13 10 2009

I just spent 5 hours wandering around in the jungle.

It was fantastic.

I decided that words just wouldn’t cut it … check out the pictures on http://www.flickr.com/photos/cathedralsfan/.  But over and above that, it does need some words and whatever to give you the setting and story.  So I’ll do my best.

I was up at 4:15 this morning, but just because that’s when my alarm clock gave me permission to quit trying to sleep.  Before five (departure time) I was standing outside of the hotel waiting on the promised bus.  Sooner or later a guy came down the street saying, “¿Tikal?”  He had my ticket’s serial number in his hand, so I followed him off to the bus.  Then we stopped by another couple of hotels, hollering “¿Tikal? ¿Tikal?”  One or two folks didn’t show up.  The attendant, who spoke good English, said we were leaving anyway, because we had selected an early ticket, and “You snooze – You lose.”  So we crossed the bridge from Flores and took off.  And stopped at at a terminal to call the hotels.  And said that one or two folks had appeared at the place where they bought the tickets, so we crossed the bridge again.  And picked up another tourist, and crossed the bridge again, and we were finally off.

I had gone to a panadería to buy pan (bread – a slightly sweet roll and two muffins) last night.  So that was my breakfast, with a little box of apple juice from the hotel.  I was hungry by 10.  We pulled into Tikal at about 6:20.  After wandering around a little, we all figured out where to pay the admission fee – which was three times as much as I had read.  One thing about Latin America I haven’t comprehended yet is their idea of “ticket control.”  Do they sell you the ticket at the entrance?  No.  They sell you the ticket fifty yards up the road.  Then, at the entrance, the “ticket control” takes the ticket, solemnly looks at it, punches a hole, and lets you in.  It has no sort of efficiency going for it.  However, if the idea is just to create or save jobs, perhaps Obama should take a look at the idea.

I will have to let the pictures describe the ruins themselves.  I wasn’t there in time for sunrise, but there was still a mist in the air.  I had read that you could hire a guide on the spot for about $10, but I didn’t see any.  So I just struck out on my own and enjoyed the solitude, in a lot of places.  The smell was immediately familiar – Jungle House at the zoo!

It was not nearly as warm as I was afraid.  That is not to say it wasn’t warm!  But I think it actually was better than it has been in town, here in Flores.  Most of the time we were in the shade, and there was a little air moving.  But I really have run up against the futility of trying to describe it!

I tried to imagine what it was like hundreds of years ago.  To be honest, I don’t even know what century it is from!  [In researching after I got home, I found that it was begun in the “B.C.” years, and I think had reached its peak before 1000 A.D.]  I was impressed by the main plaza.  The most impressive, though, was probably “Templo IV.”  You didn’t even know anything was there.  Then you ran into some wooden stairs up the side of some structure.  You climbed, climbed, and climbed some more.  From a kind of “landing” on the steep stairs leading up the face of the temple, you can see an extremely long way.  I am guessing it is the tallest structure in Tikal, which is the size of the smallest of the famous Egyptian pyramids, according to what I read.  Then you climb a few more flights of stores, and step out on the pyramid itself.  Suddenly, you are gazing out across miles of jungle.  I wouldn’t even venture to guess how many miles … You could see the mountains in the distance, though.  It is … quite frightening to look over the edge of these steps, although the face of it isn’t all uncovered, and if you fell vegetation would stop you in a few feet.  In this case, pictures definitely did not capture the sensation.  Again, I thought about the Mayan priests, and how the four of us who were up there at the moment would probably have been slain without mercy if we had been caught sunning ourselves there 600 years ago – not to mention that three of us were girls. [Oct. 30 – Maybe we should make that 1000 years ago.]  (However, I am not a Mayan expert.)  I still didn’t really get it.

I wandered around a little further.  I found another complex, “Grupo G,” and some howler monkeys there set up a horrid racket.  I couldn’t get pictures, but I took a video that I hope got some of the sound.  I had heard them from a distance earlier, and asked someone who happened by.  I had been telling myself it was revving engines, but it definitely wasn’t.  And jaguars seemed a little far out.  I would have been pretty nervous this second time, so much closer, if I hadn’t known what they were.  I think they didn’t like me …

As I wondered across a grassy plot, surrounded by moss-covered stone stairs, a little indigenous man got down from his ladder (I had noticed him there cleaning; he gestured at the monkeys) and came over to me.  He discussed the monkeys, ascertained that I understood the Spanish, and asked if I was Mennonite.  (Proof that human nature is the same everywhere?)  Then he started telling me how he worked there, maintaining the ruins, all day everyday.  The monkeys kept him company, he said.  He liked the tranquility here.  He was a “sacerdote Maya” – a Mayan priest.  Not a shaman or brujo (witch doctor), he assured me.  They practice black magic.  He just “had his beliefs.”

Really, I had felt more awe at the monkeys, the ants, which had been carrying out exactly these activities in this jungle all the centuries ago, who had been angered at Mayans invading their territory just as these were angry at me today – I had felt more awe at them than at the stones themselves, somehow.  But this small man was here, keeping the moss from growing on these rocks, just as his ancestors had done so many generations ago.  He comes in and lights his candle every morning, and although he doesn’t offer other sacrifices (that he mentioned to me), he feels that he is a priest here.

I looked into his face as he talked, and didn’t know what to say.  So I mostly listened.  He asked if I agreed with the Mayan “cosmovisión,” but I said, quite honestly, that I didn’t know much about it.  He told me that God wasn’t somewhere off on His throne – He is here, around us.  Proof?  The air that we breathe – we would die without it.  The water that sustains our life.  The earth, where we plant seeds, and they grow.  The fire that warms us and prepares our food.  These are, to Salomón, the spirit of God surrounding us … “In him we live, and move, and have our being.”  He apologized if he offended me, but I should like to know how I would have been offended.  (OK, I could go into a long-winded theological discussion here, but I would offend someone, and it would … be irrelevant.  Do I agree with him?  No.  Do I think that he needed someone to tell him, “You’re wrong?”  Didn’t Catholic priests try it 500 years ago?  Paul’s approach was better: Acts 17:22 and following.)

He asked if I would like for him to tell me about the complex where we were.  I was quite ready, as I probably could have used a guide.  He wanted to see my hand then.  And then I realized (as he was looking at my hand) that he was going to try to tell my fortune.  Which is something I had never intended to let anyone do.  (In point of fact, it was a purely theoretical question … I never expected to meet anyone who wanted to try.)  However, he didn’t exactly ask permission.  At that point, I started to doubt his simplicity, and even sincerity.  What does that have to do with earth, air, fire, and water; and did the Mayas really read palms with the same technique as the gypsies?  He told me that I would live many years, and that I had a long spiritual journey ahead of me, preaching to people.  (He had previously discovered that I had spent about five weeks at a mission in Guatemala, and that I was evangelical …)  I don’t know whether he believed it or not.  I really don’t.  I think he might have.  Then he told me some things about what that particular complex was used for, and I think I believe that, but I couldn’t help wondering if they also were his own ideas.  So I asked him if I could give him something … “Oh, that is your own affair”  (Es asunto suyo) … So I gave him 5 quetzales (under a dollar), and he pointed me out a little shortcut that took me somewhere I had already been, and he went back to his work.

His simplicity and sincerity?  He left me thinking.  I really believe that it is another example of the “living with incongruities” that one sees here.  He truly considers himself a Mayan priest.  And he truly appreciates those tips.

I spent five hours in Tikal, and left quite tired and warm.  The bus got back to Flores about 2:15, and I headed up to the only cheap, good restaurant I had found in town, where you can get a good lunch for $2.50.  Of course, I was too late for that.  I think one of the ladies felt sorry for me when I asked.  I’m sure I looked plenty warm, although I had slipped into the restroom to wash my hands and tidy my hair a little bit.  She said, “Podemos prepararle comida” … “We can get some food for you!”  So I paid twice as much, and got a good … they called it a steak, but it was pretty thin, and quite covered in a sort of tomato/mild pepper salsa, with rice, and French fries I couldn’t even finish.  And a cold Coke.  I was warm!

For the last hour and three quarters, I have been paying a dollar an hour for shade and ceiling fans – using an internet café!  Really, I’m mainly after the shade.  I checked out of the hotel, and will just go by for my luggage this evening before heading for the bus terminal.  I had another $20 I meant to change and do some more shopping, but I think I left it in my luggage, so as not to be tempted to spend it …  I guess it’s working.  I have just a little bit of money left, though …

I will close for now.  The bus leaves at 9:30 tonight.  It is scheduled to arrive at 6:00 a.m.  My flight leaves at 7:55.  Please hope and pray with me!  The folks who will pick me up at the terminal are American.  I hate to admit it, but I was relieved when the voice on the other end of the phone broke into English, and I realized that, to the couple who will be waiting on me, time means more than just hands moving around a clock …

P.S.  I might get the videos up later.  I am going to get off of here for now, though … it should be getting cooler outside!

[Reading this after coming back, I realize I was pretty tired and didn’t communicate as clearly as I would have liked!  I have done a little bit of editing since the first time around, to correct some of the worst problems.]




5 responses

13 10 2009
Amber Rogers

Wow! I really liked all the pictures you got. Those were pretty amazing pictures!!! Cant wait to see you!! 🙂 xoxo

17 10 2009

Amy, the pictures are wonderful; beautiful nature! The ants intrigue me.

ps. Welcome Home!

17 10 2009

Thank you! I could have taken pictures of critters to the exclusion of the wonderful monuments! Only they wouldn’t hold still… 😀

And I guess you had the faith to believe I made it home. I need to post one last update. I just can’t make myself settle down to it.

18 10 2009
Maria H.

Sounds interesting! Glad you had a good time at Tikal and a safe trip home.

18 10 2009

Hey, thanks! It was great … but it’s great to be home, too! Thanks for everything during the last six weeks. You’ve been a good friend. 🙂

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