For those of you keeping track of our border crossings, we crossed into Guatemala this morning. If you can believe it, this border crossing was even easier and quicker than when we entered Belize.
We arrived at the border about an hour after it opened. Belize immigration required us to pay about $19 US in exit fees, customs gave us a quick stamp indicating that we were taking our Fuso out of the country (although they didn't bother to check to see if we actually were), and we were on our way.
At the Guatemala border, we had to change some dollars for Guatemalan Quetzals then pay $49Q (exchange rate here is 7.4Q to 1 USD) to have our tires sprayed with insecticide. This included our spare tires too! Then we were directed to park at the border gate itself so that the guard could keep an eye on our vehicle while were did our Guatemalan paper work.
Immigration was quick, a stamp in the passports and a fee of $20Q. Then inside the customs office to fill out our vehicle documents and check our vehicle title. The inspector pocked her head into the camper to verify what it was as she didn't want to climb up into it, a payment of $40Q to the bank and we had our documents. One hour to accomplish everything.
The big surprise came as we drove the road towards Tikal. Everyone we asked told us the same thing - that this road was really bad. This was quite an over statement. Although it was dirt, and very dusty, we were able to drive faster than on the road to the ruins at Caracol in Belize. The real surprise came in about 20 miles when the "bad" road turned into pavement. We think that people told us this lie because they really wanted us to pay to take one of their tour vans to Tikal and didn't want us to know just how easy it was to do it ourselves.
So after detouring to the town of Santa Elena/Flores to run errands, we arrived at the campground at Tikal. This was a beautiful grassy area (with bathrooms where we could top off our water supply) with tons of bird activity and wild Ocellated Turkeys wandering around. These turkeys are as spectacularly colorful as any peacock we've seen. After setting up camp we hiked into the ruins for a quick check before the sun set.
For years we've heard "You have to see Tikal, there's nothing like it!" Well after exploring most of the "top" Mayan sites in Mexico and Belize we were a little skeptical. We were wrong.
If the jungle setting wasn't spectacular enough, the towering pyramids at Tikal rise above the canopy to reflect the sun.
There are tons of birds, howler monkeys and spider monkeys. Then there are the steep sided temples/pyramids. And I do mean STEEP. These are the most striking feature at Tikal. The temples range from 32m high (100ft) to the tallest at 66m (200ft)! The stairs are so steep that we weren't able to climb them, rather archeologists have built ladders going nearly vertically up the sides. To climb the tallest temple, Temple V, we had to ascend 300 steps. Tikal had been occupied by the Maya for nearly 2,000 years before it was abandoned around 900 AD.
We could say so much about this place, but it has all been said before. The Lonely Planet guides say it just as well as anyone. Tikal is different from the other sites because it is deep in the jungle. Its many plazas have been cleared of trees and vines, its temples uncovered and partially restored, but as you walk from one building to another you pass beneath the dense rain-forest canopy. Rich, loamy smells of earth and vegetation, a peaceful air and animal noises all contribute to an experience not offered by other Mayan sites.
We spent six wonderful hours exploring the ruins and the miles of trails that connect the various plazas to each other. By the time we returned to camp we were happily exhausted.
After spending the morning looking at more birds and seeing two foxes, we headed off for the market and the internet cafe in Flores (the electricity was out the first time we were in town).
Markets are always interesting places to wander and even more interesting if you need to make purchases. Trying to juggle bags of vegetables, toilet paper and meat, all the while trying to handle money is always tricky. Especially the change from the meat vendor who has just cut up your purchase and then handed you the change. In this case we just dropped the change in the bag with the meat and literally washed it when we got back to the vehicle.
We then headed off down the road to Poptun and Finca Ixabel. The guidebooks mention the Finca as a nice place to stay, but they don't say just how beautiful it is and what a great traveler resource. They have huge beautiful grounds, a restaurant where you pay on the honor system, books where you can find out information on other areas in Central America and lots of activities. They also have a book exchange where we swapped out some of the books we've read.
Later today we will head off to Rio Dulce and Livingston.