Tikal, El Ramate, Flight Back to Guatemala City

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MONDAY, JANUARY 1, 2001. The alarm went off at 4:00. Since the generator did not come on until nearly 5:00, it was a bit of an adventure getting ready in the complete darkness, with only a small flashlight. Bea, feeling a bit better, but still not in top form, had the good sense to grunt and roll over when the alarm sounded.

I dressed and made my way to a chair outside the hotel office to await our guide (not Marco, who also had better sense!) and whoever else showed up. Gradually bodies began to appear. First Warren; then the guide; then Al and Greg and Nick. Some people from the other group also showed up. I looked for their guide, but didn’t see him. It occurred to me that perhaps they had made arrangements to share our guide, but it later became clear that that was not the case.

At the guard station, a guard roused himself to sell us entrance tickets. There was some exchange that went on between the leader of the other group and the entrance guard, but I did not hear it. Our guide, Don Emilio, attempted to explain something to the other leader, but he, rather arrogantly, couldn’t be bothered with hearing the explanation. Oh well.

We continued on into the site. It was absolutely amazing shining our puny flashlights up at the wonderously huge, mysterious pyramids in this total, total blackness. The effect was made even more exotic by the distant roar of howler monkeys and mysterious rustling in near-by bushes. During the day, the route had begun to seem familiar. But now, each shape was a new and mysterious form. The stelae looked more like tombstones than ever. Al’s earlier caution to “Watch out for the (slippery) green stuff!” was useless in the complete blackness. Then, all of a sudden, Temple IV loomed ahead of us. We scrambled up the first set of steps, then approached the ladder steps for the final climb up to the top. Somehow the other group got mixed in with our group. They were the ones without the flashlights. Oh well. We helped them up.

When we arrived at the top, there were already a few people there. One group was speaking Italian. We were still able to get excellent positions, right in the center. Gradually the darkness gave way to the coming dawn. Al kept us apprised of the progress with periodic light meter reports. “0.0.” Then “1.3.” Then “2.2, etc.” Just before dawn, our guide Don Emilio showed up with another uniformed guard. The guard made the leader of the other group come down the steps. When he was unable to produce a current day’s entrance ticket, he was forced to leave Temple IV.

We never actually did see the sun, though our view of the panorama extended well beyond Temple I. It was quite different from my Temple IV experience the year before when all we had been able to see was a big cloud surrounding Temple IV. We hadn’t even been able to see the trees that flank the temple. Now, at least, we could see the broad panorama. Finally it was sufficiently light that we declared the sun “risen” despite our lack of concrete visual proof. Warren, Nick, and Al returned to the Lodge for a well-earned breakfast. Greg and I, since we were already in the neighborhood, went off in search of Morley’s Causeway.

We had a map and a small compass and had no trouble at all rediscovering the trail that went to the masks and Group 16. At first we took what appeared to be the most developed roadway back into the jungle in the appropriate direction. That looked promising until we came to a place where a large tree had fallen across the road. Skirting the tree through the jungle, we were unable to pick up a developed trail on the other side. I got quite turned around. The compass agreed with Greg’s choice and we easily found our way back.

Our next choice was a less-traveled two-lane tire trail back into the jungle. We followed it for quite a distance, noting a number of “unnaturally occurring rock formations” and likely housemound sites along the way. When we came to a fork, we broke twigs and carefully marked our trail in the best Boy- or Girl-Scout tradition. Eventually the trail petered out and we agreed that further exploration would be foolhardy.

We headed back through the Lost World complex and found some mounds just beyond the compound walls that had been shown as structures on the site model at the Visitors’ Center. Then we visited Temple V to see what progress was being made with the reconstruction effort. We then worked our way back through the Grand Plaza, around the back of the North Acropolis, and ventured into the tunnel we had spotted the day before. It was a dead-end, but our curiosity was satisfied. With our "Explorer” merit badges securely earned, we returned to the Lodge to catch the tour to the Sculpture Museum that had been scheduled for 10:00. It may have been my imagination, but I think Nick looked truly relieved to see us show up. I suspect he had at least considered how big a search party would be needed if we hadn’t shown up at the appointed hour.

As always, the Sculpture Museum is frustrating because it does not have lighting that works. There are dozens of magificent stelae there, begging to be studied in detail, lit only by indirect daylight or little flashlights. Oh, well. It was still great fun to visit the Museum with Kathryn and Nick and have them try to work through many of the inscriptions. The original Stela 40 was safe there in the middle of the room. On the back of the Man of Tikal sculpture, I was able to show the group the glyphs that Federico Fahsen had felt spelled K’uk’ Mo’s name – the subsequent dynastic founder of Copan (who had just been identified as coming from the Peten region). The emblem glyph on Stela 16, the first stela to be erected after the silent Hiatus period, is still a puzzle. It looks like the ‘Mutul’ hair bundle superimposed over a snake or turtle head. My earlier sketch of the lay-out of the museum that designates which stelae concern which ruler will be helpful with our project in Austin.

After the museum, we made a quick run to the market area and gobbled up a few more treasures. After lunch, we were packed up and on the bus again headed for El Remate and, eventually, the airport.

The bus stopped at the little woodcrafting shop right across the street from the Mansion del Pajaro Serpiente, where I had stayed on earlier visits to Tikal. While the others went in to shop, I dashed across to see if I could see Nancy Salazar. As I approached the dining pavilion, there she was! I got a big hug and quick visit. She looks well. They have made some improvements to the inn – a new tile floor in the dining area and a new swimming pool. Everyone is fine – Jorge and his father, too. I grabbed some new brochures and dashed back across the street. I even had a few minutes for some quick shopping myself. Greg ended up with the prize – a beautiful carved wooden iguana, about 2 ft. long. Nick instantly adopted the iguana as his “companion spirit”. There was some concern about how Greg would pry it away from him at the end of the trip!

After a short delay, we boarded our flight to Guatemala City. In no time, we were back in the city and settled into our old hotel, the Pan American. We had dinner that night in the hotel. Particularly for those of us who had greeted the dawn, this had been a very long day.