Belize to Tikal and Uaxactun

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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2000. Though we heard that our casual waiter had actually been fired, we had breakfast the next morning at Martha’s Kitchen (where we had had the good pizza). Breakfast was excellent and the service superb. After that, we loaded into our bus and headed back to Guatemala.

The border crossing was uneventful, except for an unexpected conservation fund tax that Belize had recently levied. Well, I certainly support THAT cause. I hope the money goes where it is intended.

On the trip back, Nick worked with me on the glyphs on a sculpture head from Palenque that has intrigued me. He corrected some of my mistakes, but he wasn’t able to find text that referred to a war event with Calakmul either. Now that I have the drawings, I’ll just keep it close by so that I can plug away at it, one glyph at a time.

As we passed through El Remate, at the east end of Laguna Peten Itza where I had spent time in the past, the community seemed much more active than before. The power lines are definitely there now, and continue quite a distance up the road toward Tikal. The lake level was low.

An impressive new corbeled arch gateway – almost completed – marks the entrance to the park at Tikal. As we passed the sculpture museum, steel framing structures have been erected for what looks like a kiosk in the middle of the round-about by the parking lot and for another building in front of the Jungle Lodge. At the Jungle Lodge, we picked up Warren and Dayna, our late arrivals, who would forever be plagued by the line, “You should have been with us at Dos Pilas…” We did what we could to make them feel part of the group. Bette particularly warmed to the task. But when we ran into a little mud on the road to Uaxactun, the Dos Pilas experience and the accompanying tales made the immediate experience pale by comparison.

Much work has been done on the Uaxactun road since my first harrowing visit in 1998. (That poor man and his nice clean truck!) In short order, we were pulling up to the Posada del Chiclero above the old landing strip that defines the urban landscape of modern Uaxactun. The homes in the village are probably remarkably similar to those of ancient times – oval or rectangular stick houses, later sometimes improved with adobe. Thatch roofs are everywhere. Our accommodations were simple concrete block rooms with thatch roofs. Shared cold-water bath facilities were in the next building. Everything was very clean. We ate in a large, screened-in dining hall with the kitchen at the far end.

After a tasty lunch, we hiked up into the northern section of the site. High on a knoll to the right of the entrance road is a section that was probably residential, with a small palace structure. On the next knoll over, behind a new tourist kiosk structure, was a more complicated palace/acropolis configuration with a high mound that had a commanding view of the Uaxactun valley below. A very broad causeway led from that main section of the “B” Group to the acropolis and “A” Group. Near the entrance to that causeway in front of a small mound is the famous Stela 5 that talks about the arrival of Siyah K’ak’ (Smoking Frog or Smoke Toad) in 378 A.D. His arrivals, first at the near-by site of El Peru, then at Tikal eight days later, and then later at Uaxactun, seem to precipitate profound changes in the dynastic history of this immediate area. The same day he arrives in Tikal, Tikal’s ruler Chak Tok Ich’aak (Great Jaguar Paw) dies – a rather stunning coincidence. With his death, a new dynastic lineage is established, with apparent links to distant Teotihuacan. After Siyah K’ak’s Entrada, Uaxactun becomes an apparent dependency of Tikal, with a silent Hiatus period that matches Tikal’s. The site boasts one of the earliest stelae, with a date in the early 300’s and one of the latest (Stela 12) with a date of 889 ( It was great fun to see Nick and Kathryn so excited about finding the surprisingly late date on Stela 12!

The main palace area has a good example of the various levels of construction, with several different floor levels exposed. One platform is oval, of the shape and size of a typical house platform. Behind a large temple, off on one side, is a small quarry where you can see how the blocks of rock were excavated. Much of this site is Early Classic in style.

Back at the Posada del Chiclero, the owner of the Posada has assembled a small collection of ceramics and other artifacts that have been investigated by Guatemalan archaeologist Juan Antonio Valdes. She has named her little “museo” in his honor. We were allowed free access to the collection and could pick up and turn around various pieces to see them better. She has some wonderful pieces. What a thrill! There was also a small stela in the courtyard of the Posada.

As darkness fell, we drank cervezas on the porch of the dining hall and chatted, closely observed by a couple very small, very intent boys. Dinner was tasty, though apparently not as memorable as when the owner of the Posada was cooking. She was out of town while we were there. We kidded our bus driver about having his eye on her and scaring her away with his amorous intentions. We turned in fairly early. At 10:00 the generator was turned off. I slept fitfully, but only got up in the night once with my flashlight.