Some of the structures at the Tikal Mayan ruins in Guatemala.
Dave didn’t have time to go to Tikal, so I waited until he went back to the States before I went. I’m very glad I did. It’s easy to get “ruined-out” in the Yucatan, but Tikal is worth the effort. Yes, there are tourists, but certainly many fewer than at Chichen Itza and quite a few other Mexican sites.
The great thing about Tikal is that it is both an archeological and a wildlife experience. You move from one intricate structure to another through paths in the jungle, and the wildlife here is prodigious: howler and spider monkeys, coatimundis, iguanas, and hundreds of species of birds. Yes, there are snakes too, but you probably won’t see one. The view from atop some of the temples is worth whatever difficulties you may encounter in getting there. Go to Eva’s in San Ignacio to inquire about low-cost guided trips. The adventurous can simply take a bus to the border, pass through passport control, and take another bus or taxi from there. Some knowledge of Spanish would be very helpful if you choose this option.
Oh yeah, there were a few hard times. It took Dave and me nine hours to travel the short distance between The Trek Stop and the Cockscomb Basin Ã¯Â¿Â½ less than a hundred miles. This is because after a stunningly beautiful bus trip down the Hummingbird Highway, which traverses the jungle terrain of the Maya Mountains, we were dropped off at the intersection of the Southern Highway with the promise, “Next bus going south pick you up here. Twenty minutes, man.”
Twenty minutes, an hour, two, two and a half hours passed. Dave and I stood there alone, no protection from the sun, in the insane heat and dust. We were in the low country, flat, hot and dusty, with orange groves on either side. It could have been central Florida, except that the only vehicle that passed was a fully loaded citrus truck. We finally gave up on the bus and started walking. The Southern is a dirt road, and as more citrus trucks lumbered by, we quickly became caked with orange dust. We looked like the first men on Mars, bright orange from the waist down. We also had nothing to eat or drink. My step began to waver after an hour of walking. A sign indicated we were 14 miles from the entrance to the reserve. “No way in hell,” I said. “The next truck that comes by, we’ve got to just stand in the middle of the road and make them pick us up.”
By a stroke of luck, the next vehicle was a small pickup truck, and the man pulled over. We hopped in the back and roared with delight as he bounced along the rocky road. But we got only 4 miles closer before he dropped us off, having reached his turnoff. We walked for another hour, and by this time I had a case of the shakes. I get that way sometimes, if I haven’t eaten. Another pickup stopped for us, only this wasn’t your normal pickup. It had once been a regular car, but the owner simply cut away the back of the chassis and nailed some boards to the frame. We had no railing and nothing to hold on to as we bounced all over the place, and we very nearly fell out a few times. I couldn’t help noticing that one of the planks was rubbing against one of the tires, with the friction causing actual smoke. “If that thing blows,” Dave said, “we’re basically dead.”
It held, of course, and they took us all the way to the reserve. Still, we had no food or water, and the restaurant at the entrance was closed. We convinced a woman there to fix us each a poor little bowl of some kind of stew. She had us over a barrel and she knew it, so we ended up paying $12 each for a bowl of tepid broth. Under the circumstances, it was worth it.
I also found that while every store or hotel takes American currency, few of them can make change for anything over 10 dollars. If you walk into a little shop in Cayo with a $20 bill, wanting just a Coke, they very well may not be able to make change. Carry denominations as small as possible.
At the end of my trip, I splurged a little and spent two nights at Chaa Creek, an upscale jungle lodge in Cayo. Normally around $140 a night, I paid just $40, since they were nearly empty. Ironically, in this, the most luxurious of my surroundings (the only one to cost more than $10 a night), I was hit by Montezuma’s Revenge. It was not debilitating, but hardly pleasant. It came and went over my last four days, but luckily passed before my departure. The risk of coming down with this certainly exists, but it shouldn’t scare anyone away. Belize is a pretty health-conscious place, with the water being potable from the tap in many places (but bottled water is easily available, and I chose to be safe rather than sorry). Belize is a poor country, but you won’t see Calcutta-style poverty. Malaria is present in places, particularly Toldeo District. Consult your doctor about prophylactics.