Tikal and Finca Ixobel

The border crossing from Belize to Guatemala was quite unspectacular. Max took care of all the paper work and occasional brought forms requiring my signature back to the Bremach. The children and I didn’t have to leave the vehicle and, to the delight of both children, we were able to listen to loud Christmas music the whole time. After the border, we tried out Guatemalan cuisine right away (delicious) and then drove to the ruins of Tikal. A ticket bought after 3:30 pm is also valid for the next day, so we relaxed and drank some coffee in front of the gates and talked to fellow travelers before we drove through the jungle to the camp site next to the visitor center. The speed of the vehicles along the way is checked by a ticket you get at the beginning with the time of arrival handwritten on it which is allowed at the end of the road. It’s a very simple, but effective system!

In the afternoon, we enjoyed the somewhat drier weather since our Bremach finally had to be dried out from the inside and the outside. I had provided for an additional flood (of beer) in Belize by storing the carton with the glass bottles on end, which led to a big pile of broken glass due to the bumpy track. Fortunately, the beer flood got mainly our dirty wash, but Carla’s teddy bear also sucked up a good amount of alcohol. In Tikal, we stretched a tarp over the roof, so that canvas wouldn’t get even wetter and could dry out completely. It really did help a lot, and we were able to get any emerging mold under control immediately. It is unbelievable how much trouble a few (no, a lot of) rainy days can cause.

In addition to the somewhat better weather, a group of 16/17-year-old Guatemalans gave us a positive impression of the country. They were camping next to us and could speak surprisingly good English. We talked with them about traveling until late into the night, and they discussed very openly the positive and negative sides of Guatemala with us. The next morning, a family of coatis came by for a visit eagerly searching for something to eat. They were not the least bit shy and even dared to steal a piece of bread from the framed backpack, which Carla didn’t find funny at all. Max had to show them the way back into the woods with a more or less gentle kick.

For our tour of the ruins, we finally had good weather again, and our elation even led us to allow ourselves the luxury of an English-speaking guide. This turned out to be an excellent idea since Hector not only told us a lot about Tikal and patiently answered all our accumulated questions about the Mayans, but also showed us many interesting plants in the rain forest and explained their use as medicines. During the more than four-hour tour, we walked about 6 miles (9km) and saw a great part of the ruins. The structures were built during a period of 800 years and are partially very different from one another. Especially the up to 210-feet-high (64m) temples are really impressive, and the vastness of the site easily makes you forget that around 250,000 tourists come hear yearly. In contrast to the other ruins we have visited, you can only climb up one of the temples – at least it’s the highest one, Temple lV – by means of wooden steps, and you get a wonderful view from there.  Unfortunately, the other temples has to be closed off in order to prevent unskilled tourists from falling to their death during the climb, as had happened to one or two of them every year.

Thanks to Hector, we now know how cruel the Mayans were. After every (!) ball game, the captain of the losing team was killed. After special games, it was often the whole team that was killed – just imagine something like this after soccer games in our modern times. The ball game was a privilege of the upper class, and a ball had to be thrown into a basket without the aid of hands, arms, or feet and without letting the ball drop. The players sacrificed after the game were very thankful for their fate since this meant that they were able to skip over the 9 levels into the beyond and mount directly to the highest form of existence. For this same reason, a lot of people had themselves sacrificed voluntarily in front of the temples, which meant that their chests were cut open while they were still alive, so that their beating heart could be seen. Even the king himself had to suffer and endure blood-letting or have his tongue pierced by the spiked barb of a stingray on special occasions in order to reach higher levels of consciousness through his pain.

Here are our private photos from Tikal.

After this excellent conclusion of our sightseeing of Mayan ruins, we enjoyed several days of rest and relaxation. Punctually at Christmas time, we found a great place for this at Finca Ixobel near Poptun: big swimming area, playground, lovely spot to park and stay at the spacious site, wifi, and delicious food. In the morning, there was a choice of pancakes, omelet or eggs. At noon, there was freshly baked bread and cinnamon buns from the finca’s own bakery, and, in the evening, we had a large dinner with various salads and vegetables and two different main courses. We enjoyed the good meals and also not having to cook and for ourselves and clean up afterwards! The best part, however, came at the end of the day when the children were in bed. Then the bar opened, and we could enjoy the luxury of sipping cocktails for the equivalent of about US$ 2.75 per glass. To our surprise, there were really a lot of people there since lots of villagers also come to celebrate and have a good time. Latinos have rhythm in their blood and such great mastery of the hip swing that we didn’t dare join them on the dance floor.

Since we wanted to prepare our Christmas dinner ourselves, we drove to nearby Poptun on the 23rd. Shopping in Guatemala was a different experience than buying things in Mexico since (at least in Poptun) just about everything had to be bought at the market. This is lots of fun as soon as you have figured it all out. There were countless stands with a plentiful selection of firecrackers, which are allowed to be fired off continuously here at Christmas time. In a small corner shop, we were also able to get a few products which aren’t so easily found here, such as milk, cheese, juice, and cookies. We even got a bottle of wine, which had the meanwhile exorbitant price (for us) of about US$  10, but you have to spoil yourself a little at Christmas.

And how was Christmas for us? Thanks to the internet, we were put in the Christmas mood through Skype calls and e-mails in the afternoon. Then we made popcorn for the children outside while we finished decorating the Bremach. The “mountain” of presents was almost as big as the leafy branch we had decorated and made the children’s eyes light up with joy even more. To cookies and Christmas music, the children unpacked all their present: books, Lego, dominoes, water colors, and a few other little things. Max and I did without presents this year. While the children were absorbed in their new toys, we prepared our dinner. Our shopping at the market resulted in a spontaneously organized menu: pieces of beef in a paprika-tomato sauce with plantains (cooking bananas) and, to crown it all off, chocolate crème from Switzerland for dessert (many thanks here to the Gloors for this present) with fresh strawberries. Afterwards, the children frolicked around in the Bremach and popped balloons while it was pouring rain outside. We still went to the bar later on – it was the first time for both of us that we went out on Christmas Eve! When we got there, we were immediately integrated into the game evening of a large Guatemalan family which we had met swimming at the beach that afternoon. We enjoyed playing dominoes, darts, and card games and sipping cocktails until the morning hours. Although the day really didn’t have the atmosphere of Christmas, it was lovely anyway, especially for Carla and Robert. In our private photo gallery , there are a lot of photos of it.

Fortified from the six-day break in our journey, we started off on the way again and are now in Rio Dulce. Guatemala is developing into a real party land for us since our Bremach is parked only a few feet from the bar here, and you can imagine where we are spending our evenings …

2 Thoughts on “Tikal and Finca Ixobel

  1. Hope you had a great christmas and New Year, I’m Oscar the guatemalan teen from your first night at tikal! I wish you a great trip

  2. Happy new year Tanja, Max and children aus dem Föhn geplagten Hasli.

    Besten Dank für Eure Festagswünsche.
    Mich zieht es auch wieder in die Welt.
    Habe gekündigt, nach wiederkehrenden Differenzen mit wem?
    Werde als Freelancer für verschiedene Firmen arbeiten.

    Wünsche euch viel schöne Stunden auf Eurer Reise, gute Gesundheit
    und alles, alles Gute im 2014.

    Urs

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