Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mundo Maya - Tikal

My facination with the Mundo Maya....the Mayan World began 25 years ago when we first went to Cancun. There are a few low ruins in Cancun that have survived 2000 years of tropical storms and the invasion of contruction and tourist in the last 30 years. When we traveled across the penisula to Merida, we went through many small towns where the church was perched on a mound above the town. I soon found out that the church had been built during the Spanish conquests by clearing the crests of the Mayan pyramids and using the stone to build the church. That is one way to get rid of the old religion. We always stopped in each little village to go into the church. I felt such a spiritual force in these churches that I soon began photographing them and that was the beginning of my photography project of the 16th century churches in Mexico. But I always felt that I wasn't just photographing a 16th century church but instead a place of continuous spiritual devotion for more than 2000 years. It was a powerful feeling for me.

I've read about the Mayan civilizations but I'm always left confused about times and periods and with the history of who was up and who was down at any one point. But I was inspired to visit as many Mayan sites as I could by John L. Stephens books (Vol One and Vol Two) Incidents of Travel in Yucatan written about 1850 that described his journey through the Yucatan in search of the Mayan pyramids hidden by vegetation or by hispanic construction.

Since then we have been to Tulum and Coba in Quintana Roo. To Chichen Itza, Izamal, Uxmal, Labna and many other small ruins in the Yucatan. To Palenque in Tabasco. To Yaxchilan and Bonampak in Chiapas, To Lamanai in Belize, and now to where I have long wanted to go, Tikal in Guatemala.
Tikal is one of the largest Mayan sites and it lies in the lowland rainforest in Nothern Guatemala. You can read about the site here. This image was taken from the top of Temple IV above the top of the jungle canopy and looking back at the Grand Plaza. The image at the top of this entry is Temple I in the Grand Central Plaza.

We bought tickets (about $20 USA) after 4 PM that were good for entry into the ruins from 4 to 6 on that afternoon as well as all of the next day. After a quick glance at the map we decided to take what looked like the shortest route to the Grand Plaza. What we didn't know was that this route was the most difficult. While most of the trail was under the canopy of the rain forest, it was also under the "cover" of heat and humidity. When the jungle opened up to the Grand Plaza it was worth the effort. Now all you see is the stone but to sit under a tree and think about how it must have looked 2,000 years ago when the surfaces were stucco and painted in many colors of reds, blues, yellows is just almost beyond belief. To think that these structures that rise as high as 65 meters were constructed without the use of wheels or pulleys.....just human manpower is mindboggling.

Having learned our lesson about the heat in the jungle, the next morning we were at the entrance to the site at 6 AM where we hired our guide. The route he took us on to the Grand Plaza was a much easier walk and in the cool morning air, the birds were singing, the small ground animals were still moving through the jungle and the spider monkeys were above our heads. And also important is that the bus loads of tourists had not arrived. Hiring an authorized guide is worth every penny. We learned so much about the flora and fauna, about the ancient civilization as well as about the recent history of the area.

Tikal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I'm so fortunate to have seen it, but there is more to this story....tomorrow.


Steve Cotton said...

In the 1960s, the television critic for The Oregonian, Francis Murphy, would take his summer vacation in the Yucatan uncovering newly-discovered Mayan sites. His columns helped to ignite my interest in archaeology. I am looking forward to spending long periods of time at these sites. Thank you for keeping that flame alive.

Babs said...

I'm SO glad you got to go early in the morning -- it makes all the difference in the world! It is a special, special place! Now every other site will pale in comparison!

Erika Sidor said...

oh, boy. Tomorrow is our "Tikal Day" and due to circumstances beyond my control, we will not be there until at least 10 or 11 am. I am re reading all of your Tikal entries in anticipation of the trip tomorrow and am feeling like it is all happening the wrong way. Aaaargh.