A shuttle picked up my Canadian friends and me mid-afternoon. We’d been bullied into buying our tickets to Tikal from a friend of the bus driver on our 12-hour trip. I didn’t want to be taken advantage of. But it had been a long day and the price seemed right.
We were afraid we’d been robbed as our guide ran late, or on “Guatemala time.” We boarded the shuttle and started the bumpy ride from Flores to Tikal, first stopping for lunch. I’d pre-purchased a sandwich from Los Amigos Hostel, so I sat outside and admired the area, one of the many communities that bordered the jungle. A few days later, an old woman from one of these towns would walk me to the bus station and we spoke in broken English and Spanish before she kissed me on the cheeks and wished me well.
Our guide, Samuel, told us about his life in the area. He’d grown up here, of Mayan heritage, with the UNESCO-listed ruins as his playground. At age 15, his family moved when the government paid people to leave so that it could become a tourist attraction. Some didn’t and still live inside. He shared his insider tips, some of which aren’t exactly legal or recommended by park rangers, like secretly staying overnight.
The group walked quickly, trying to keep pace with Samuel, and scurried up the pyramids. The trip had already made me feel out of shape. Our guide paused only to talk about the history and to show us the creatures that called Tikal home. A toucan. A tarantula (placed on my friend’s shoulder). A howler monkey. And something I can refer to only as a Rodent of Unusual Size.
Like my trip to Angkor Wat, the sunrise excursions were incredibly popular in Tikal. But I was just as content watching the sunset, best viewed from a not-quite allowed section of the pyramid. Darkness fell as we laid down in the grass. I tried to remember star formations from my high school astronomy class, without success. Instead, I closed my eyes to listen to the sounds of the jungle…all the while hoping that it wasn’t a tarantula that just crawled across my leg…