I traveled in Central America with a friend in ’09. After Belize, we headed to Guatemala and our first stop there was Tikal, the ancient Mayan city.
We arrived on the late side of things that day. After picking where to stay for the night out of the four hotel/hostel next to the ruins in the jungle, we decided to go see the ruins nonetheless; a late ticketbeing good for the next day as well.
So we’re strolling about the magnificent temples and plazas when a guard approaches us(armed with a shotgun like every guard of any sort in Guatemala is). Despite our poor spanish we quickly understand that he is offering to let us in early the next morning, hours before the official opening, to let us see the sunrise from atop one of the temple. We jump on the occasion and it’s agreed that we’ll meet him by the park entrance at 4am the next day.
Morning comes, and we do just that. We meet him at the gate, he still has his shotgun with him. We’re pretty sure it’s the same guy, only a sliver of moon shines over the world, and it’s hard to tell, but he met us there, so who else could it be? We follow him into the forest proper and the world goes dark, dark as in ‘I can’t see my friend who’s walking two feet in front of me’ dark. The guard knows the place by heart and we can hear him ahead. We only have a poorly functioning key fob light that’s doing a piss-poor job at lighting anything around us (granted, it wasn’t made for that at all), and we’re stumbling after him. The forest is pungent of smells I hadn’t noticed the previous day and feels a tad threatening, but that might just be because I can’t see a damn thing. We walk for what seems like a very a long time, and my buddy and I start wondering if we’re not getting into trouble. We’re alone in the jungle, with a guard armed with a shotgun, in a country were murderous violence is a daily thing. We’re starting to freak out a bit when the bloody Howler Monkeys wake up. Good lord, the Howler Monkeys! They sound just like T-Rexs. We’re in a pitch black forest with T-Rex roaring all around us! If not for the fear of hitting one of the spiky, poisonous trees that frame the path, I might have started running. At that point we’re really freaking out, and we do our best to keep up with the guard. He might not have ill-intent after all, whereas the T-Rexs, well, we all know what the T-Rexs do.
Eventually, we emerge out of the jungle and into the moonlight. There’s no band of banditos waiting for us, we can see the world around us, and as far as I can tell no T-Rex is after us. Phew, we survived the jungle..
The guard points to one of the temples. It’s tall as hell and in its shadow, on its side, there’s a tiny wooden staircase. The previous day, he’d told us rather mundanely that a tourist died a few weeks prior when she fell from one of the temple. I’m sure in the US that would have been followed by ramps, safety railing and the likes being put in place, but this is Guatemala, not the US, so they just closed up the temple the time to clean things up, and reopened it a few days later as it was.
The guard takes his due and then is just gone. My buddy and I look at each other, and we start up the stairs. It’s really freaking high and steep and we go slow. Once we get to the top, we’re greeted by a thin ledge, no wider than a foot and a half with a wall on one side and a 200ft drop on the other. We very carefully sit there and we wait, relieved that we made it and scared to move lest we go tumbling down the stone incline like the heads of ritual victims did centuries prior.
Around us, the jungle slowly wakes up. The sky blanches at the horizon. We’re above the treetops, and barrels of monkeys comes swinging below, jumping from branch to branch. Birds start singing and dancing above the trees, and then, like through a dreamy fog, the sun breaks free of the feverish horizon. Man, what a sight. Totally worth braving T-Rexs, banditos, and slippery stones if you ask me!