After clearing customs in a little restaurant in El Naranjo beside the Usumacinta, we climbed on the bus for a four-hour ride to Flores. I’d heard from travelers and guidebooks that the ride was horrible, the roads pitted and dangerous. But roadwork was going on as we passed, and parts of the road were evenly paved. This was good for our ride, but perhaps not so good for the rainforest, as it will aid in the migration of farmers and ranchers into this remote area. Much of the deforestation that is occurring in the rainforest is due to land being cleared for ranchers and farmers.
Since I’d started my day in such magical solitude, I tried avoiding the center of the ruins where the other tourists were sure to be. So, with a map in my guidebook and the sun for direction, I set off down the small, unofficial paths through the jungle towards the next set of ruins. For the next four hours I visited three other sets of ruins in Tikal, and only saw two other people, but at least six spider monkeys, several toucans and toucanettes, a beautiful woodpecker, and a peccary. I sat still for a while, deep in the jungle, hoping to see the glorious quetzal--the official bird of Guatemala, a spirit animal of the Mayan people, and a now endangered species due to habitat destruction. I was not visited by a quetzal, but I did see and hear more birds than I can count. I used to think bird watching was so boring, but I’d never been to the jungle before.
In the great central plaza, turkeys and anteaters roamed. The Petén turkey, also called the ocellated turkey, is a large and beautifully colored bird that reminds me of a peacock. Did you know that turkeys are originally from New England and the Middle-Atlantic states of the US and the Yucatan peninsula? They arrived in Europe on boats that went to the West Indies and then to Genoa on ships returning from the Ottoman Empire, and so they were called "Turkey-birds." In Turkey they’re called "hindi" (Indian) birds since they arrived from the West Indies!
I had to rush to climb down and be out of the park before dark. I think that Jamila and Klaus will tell you more about the ruins and the history of Tikal when they visit. But as you read their descriptions, remember the magical environment surrounding this ancient civilization.
Monica - Lost in the Lost World
Monica - Searching for the Disappeared: An introduction to G.A.M.
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