Throwback Thursday: Tik’al in Guatemala 

My friend and I woke at four am to see sunrise over Tik’al. Once inside the park walking the jungle path, a roar worthy of a jaguar froze us in our tracks and we started in fear.
“Es un jaguar?” I squeaked at the guide.
He chuckled. “No, sólo son monos.”
Teresa and I confirmed in a whisper, “They’re only monkeys?
¿Monos?” I asked him, doubting his contradiction to my ears.
He nodded, “Monos aulladores.” Howler monkeys.
My legs weren’t sure they believed him, and were headed back to the Jeep.
“Wait,” my friend said. Teresa remembered reading about Howler Monkeys living in the park. I turned my feet around.
Any bets that this happened every single tour for the uninitiated? The joy of watching gringos quake in their boots.

Ten minutes later, an animal I had never seen and didn’t know to name with a long striped tail banded with dark fur skittered across the path (a Coatimundi?)

We continued to the main plaza which was overwhelmingly impressive as any modern city. The monuments are skyscrapers; The Temple of the Great Jaguar at 44m (145ft) and Temple of the Masks at 38m (125 ft). The Temple of the Great Jaguar is the tallest in any Maya city. They were built between the years 250 to 741! That was the Dark Ages in Europe.

Tik’al Temple I Photo: R. Cuningham

Temple I is that of the Great Jaguar. Signs told us not to climb it because of the deteriorated steps. I wanted to try, but Teresa dismissed that idea as too dangerous. I like traveling with level-headed women.

Temple II of the Masks was open to visitors. The treads were narrow, the risers were high. Balance, or fall, were the two options. With effort and care we reached the top.

Tik’al Temple II Photo: R. Cuningham

I took a photo of Temple I across the plaza. Teresa and I looked into the priest’s vestry room and found it bare; then she took the photo that my non-linear spooling film gave a new look.

Rebecca in Mask Temple doorway Photo: Teresa

As we walked to Temple IV, we heard more howler monkeys. But we were wise to them. My heart went to my throat only momentarily when they growled. Looking around, we wondered if any jungle trees grew here when this was a city of 60,000 – 90,000 in the year 750. In the distance we saw a nubbin of the Temple of the Double Headed Snake (IV) protruding above the tree line. At the base of the temple mound there were modern stairs leading up the hill.

A metal ladder was at the top of the hill, bolted to the back of the Temple. When I saw it, a claw of fear incised my belly. I was convinced I would not summit this temple. Teresa was all for it. “Come on! It will be incredible! The ladder is sturdy. See?” she said grasping a rung and pretending to shake it.
I just shook my head. “No, I can’t.”
“Okay, but I’m going.” She grabbed rung by rung slowly, lifting the opposite leg. When she was above my head, she called, “You coming?”
I bit my lip and breathed deeply. “Yeah.”
“Yay! I’ll wait here for you.”
I looked up at each rung and grabbed it, listening to Teresa’s encouragement from above. I was not tempted to look down. Goodness, I was so glad I spent a lot of time going up and down the loft ladder at my parents’ cabin. I was confident in this activity. That was about to be put to the test, however.

I dismounted the ladder and saw that another was waiting for me. This metal ladder was only two feet away from a 68 m (200 ft) drop.
“You didn’t say anything about a second one; the ladder of doom.”
“I didn’t want to discourage you,” Teresa said. “At least you get the view from up here, even if you  don’t decide to continue.”
“If I don’t,” I snorted.
“If you do want to go, I’ll let you go first. But I am going.”
“And I’ll be on this 3 meter square ledge with the tree crowns far below?”
She nodded.
“That’s one hard bargain.” I laser focused the ladder, breathing like a bull. “Here I go.” Ten rungs, scaling them one by one, right left rhythm to the top. I pulled myself onto my knees and went to all fours. I stood up, and whooped.
“That good?” Teresa said, her torso in view. She stood on the platform and looked out. “We did it. This is a great view! Want me to take your picture?”

RC on Temple IV. Photo: M

I took hers as well. As I looked through her camera lens, I realized the landscape looked familiar. “Star Wars! This view is in the movie,” I said.
“Totally right, Teresa said.
“How the heck did they get the camera up here?”
Teresa had answers, “Scaffold, winch, large bird?”
I added, “Strong arms.”
“Thinking of someone? Hold that pleasant thought, it’s time to climb down, tourists waiting, Teresa teased.
“I’m not looking forward to this.”
“Steady as you climbed up, look at the rung in front of you.”
White knuckles, shallow breathing and a few curse words later, my feet were back on the ground. It was a day I will remember and very much worth the $300 charged on my emergency credit card.

View from Tikal Temple IV

Today the freedoms that allowed the tourists to take the risk in climbing the stairs and ladder are replaced with wise precautions. The fabulous city of the ancient Maya remains one of the new wonders of the world.

For more reading:
*Geografía nacional

Have you visited Tik’al? Are you interested in seeing this Maya city?

¡Olé! –Rebecca

Rebecca Cuningham

31 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Tik’al in Guatemala 

  1. Yikes, I wouldn’t have climbed that ladder!!!
    Tikal sounds fascinating!!
    Hadn’t heard of coatimundi before; they look cute.
    How much film of the Tikal area was used in Star Wars?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Despite your fears, you made it up! Similarly, I heard that prior to 2006, one could also climb the stairs of Chichen Itza, Tikal’s cousin just in Mexico– however, due to a few accidents over the years, it’s since been forbidden to climb anymore…I can imagine it’s the same for Tikal and its ladders! Goes to show that no one wants to be liable for any injuries!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, thank goodness and thank Teresa I did. Yes, Evan and I went to Chichen Itzá in 2005 (just made the cutoff). At that time we were taking tango lessons in Madison and were sure on our feet as we went up the steps. Going down is harder physically and psychologically!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You are reminding me how prevalent howler monkeys were when we visited Costa Rica years ago, waking us all in the early hours. They seemed so remarkable to us, but to the locals they were no more interesting than squirrels in Massachusetts!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A nice tour and climb… The howling monkeys are impressive. Although not even a foot high… LOL.
    And beware of coatis, they look for food everywhere, and have the sharpest teeth…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. December 2000. We spent New Year’s Eve on the Isla de Flores, desperately looking for a restaurant open. Everything was closed except for a pizza joint. Queues of famished tourists like us who never expected the entire island to shut off completely… LOL.

        Liked by 1 person

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