Our trip to Tikal was a very exciting and new experience. Tikal is an ancient Mayan city in the Petén region in Northern Guatemala. Our tour guide, Marcos was excited to tell us that only 20% of the city has been excavated, meaning 80% of Tikal is still buried underground in mounds.
The rainforest was one of the most wild and vivid places I have ever seen. The wildlife was unlike any I have seen in New England. Upon entering the park, we saw at least four spider monkeys climbing through the canopy, and later on we encountered many howler monkeys.
Later on the tour, we found out calling these “howler” monkeys is a bit of a euphemism, because their call is more like an aggressive growl than simply a howl. Seeing monkeys in Tikal is nothing like seeing them in a zoo. Here they look so human and agile, swinging seamlessly from tree to tree, holding themselves up by their tails. They could clearly see us watching them, and as they looked at us smugly from the treetops it was hard to tell who really had the evolutionary privilege. We saw other wildlife on the tour too, including a yellow tailed bird called the Oro Pendulo, a snake, a raccoon like creature called a coatimundi (see photo below)
woodpeckers, toucans, and even a family of silver foxes that were living in the top of Temple One.
The tiny foxes replaced the kings of old, and in the midst of a city now embedded in rainforest this seemed a logical progression. The Jaguar Temple (Temple One) had an unbelievable sense of spirituality and ancient wisdom. Yet while you’re there, it is important to remember that these are ancient relics of a people who are still very much a part of modern Guatemalan life.
Temple 4 was built above the canopy of the rainforest, and a tall wooden staircase was built so visitors could climb to the top of it. When we got to the top, after climbing in the dense humidity, we could see the tips of the vegetation, and several other temples and pyramids poking out from the canopy.
(A temple was used for religious ceremony, while a pyramid is flat on top and was used to astronomical observation.)
Tikal was one of the most impressive places I have ever been. It has a sense of grandiose spirituality that is hard for us to grasp from our modern, secular perspective. Yet in the context of a modern Mayan world, the park feels powerfully relevant, the Maya themselves can show their incredible strength and tenacity.
- Leah Valletta
- Photos by Lida Lutton