Uaxactun and Tikal

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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2000. We had told the children who had been trying to sell us little cornhusk dolls that we would buy one from each of them the next day. The moment of reckoning arrived. There they all were, lined up patiently in a row, waiting for us to make our selections. We did, and everyone went away pleased. Al and Greg came up with an ingenious protective cover for Greg’s doll – a portion of an old plastic water bottle. The rest of us did the best we could sheltering them. My two made it home just fine.

We had a delicious breakfast at the Posada del Chiclero, then set out to see the remaining section of Uaxactun on the east side of the old airstrip. The entrance road wound uphill through a quadrangle of unrestored mounds, delivering us to a high plaza and pyramid E-VII with its marvelous huge masks flanking its four ascending stairways. On the built-up ridge east of E-VII, the three temple buildings were arranged to permit astronomical siting points for the solstices and equinoxes. Nick and Kathryn explained that whenever we see this siting configuration, it is called an “E-Group” because of these buildings, where the arrangement was first noted. Though eroded, Stela 20 was thoroughly examined. The structure to the left of the three temples had a high roof comb like those we would soon see at Tikal.

The trip back to Tikal was relatively uneventful – quite different from my first trip, when the journey itself was so much of the story. Someday we’ll be able to say that about Dos Pilas, too.

Back at Tikal at the Jungle Lodge, the Wilderness Travel “Dawn of the Millennium” banner was still hanging in the dining room. We had a nice lunch, then went out to tackle the site, starting with the Twin Pyramid Groups Q and R. Though I had visited them before (on the ’98 WT tour, again in November of ’98 with Chris Jones’ dissertation in hand, and again in January with Chris himself), it was a new experience to visit Stela 22 with people who insisted on taking the time to read what they could of the inscriptions. It is still wondrous and mysterious to see the unrestored Group R with its moss-covered stelae littering the jungle floor, embraced by tree roots, awaiting further exploration. It is a poignant reminder of how recent the “old” discoveries are.

From there, we headed north on the Maler Causeway toward the North Group. Along the way, we examined the carved rock outcrop in the middle of the causeway. I was glad to have drawings of it that made it easier to figure out. It is so shaded by the roof cover that it is difficult to see. We took our time exploring the North Group climbing all the major structures, again something I had not done before. From the top of Structure 43, you could see Temples I and V. The view must have been spectacular when the trees were cleared. From the top we were able to watch some spider monkeys feeding quite contentedly in a near-by tree, quite unconcerned about our presence.

The adjacent Twin Pyramid Group P had been more carefully cleared and restored than when I had visited it in ’98. Stela 20 had the cute little jaguar throne with a scarf that Kathryn had used as the motif for our trip t-shirts. From there, we walked back along the Maudsley Causeway toward Temple IV, surprising a deer along the way. There were many stops to view birds and monkeys along this jungly route.

Then, suddenly, there was Temple IV! It is huge! And it always comes into view suddenly, hidden until the very last minute by a protective screen of jungle foliage and canopy. Did we have time to climb it? Kathryn said yes. The steps had been significantly improved – even since January. There were now two complete sets of steps, one for upward traffic and the other for downward traffic. No longer did you have to cling to tree roots and limbs as you peered over the edge, fearful of being bumped off by an overly-eager, oblivious tourist.

The first time I climbed Temple IV was in 1996. My companion Charlotte was terrified of the rickety ladder-like steps that appeared to have been deliberately designed and constructed to reject unworthy tourist visitors and sacrifice them to the appropriate gods. So instead we climbed up the back side, pulling ourselves up from one tree root or limb to the next. It was a great adventure! And the view, then as now, was worth every bit of the ordeal. Then, there was still a metal ladder permitting access to the top of the temple and the roof comb. That ladder had already been removed by my second visit. Now the back trail is blocked and the interior of the temple is gated. But the view to the east from the temple steps is still amazing!

Straight ahead, rising above the dense jungle canopy, you can see the back of Temples III and II and the front of Temple I. Temple V’s roof comb barely peeks out from the trees still covering the huge unrestored South Acropolis. Off to the right, you can see the top of the massive Lost World pyramid. Awesome!

Finally Dayna was sent to bring us down. Struck by the sight before her, she did not deliver the message immediately. We left reluctantly.

We made our way back toward the Great Plaza along the Tozzer Causeway, visiting Twin Pyramid Complex N along the way, then taking a side trail that took us into the edge of the Lost World complex. We became quite distracted with a huge group of coatamundis – literally dozens of them. When we finally broke away, we headed back toward the Grand Plaza on the trail that lead first to Temple III. The slippery path up to Temple III has been roped off now so that the wonderful lintel there cannot be seen. The stela and altar in front of it are reproductions, with the originals now in the Sculpture Museum.

A bit further along the trail, we come to the massive back side of Temple II, built supposedly for Ah Cacao’s (Jasaw Chan K’awiil’s) wife, Lady Kalajuun Une’ Mo’ (“12 Macaw Tails”). As the trail opens into the Great Plaza, Temple I suddenly appears. It commands your attention, rising 154 ft. above the floor of the Grand Plaza. Built around 730 A.D. as a mortuary temple for the king Jasaw Chan K’awiil, his burial (No. 116) had a variety of interesting objects now on display in the smaller museum, including the carved bones depicting the gods fishing, and the voyage and sinking of the canoe carrying the dying Maize God.

With promises that we would get to spend the whole next day in the ruins, and with diminishing daylight, we headed back to the Jungle Lodge. There we were finally able to settle into our lovely rooms. Bea and I shared a building with Nick and Kathryn. Very quickly, we discovered that there was little sound privacy between the rooms. We showered, then collected in the lobby for cervezas before dinner. Dinner was very good, and we turned in early.