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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Guatemala is Gorgeous!

Tikal, Guatemala, is one of the largest and best-preserved Mayan ruins and is the site of the tallest temple they built. I'd been before to the ruins in Tulum and Chacchoben, both in Mexico, but they cannot even begin to compare to the splendor of Tikal. Climbing to the top of these pyramids was exhausting but the view from the top can never be put into words--especially standing atop Temple 4, the tallest known Mayan building in the world, and see the tops of other temples poking out of the surrounding rainforest.

The trees are full of spider monkeys and it was phenomenal just to walk around and absorb the magnificence of these ancient buildings, each around 1500-2000 years old. To imagine the history and what daily life must have been like, and then to see modern workers reconstructing the temples by carving blocks of limestone using only machetes.

It's quite a nerve-wracking climb to the top of the pyramids--you have to use a set of often-rickety wooden stairs. (Until recently, you could use the original steps to climb to the top of the Astronomical Temple but this was closed after two tourists fell to their deaths there last year.) Definitely take advantage of the opportunity and climb! Besides the aforementioned view from Temple 4, the Great Plaza (probably the most photographed part of Tikal) is certainly a must-see site.

Driving to Tikal was also an experience. Certainly I can't judge an entire country but one two-hour segment of road, but it was like nothing I've ever seen before. Maybe of the villages have no electricity and the women still do things the "old fashioned way," washing clothes on rocks in the river and carrying bundles of sticks on their heads to light fires for cooking. Many of the animals--pigs, sheep, chickens and cows--roam free and know to return home at the end of the day.

The bright and colorful textiles most people are familiar with are definitely abundant, although I managed to buy the one black-and-white scarf I saw being sold. It will definitely be coming to Korea with me!

We also enjoyed a delicious meal at a local restaurant that included handmade corn tortillas, an art that is almost totally lost in the United States. It certainly had a heartier taste than the thin tortillas that come in cold plastic bags here in the States! And homemade guacamole...yum, have I died and gone to food heaven?!

There are lots of warnings about American tourists to Guatemala but I can honestly say that I never felt unsafe or insecure. Again, that is probably because I was in a fairly heavily-guarded national park. It was fascinating though crossing the border from Belize to Guatemala, a passage that must be made on foot and puts you face-to-face with machine gun-toting Guatemalan soldiers.

...pictures coming soon