En route we were accosted by an inebriated local who was determined to tell us all about his colourful love life and walked with us most of the way, only leaving us when we had reached our destination.
Cahal Pech itself was rather impressive. We briefly looked round the education centre, which provided us with some context for the structures we were about to explore as well as a few details about day-to-day Mayan life, then left the exhibits behind, walking briefly along a footpath flanked by lush rainforest plants and trees, before turning a corner and emerging into a wide clearing, the imposing Mayan structures bookending the open space.
We wandered around and through the grey stone structures, in places remarkably well preserved, in others the tangled roots of trees penetrated the vast edifices, slowly but surely breaking them up. There were square courtyards surrounded by terraced buildings, narrow streets barely wide enough to stroll without turning sideways, and everywhere the lush jungle tried to reclaim the cleared land.
The following day we booked ourselves onto a trip to Tikal in Guatemala, one of the most important and most famous Mayan archeological sites. We rose early and piled into a car before being driven to the border. Once through the necessary checkpoints we piled into a minibus, and were surprised to find that we were the only people on the tour. We drove for an hour or so, collecting our guide en route, before entering the Tikal National Park.We began walking along a wide footpath through ancient jungle, huge trees flanking the path trailing thick vines from there spreading branches far above our heads. In the bushes Coatis scampered and played. It wasn’t long before we heard the tell tale calls of monkeys high in the canopy, and after a few moments of searching saw a troop of Spider Monkeys feeding in the lofty branches of nearby trees.
A short time later we saw our first Mayan ruin if the day, a remarkably well preserved stone structure. It apparently served as housing for a middle class Mayan merchant family, rooms could still be explored and with the help of our guide it was easy to imagine how the building would have looked when inhabited. As impressive as this was however, it was nothing compared to what was to come next.
We turned a corner among the low stone structures and emerged into a vast clearing, two towering stone pyramids at each end and a vast terraced structure rising up in front of us. We looked one in awe for a time, then made our way down into the grass-covered clearing between the monolithic constructions. Up close, the buildings where no less impressive, while we were forbidden to climb the vertiginous steps leading up the pyramids, we were able to clamber up the terraced area, and, as we did we saw the details that were lost when viewing from a distance. Vast stone faces had been carved into the rock, their weatherworn features still possessing a quiet grandure, and original features such as steps, torch holders, and rooms still remained in place, if a little more open to the elements than when the Mayans were in residence.
Leaving the clearing and heading back into the jungle, we stopped briefly to watch some Howler monkeys crash through the branches high above our heads. We didn’t linger long though, having been told the monkeys have a panchant for throwing their dung at unsuspecting tourists. As we wandered along the winding jungle tracks we were treated to several ancient sites, including a huge stone disk depicting a religious ceremony, and a 6 foot high slab intricately carved with the image of a Mayan Warrior in full dress. The last part of our exploration of Tikal took us up one of the Pyramids, and from the top we had a magnificent view across the whole site, and the landscape beyond.For our last morning in San Ignacio we visited an Iguana sanctuary. Here they raise the young lizards for release back into the wild, where, due to hunting by the local population, they are endangered. Indeed the meat of Iguanas is known locally as “reed chicken” due to the creatures being found among the reeds on riverbanks, and the flavour, which like most white meats, apparently tastes like chicken. While in the small enclosure that housed what must have been several hundred lizards, we got plenty of opportunity of handle them, in fact there were times when our guide actively covered us in the green scaly creatures.
It was then time to part ways with Sara, she headed back to Belize City to catch a plane home, and we continued north to Caye Caulker.