Tikal or bust!
After a quick flight from Guatemala we arrived in Flores realizing we hadn't booked transport to Tikal. There were a lot of emails that went back and forth with the hotel but turns out nothing was secured, which made the one cabbie standing there very happy. I can't remember exactly what we paid but it wasn't that much for the hour drive down a dark road full of pot holes and animals to an even darker National Park. Our driver was great - he quizzed me with spanish until my brain wore out, stopped along the road where a kid was manning a cooler full of ice cold coconut water, each in it's own small plastic baggie - that remarkably I didn't spill all over the car. Then, as the sun was making it's way down the other side of the earth, we passed a small opening to Lake Peton where we jumped out again for photos. He really was great! Imagine that on a NYtaxi meter...
When we finally arrived to Jaguar Inn time was running out for the kitchen, electricity and especially the hot water! We had to make some decisions quick… eat or shower. I chose a meal and after waiting almost 30 minutes to put in an order, let alone get a drink, I figured a shower could wait til after we hiked in the morning. Let me tell you, 4am comes quick - it felt like we just set our heads down when my alarm went off. The quiet of the jungle makes for a great place to sleep, sadly, we didn't get to experience that. I was too excited to be tired as we met up with a few others to have a semi-warm cup of instant coffee. As we stood in the parking lot a group of dark figures outlined in light started coming at us, similar to that scene in Close Encounters when everyone is standing in the road waiting to meet the aliens... which sadly was a large group of people walking in with us. I was really hoping it would just be the 7 of us.
It takes about 45 minutes from the gate to Temple IV, you are pretty much just moving along with a pack of headlamps in the pitch black, dodging tree roots and rocks, unsure how much further until you are greeted by a very tall wooden staircase. At least 150 steps - I guess I missed that part in the guidebook! At the top are the original steps of the temple where we settled in until sunrise. It's incredible how loud every wrapper, zipper, velcro strip and camera shutter can be at the top of a temple in the dark, and how offended folks can be by the smallest sound. As the sky began to lighten the howler monkeys started their calls, what I liken to a Nascar race around the jungle. Each monkey screaming, then the next, in circles around us. As the birds started their calls we became even quieter. Some folks were meditating but most of us sat there staring out into the fog listening the jungle awaken around us. No matter how many guide books and stories you read about the 4am hike, you still cannot believe it when the sun rises and you cannot see a thing! From the top of the temple the fog is thick and the mist is pretty much rain. You can't help but laugh.
We made our way back down the steps to start the guided tour of Tikal. I highly recommend a guide unless you like wandering around a park full of huge rocks unaware of what you are looking at. I bore pretty quickly but our guide was funny and knowledgable so I actually paid attention. Yeah, it was pretty awesome!