9 Days in Belize and Tikal, Guatemala

A Travelogue by John Niebler

Pictures by John Niebler and John Zastrow

Getting to Belize Diving Trip Explore Caye Caulker Tikal - day 1 Tikal - day 2 Down to Punta Gorda - Kayak Trip Explore the cave Snorkeling and Fishing Going home
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Dive Trip
Caye Caulker
Tikal - Day 1
Tikal - Day 2
PG and Kayak
Cave Trip
Snorkeling and Fishing
Going Home

Tuesday, April 1

Tikal, Guatemala. The flight here was awesome. We flew in a Cessna C128 four-seater. Z, myself, the pilot and the copilot-in-training. We flew over the central part of Belize and a bit of Guatemala. The flight took about fifty minutes traversed not only jungle, but ample farmland and Mayan huts and clearings. These were often along roads but some were surrounded by nothing but forest. After landing we hooked up with a taxi that took us from the Airport to Tikal. There were little villages along the highway with kids playing outside and countless chickens. An hour later we were in preserve.
Our guide Luis was very good. He was from a village not far from Tikal although he had lived all over the world. He had lived in LA, New York, studied wildlife in Costa Rica for six months, and had been a guide in Tikal on and off for 8 years. He also had helped one of the archeologists with the excavating for several months and mentioned that he was much happier without the backbreaking work. He knew how to spot the animals and we pretended to see most of them as well. He knew a lot of the history of place and thankfully his English was superb.

A note about the Guatemalan people here-- Other than the soldiers with rifles, everyone was very nice. They honk their horns in greeting all the way down the road. Waving at everyone they know. And they know everyone. They were very friendly towards us and tried to help us out as much as they could.

We spent about four hours in the ruins today. There was a lot to see monument-wise. Tall temples. We climbed up four or five of them. Including the one in Return of the Jedi. Fantastic views. The more interesting ones still had Mayan carvings on the outside.
Unfortunately, most of the ruins were covered in graffiti at the top. In some places you had to search through the graffiti to find the original Mayan drawings on the walls. For this reason all of the interiors of the temples were blocked off. We saw pictures of the frescos inside. Would have loved to see them.
We spent some time in the Central Plaza. There is a carving about 8 feet tall of a Rain God on the side of one of the buildings. We climbed Temple 2, which overlooks the whole plaza. On the backside of the temple there was a tree with about 30 oriole nests. They make an eerie sound when they all call out together. They don’t allow people to climb Temple 1 anymore. It’s too brittle. Pieces were breaking off of it.
We bought a lot of souvenirs at a few little shops set up at the Tikal museum. Had a lot of fun haggling with this little Mayan woman. Got some very cool stuff.

Before leaving us for the day Luis informed us that there was trouble on the road back to the airport. He wouldn’t say exactly what kind of trouble, but the insinuation was that we might not be able to take the road back to the airport tomorrow and it involved the military. Luis told us not to worry. He would come along with us and get us a boat charter from someplace further up the road to the airport if the road is blocked. We didn’t really know whether to worry or not. As it turned out, tourists kept coming that night and the next morning, so we didn’t feel too concerned. (We found out later that the government had announced they were going to pay their soldiers only 5000 quetzales each, instead of the 20000 they were owed for fighting a civil war that had ended a few years before. Some of the soldiers setup roadblocks in protest. Our driver though, had made special arrangements to get us through because we were tourists.)

The Jaguar Inn. It was amazingly nice with 5 or 6 cottages and two rooms per cottage. The grounds were arranged on a manicured area about an acre in size. The restaurant was pleasant and the food was decent. Actually, very good, considering what the villagers outside Tikal were eating. (Beans and rice or rice and beans.)
The night was rough. I read on a hammock outside our room until the lights went out at 9pm. I could hear the generator shutting down. No more lights tonight. It was pitch black. The jungle wasted no time moving in. I moved inside and read in bed. I had purchased a book about Tikal and was trying to get more information before our tour the next day. However, there was something very unnerving about the total darkness outside with the sounds of the jungle both quiet yet kind of deafening. The sounds seemed to be all around you and almost on top of you. Hard to get used to after we spent two nights sleeping next to a raucous bar on Caulker.

Then at about 9:30 there was a high-pitched, piercing scream. Sounded almost human, but not quite. The one that followed it was definitely human. By the sound of it, the guy had to change his underwear.
So that pretty much did it for me. From then on I was freaked. I kept reading, but as I would begin to relax some animal would drop something on the roof above my head. CLACK clickity clickity click. I found out the next day that bats fly around and drop stuff on the roofs. Don’t know why, but they do. And it’s pretty loud when all you can hear is jungle. With only screens to shield us from the creatures of the night, I felt unnerved to say the least. Wasn’t this place named after a feared, man-eating predator?

Luis had told us that the howler monkeys would start making noise at about 3am. He said this with one of those smiles that told you the first night of sleeping in the jungle doesn’t involve much sleep. He was wrong about the monkeys though. They started at 2am.
Back and forth, across the jungle. OOoAAAAHHH! UHH! UHH! UHH! Gangs of ‘em. Shouting back and forth.

This is pretty much what is sounded like (Click your Back button after you listen.)

This is a Howler Monkey

Getting to Tikal, Guatemala
We were in the smaller plane
Flying over Belize
Look closely. There are Mayan Ruins down there.
The lake surrounding the Flores Peninsula
The Jaguar Inn
Where we stayed
The courtyard at the Jaguar Inn
The room was nice
Typical home of a Guatemalan
The Animals (you may have to click on these to get a better look.)
Spider monkeys
A lemur
Oriole nests (look bottom left)
Ants marching
A howler monkey - Picture stolen from the web. (Thanks!) We never got this close.