Friday, January 27, 2012

January 25, 2012

Today, Diane and I went off into different directions because I wanted to do a cave tour and she wanted to attend a conference that was being held at our hotel on Mayan medicines and healing. Later she’ll post a briefing on her experience at the conference, which sounded really interesting.

Meanwhile, my excursion with John and Linda, was to Actun Tunichil Muknal, (more commonly know as ATM). We were picked up at the hotel by Carlos, our tour guide. It was a long hour and a half bumpy drive to where we left the vehicle. We then hiked through the jungle for about forty-five minutes, traversing the same river three times.

We got to a picnic/staging area where we had lunch and left most of our belongings. The entrance to the cave was just a few steps from where we had lunch. To enter the cave, we slid off a big rock into the cool water and began to swim. Really!!!

The hour glass entrance to the cave - get ready to swim!

It’s only a short swim, though. Then it mostly consists of walking on rocks or wading in knee-deep water. We wore helmets with headlights attached to them. At one point we were in a spot where one needs to be in the water neck deep. You then squeeze your head through a narrow set of rocks. You accomplish the feat by turning your head forward, then downward and then out all the while moving forward. It was an odd maneuver, but when followed correctly, it got you past the narrow spot and deeper into the cave.

After a relatively easy forty minute trek into the cave we arrived at the main chamber where most of the pottery and human remains were found (there were also beautiful stalactites and stalagmites in the area). There is evidence that the cave was used by the Mayans to host ceremonies and rituals. Some skeletal remains appear to be sacrificial in nature. All these offerings were likely done to appease the underworld gods which were supposed to help the Mayans in times of droughts, famines and wars.

Some of the pottery in the cave

A skull

Stalactites and stalagmites

Heading out of the cave seemed quicker. The experience was unique and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to do it.

January 26, 2012

On Diane’s birthday, we took a trip to Tikal, the biggest Mayan site. It is in Guatemala, about two hours west of San Ignacio. We were picked up early in the morning by Anna, who essentially coordinated the trip for us, taking us through the Guatemalan border and hooking us up with our tour guide for Tikal. We also negotiated for a quick side trip to the small island town of Flores.

Tikal lies in a dense jungle and consists of over 3000 structures (most of which are still buried). In the three hours we were there, we only saw a fraction of it. When you walk up to these ruins from a jungle path, it has the feel of a George Lucas movie. In fact, our tour guide told us that the first Star Wars was partly filmed in Tikal.

There are several different types of structures in Tikal - alters, pyramids, temples and residences. In front of the temples they have stelas, a kind of a billboard that would commemorate a king. Other stelas that were elsewhere essentially reported events and other newsworthy items.

The inspected several of the structures. The main ones we saw were the second set of temples with an acropolis where the rulers were buried in tombs. The interesting part of the architecture of many of these buildings is that each ruler would build, rebuild or add on to an existing building, often making them higher and higher each time. The tallest of the temples (#4) in Tikal is 73 meters. We climbed to the highest part that’s open to the public and were rewarded with a panoramic view of the entire area.

It’s amazing all the excavation that needs to be done at each site. Every mound or hill that’s visible has a structure underneath it. And the more they dig, the more they need to maintain. So archeologists try to only unearth the structures that are deemed to have a special value.

One bit of interesting information that was imparted on us by one of the tour guides was that the Mayan culture was the first to develop the notion of zero. I did a little more research on that and it is believed by many to actually be the Olmec civilization that came with the concept first. The Olmecs preceded the Mayans in the area of Mexico that is now Chiapas - just southwest of Tikal.

After our visit to Tikal, we stopped for lunch and then took the detour to Flores. The small town is actually an island on Lake Peten Itza. There’s a small causeway that connects Flores to the mainland. Flores is a cute little town with colorful buildings, restaurants, gift shops and cobblestone streets. Lots of tuk-tuks (three-wheeled motorcycles with a bench seat in the rear) to move people around the area.

Cobblestone streets of Flores, Guatemala

This is the tuk-tuk

Sittin' at the dock of the bay....

The ride home was long, but the van was pretty comfortable and we got back to San Ignacio just after 6pm just in for a beer and Chinese food at Maxim’s.

January 27, 2012

They taste like chicken!

Today was our last full day in San Ignacio and we pretty much took it easy. We had lunch in town and on the way back Diane and I stopped by for a visit to the Iguana Project and Exhibit. It was an interesting tour, with lots of hands-on experience with fully mature iguanas and baby iguanas.

These are the fully grown ones. I've got Gomez and Diane has the lady.

One of the curious babies.

Too much of a good thing?

Instead of a hair piece, I think I could make this work!

My take away from it was that male iguanas live quite a sumptuous lifestyle. Males have two penises and are very busy during breeding season (Dec-Mar). They’ll mate with as many as six females per day. The bigger and stronger males get all the chicks. They get all spruced up during mating season,  which includes getting a new colorful coat and dropping several pounds. It’s as if they go to the gym and the spa to get ready for the mating season. We got to hold fully grown males and females as well as baby iguanas. Needless to say, the tour was informative and fun.  

Tomorrow morning we pick up our rental car and head south to Placencia. 

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