Tikal

Wednesday, 27 March 2013
On our first full day in Belize, we went to Tikal, an ancient Mayan city in the jungle. It is in Guatemala so we had to cross the border and pick up another guide whose job it was to tell us all about the site.


It was hot but in the jungle, surprisingly, there is a bit of a breeze. We started out at the "four pyramids" where one of the pyramids has been restored. This is where the Mayans were thought to study astronomy and make predictions about their calendars based on the stars. James and I and our two guides climbed to the top and the view was pretty cool. While we were on top, we saw a Tucan flying.


The most unique part of the tour of Tikal was going to the top of Temple 4. I wish I would have been able to take more pictures but we were so high up (the structure is man-made, no machines!!) that I was afraid and even feeling a bit dizzy. This is the view from the top of Temple 4 looking across the jungle...


Our guide was very knowledgable and explained that the Mayans created rock quarries out of the limestone that makes up the ground in this part of Guatemala and Belize in order to gather stones to build their temples and housing areas. After they dug the quarries to build the temples, they filled with rain water. This was the perfect arrangement until the people begun serious deforestation (to clear land for more structures) and it stopped raining as much. Because they Mayans believed in the rain god, they began to sacrifice more people and the cycle continued with many Mayans moving to the highlands where there was more water and therefore more of a chance to grow sustaining crops. The population began dying out or moving out. Why did some of the Mayans settle in the the jungle (lowlands) anyway? The Mayans somehow knew that in the lowlands there was less of a chance to suffer earthquakes which would likely topple their impeccably planned structures. 


The most interesting part for me was the restoration of the monuments. The University of Pennsylvania came in to the area in the 1970s to restore some of the structures. Only 20% of Tikal has been restored. And that was an impressive amount. I took a picture that shows how the restoration works:


Part of the steps have been restored by archeologists or students. The other part looks like a green hill just sort of growing up over the structure. So, as we walked through the jungle our guide pointed out tall hills that were really covered over Mayan buildings. Fascinating. A picture in one of the conservation areas showed how workers had to slowly and carefully remove trees and tree roots from the mounds that had grown around the pyramids over the years.  


It is slow, tedious work and in more than 30 years only 1/4th of the city has been restored. With more cash, workers could do more. James and I stopped in the jungle just after seeing and watching Spider Monkeys to have a drink of water and admire a huge Cedar tree (the roots stretch out behind us). Our guide said one root looked like a crocodile head as he snapped a few photos. 

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