Travel: Latin America - the King of the Jungle A Trip to Tikal in Guatemala Is Well Worth the Effort. by Rhiannon Batt En
Batten, Rhiannon, The Independent (London, England)
I wasn't altogether sure that I'd done the right thing. The early- morning drive to Tikal was rattly and bumpy, and seemed to involve an expensive trickle of park entrance fees. I'd hijacked my boyfriend from the blissful Caribbean islands off Belize to fly into a jungle and suffer the sweaty hour's bus ride to the park. The day was already getting hot and we were feeling increasingly bothered.
Tikal is tucked away deep in El Peten, the lowland jungle area of Guatemala, and is one of the grandest Mayan cities ever constructed. After the exotic descriptions of my old archaeology textbooks, it seemed a bit of a let- down to be turning up at the site in a mini- van, with a pathetic pen-knife in hand rather than a hulking machete.
Escaping the mini-bus, we were soon trotting along the path to the ruins, and within minutes the sense of romance had returned. This really is jungle. At this early time of day we felt like the site's only visitors and, as the lethargic morning mist started to peel back its cover, the landscape came gradually into view. The damp green vegetation was dense and elaborate; great furling leaves swept the sides of the path and high above us the massive furry limbs of giant trees stretched out chocolatey brown against the sky. But looking at Tikal in widescreen is not enough. For the full stereo effect you have to imagine the jungle sounds. Staccato shrieks swoop from bushes, strange knockings bounce off mossy buildings, howler monkeys screech - and all this is pierced by the drills, coos and grunts of innumerable other creatures. Underneath all, the vegetation itself seems to hiss and buzz. Against such a multi-textured background it becomes easier to step away from the modern world and to imagine what it would have been like for the Spanish priest who first stumbled into this hidden site, 300 years ago. Even now, much of the architecture still lies buried beneath vegetation. The first of the ruins are dark, leafy mounds that bulge sinisterly from the ground. A little further on is the Great Plaza, the hub of ancient Tikal. Here, granite pyramids loom up on four sides around what is now a grassy courtyard, some doing better for their age than others but all impressive. There is something violently exciting about turning a corner and finding something so massively unexpected. Other sites may have a similar effect, but few do it quite so dramatically as at Tikal. Looking up at these giant grey structures, it's virtually impossible to resist hoicking yourself up their enormous steps for a different perspective. The scale at Tikal is immense. …