tikal, Guatemala

Our little group drove from Antiqua to Chichicastenango and then to Guatemala City, spending several days touring, visiting historic sites, and walking. It was cooler in the mountains and the air was more refreshing. In the valleys between the volcanoes, we passed large fields that were bountiful with crops.

Mango, pineapple, cantaloupes, and bananas are grown for export. Sugar and coffee are exported too, in large quantities, to the United States.  We passed sugar fields being burned before the workers go in to chop down the cane with machetes. I would see the workers walking from the villages to the fields with a stick in one hand and a machete in the other.

From December until May, the air is polluted in smog caused by the vast amount of burning fields of sugar cane. Workers refuse to go into the fields until burned for fear of the poisonous snakes that live there.

There are orange groves and cocoa trees with beans for chocolate. There are rubber trees and zarzapawilla trees for medicine.  In the high hills are coffee trees, where coffee is all handpicked and carried down on narrow trails, in big sacks on the back of workers.

The roads are good for traveling and there are a few cafes along the way. We stopped for lunch at a café and bought cheeseburgers. Mine was delicious but so large I had to cut it into quarters. I ate one fourth, I gave one fourth to my driver, George, and I neatly bagged the other half along with some great homemade French fries and a bottle of water. Not much farther along the highway, George stopped and my guide, Rafael, left a snack for a couple of workers.

We reached Guatemala City in the early evening, and at my hotel, we said goodbye to my driver George. Rafael was staying there, and early the next morning, we would meet Edwardo, owner of the Honduras Travel Company, at the airport.

Guatemala City is the second largest city in Central America with a population of 4 million. We didn’t take time to tour the city the next day.

Ever since Moises (my original guide) had gone to court, it had caused a chain reaction. A few days ago, Rafael had driven 13 hours from Honduras to meet me. He now had to leave me, as he had a contract to be a guide for a Chinese group meeting in Belize and touring to Panama. At the airport, Rafael was flying to Belize, and Edwardo had flown from Honduras to Guatemala City to be with me.  We would fly to Flores, where a driver and guide would take us to Tikal, the capital of a Mayan empire in the jungle.

That morning began at 3:30 am with a hurried trip to the airport. There was a pleasant goodbye to Rafael, who was a good, qualified guide. Edwardo and I boarded a small domestic plane to Flores, where our local guide and driver took us to Tikal.

Mayan temples and pyramids rise above the jungle canopy in Tikal, Guatemala. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Mayan temples and pyramids rise above the jungle canopy in Tikal, Guatemala. Photo by Madelyn Given.

The vast ruins are only partly excavated, but the temples and pyramids rise above the jungle canopy. There were spider monkeys in the trees and we had the site to ourselves for most of the day.

We walked all day though the jungle, where in 700 AD, thousands of Mayans lived here in great living conditions. Every 20 years, a great central plaza was built upon the older existing dynasty. There was elaborate housing for the royal families, astronomers, and priests, along with temples, plazas, cemeteries, and many villages around the area. We climbed many steps to the top of several pyramids, and all the while, I learned so much about the Mayan people.

Later that day, we returned to Flores and had a light lunch. Edwardo also wanted to stop at a new resort to meet with the owner, as part of his business. We caught a late flight back to Guatemala City, where my new guide was to meet us. He had driven his large van from Honduras to meet us, and for the rest of my trip, Patricio was my guide.

(posted June 20, 2017)

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