The Journal  

21 December 2005

Tikal and Santa Elena

Author: Jeremiah

Photographer: Holly


Tikal and Santa Elena, Petén , Guatemala

December 5-6

From Belize City , we headed west early in the morning, slipping around the capital city of Belmopan without breaking stride, before running into a heavy fog. As we drove, the open fields and rolling hills of Belizean farm country would appear and disappear out of the mist like little visions in the morning light, and to make our ride even more dream-like, horse-drawn buggies carrying straw-hatted Mennonite farmers began to mix with the cars and trucks materializing out of the fog.

The border crossing into Guatemala went quickly and easily. As soon as we crossed, we asked for directions. The man pointed to the steep and rocky road leading out of town. So we asked again. Again, the same answer. When the road changed from Belize 's Western Highway to Guatemala 's Central America 15 it also changed from pavement to a washboard-rough and potholed dirt. It was a lesson that we had learned too often already. In some places a red line means a paved two lane road, in others it means a goat path. We bounced and bumped for next 20 miles before the little red line turned back into black pavement.

  As we rode early Tuesday morning kids waited outside for the bus to pick them up for school.

  We passed several Mennonite horse-and-wagons upon our exit from Belize .

  Jeremiah changes money with a man at the Guatemalan border.

  Crossing the border into Guatemala we hit our first unpaved "main" road.


Traveling through the back country of Guatemala we turned a few heads.

On pavement we quickly reached our destination of Tikal , Guatemala 's most famous Mayan ruins, which housed a population of 100,000 in the 6th century A.D. The ruins are nestled in a thick and swampy jungle, filled with monkeys, birds and lizards. After the morning's ride, it was a hot and exhausting hike through the forest trails and up the moss covered stone steps.

In the central plaza, other tourists rested from the heat in the shade of the surrounding temples. We climbed a rickety wooden staircase up the side of Temple IV . From the top of the temple's 64 meter summit we could see the tops of Tikal 's other pyramids peeking from the trees and in the distance, heard the roaring of jaguars.

  The ruins at Tikal are immersed in the jungle with vegetation continuing to grow on the structures.

  Several of the pyramids rise above the tree tops at Tikal . From the top of Templo IV we could hear what we figured to be jaguars screaming nearby.

  A cluster of temples make up the Gran Plaza .

  A tiny snail clings to the shiny surface of a leaf.

We had planned to spend the night camping at Tikal , but we had made such good time crossing the border we finished touring the ruins with daylight remaining. Figuring that the next day's ride to Lago Attitlán would be a long one, we decided to keep on riding. We picked a little town called Santa Elena, on the edge of Lago de Petén Itzá, about 40 miles away as our stop. A small, non-descript puebla in beautiful surroundings, it was just getting dark as we arrived and found our hotel.

  Heading home for the day, construction workers ride on the high seats of a truck as we headed for Santa Elena.

  We parked the Guzzi in a courtyard parking area at the Hotel Continental.

All photographs © Holly Marcus / Page design by Robin Marcus