A Travellerspoint blog

Tikal - Lost in the Guatemalan Jungle

Our 600th blog post

sunny 30 °C

It is perhaps fitting that in this National Geographic planet our six hundredth blog entry should come from one of the greatest man-made wonders of the world...
These are the ruins of the once great Mayan city of Tikal that were swallowed by the dense tropical jungles of Guatemala over a thousand years ago and only resurfaced when they were uncovered in the 1840's...
Tikal city had some 3,000 buildings housing up to 90,000 inhabitants at one time, but the whole place was abandoned in the 10th century. Only a few of the buildings have been properly excavated from beneath a thousand years of tropical growth. Most are still hidden under massive tree covered mounds and will never see the light of day. Only a couple of the tallest buildings poke their heads above the canopy when viewed from the top of the 230 foot high Temple of the Serpent.
The Temple of the Serpent in Tikal was the tallest building in all of the Americas until Christopher and his amigos arrived in 1492 and Spanish colonialism began. The temple may have shrunk a bit with age, (haven't we all), but it is still quite a climb on a hot sunny day.
Tikal was the capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya and some of the buildings are nearly two thousand five hundred years old. As far as important archaeological sites go, Tikal stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Machu Picchu, Chichén Itzá and the Great Pyramids of Giza . The temples in the central plaza are truly awesome.
The ruins are set in the centre of a National Park that is home to a wide variety of animals including jaguars. We didn't spot one of the big cats but we found ourselves surrounded by an ecstatic group of birdwatchers who had spotted this very rare bird...
They gave it a name – but with our minds exploding with historical facts we forgot it. Maybe you can help!

Visiting Tikal is neither an easy, nor inexpensive, experience. Some people take a ten hour bus trip from Guatemala city, but we flew into the the tiny community of Flores that sits on an island in Peten-itze Lake in the central highlands and took more than an hour's car ride to the site from there. The picturesque little town of tin-roofed houses and restaurants thrives on the fact that it is the only sizeable place within striking distance of the ruins....
This is the pretty whitewashed church that sits on a hill in the centre of the island...
When we look out of our hotel's window and watch the sun rising over languid Lake Peten-itze we reflect on the past eleven years of our worldly travels and are forced to question the sanity of humanity...
The world is a beautiful place filled with kind and loving peoples who, for the most part, want only a reasonable share of life's riches. Here in this remote part of Central America the people are friendly and seem happy to see us. With such beauty it is difficult to believe that the Guatemalan economy is fueled by drug dealers, people smugglers and rampant corruption. We are only here for a few days but from what we have seen, Guatemala and the Guatemalan people deserve better. There is much to see here and we will return.

Posted by Hawkson 16:52 Archived in Guatemala Comments (3)

Costa Rica's Beauties and Beasts

semi-overcast 27 °C

The upside of staying in a cloud forest high in the mountains of Northern Costa Rica is that we are surrounded by the lushest vegetation and beautiful flowers like these imitation Christmas ornaments...
...and this very unusual large white phallus. (No suggestions for its common name is required - thank you.)
The downside of this watery world is that we are subjected to frequent torrential downpours and persistent clouds shrouding the mountains and the volcanoes – that's the nature of a tropical cloud forest. Although the sun shone at times, we never saw much of the Arenal volcano. However, the fertile slopes of this still active volcano are home to a myriad of creatures including these cute coati – South American raccoons...
While they may look cute they are apparently pretty nippy and we were warned to keep clear. But the tropical forests of Costa Rica are home to many creatures that are far more dangerous than a coati and far more difficult to see. There are many poisonous snakes and spiders, but this tiny frog is the deadliest of all...
This red strawberry poison dart frog is small enough to sit on the nail of your little finger, but it has enough venom to kill you and, possibly, a friend. Luckily for us this little creature was behind glass at a nature conservancy, but we wouldn't want to meet one in the wild. This cute little red-eyed tree frog, on the other hand, is not at all venomous and is the iconic amphibian of Costa Rica.
These camouflaged little frogs are nocturnal hunters so they hide under leaves and keep there eyes shut during the day, but the flambouyant butterflies like this giant blue morpho are more than happy to show off their brilliant colours in the sunlight in order to attract a mate...
There are some 1500 species of butterflies in Costa Rica and we have seen them everywhere. Photographing them in the wild has been a challenge, but at the Butterfly Conservancy near La Fortuna we were able to see them in all their glory. These tiny glass-winged butterflies are almost invisible in flight and can only be seen when the sun catches their gossamer wings.
While these sara-longwings make a pretty scene against the colourful flowers.
We have left behind the rain forests of Costa Rica as we head north to Guatemala to visit one of the many wonders of the ancient world. Our morning began with a three hour drive on some of the most tortuous mountain roads imaginable as we returned to San Jose and dropped off our rental car We then flew to Guatemala City and after a change of plane we flew on to the small town of Flores close to the Belize border. Meet us there in a couple of days and we will take you back to a time before Christopher Columbus 'found' this incredible place. Hasta pronto – See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 18:30 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (6)

Pura Vida Costa Rica

rain 26 °C

Pura Vida meaning 'pure life' is the motto of Costa Rica for a good reason. Due to its policies on sustainable power production and its preservation of natural habitats Costa Rica is consistently placed among the top three greenest countries on earth. Its entire travel industry is based on eco-tourism, although there is no shortage of adrenaline filled rides on ziplines, bungees, white water rafts and tarzan swings, for those who just don't get a big enough thrill out of seeing birds like this beautiful scarlet macaw...
Macaws are the largest of all parrots. While they are not rare in Central and South America we were lucky to see one so close. The other iconic bird in this part of the world is the toucan...
This chestnut mandibled toucan was feeding on the seeds of a tree overlooking our hotel in Quepos.
The macaws and toucans are very large colourful birds so are easy to spot above the jungle, but many of the birds rely on dull plumage in order to remain incognito. So, in the interest of fairness, we thought we should include this handsome vulture...
There are nearly a thousand species of birds in Costa Rica and we haven't scratched the surface. We hear birdsong everywhere but it takes a keen eye, and a fast lens, to catch them out in the open. Luckily, this pretty little yellow fella was quite happy to pose in the evening sun...
While this guy thought he'd found a good hiding place in the jungle...
The colourful tropical flowers are far more obliging and here's a couple of big ones...
Few, if any, of the fantastic flowers that we see are truly wild: most have been propagated at some time. But, we were surprised to learn that even the fabulous macaws were genetically 'improved' by breeding programs a thousand years ago when the indigenous peoples valued their exotic plumage for ceremonial head-dresses.

We left the hot, dry, Pacific coast and drove six hours into the central mountains yesterday. It is still pleasantly warm but we are in an area of tropical cloud forests where rain is almost a daily feature. We are here to see the volcanoes – especially the lofty Arenal volcano. It is here, just behind the church in the touristy town of La Fortuna...
And, if the rain stops and the clouds clear, we might get a picture of it in a day or so.

Posted by Hawkson 11:12 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (6)

A Slothful Day in Costa Rica

sunny 34 °C

Anyone who has not experienced a truly tropical environment will not appreciate how exhausting it is to move at any speed in the heat and humidity. It's 34 degrees here in the jungles of Costa Rica and this little guy knows how to conserve his energy...
This is a three-toed sloth. And here he is very, very, slowly climbing down to see us...
The tropical rainforests of Costa Rica are alive with creatures of all kinds but the dense vegetation makes it very difficult to see many of the animals. This capuchin monkey was as curious of us as we were of him so he came out into the open...
While most of the creatures hide in the dense undergrowth many of them are masters of disguise. The slender 'stalk' in the middle of this picture is actually a very long green snake...
The birds of Costa Rica are easier to see when they are in the air but it's a challenge to catch them on camera. We are still working on that, but here's one to whet your appetite...
While Costa Rica is best known to us in Canada as the source of pineapples, bananas and coffee, most of the country is still covered in forest. Here in the district of Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast the forest ends at the beach with vistas straight out of the travel brochures...
Mangroves, coconuts and banana palms fringe a soft sand beach around a lagoon of crystal clear water as warm as the air. As we swim in this liquid Nirvana we are in agreement: of all the seas, rivers, lakes and oceans of the world that we have experienced – this is the best...
After a day in the forests and on the beaches of Manuel Antonio park we returned to our hotel to dine in the poolside restaurant...
Our dinner: deliciously fresh mahi-mahi that had been caught that morning by another guest, Barry, one of a trio of American fishermen taking part in a fishing competition. This is Barry's mate Derrick with his mahi-mahi...

Could life be better than this?

Posted by Hawkson 09:08 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (3)

Essential Costa Rica

sunny 33 °C

Now we have left Panama for Costa Rica we can safely report that, with some exceptions, the Panamanian locals were not particularly friendly. We don't know why – after all we were tourists spending money. But Panama City is one of the most expensive cities in the world and the Panamanians are used to foreigners arriving with boatloads of cash. We didn't go cheap, and stayed at one of the few hotels on the banks of the Canal, but we got the impression that you need to be a real fat cat to get good service here. We hope the Pope gets a better welcome on the 26th. January.
Now here's a teaser:
This is the view of the sun rising over the Pacific Ocean from our hotel's balcony – but how can that be? Doesn't the sun rise in the east?
We have no such problem here in the small Costa Rican coastal town of Quepos...
This is the Pacific Ocean and it's definitely in the west as we stand on the town's seaside promenade and watch this fisherman taking home enough supper for an army...
On the subject of armies: Costa Rica is one of the most peaceful and stable democracies on earth and one of the few countries that doesn't have an army. It is also the most visited Central American country and prides itself on its friendliness to tourists.

Costa Rica is about twice the size of Wales, but it's one of the most ecologically diverse places on the planet. Even though Costa Rica covers less than .03 percent of the earth's total surface, nearly five percent of the planet's plant and animal species live here. Its location on the Darién Isthmus connecting North and South America, with the Pacific to the west and the Atlantic to the east, has enabled flora and fauna from both continents and both oceans to thrive here. We are here for a week and hope to get some pictures of some of the amazing wildlife on the beaches and in the forests and mountains. In the next few days we will be visiting the national parks in search of sloths, macaws and toucans, but we are surrounded by wildlife at our hotel. This dinosaur came to check us out as we ate lunch on our hotel's terrace in Quepos...
The port town of Quepos isn't beautiful. It doesn't have historic colonial ruins, glamorous marinas full of superyachts or fancy hotels. It's just a bustling little commercial backwater a few hours drive from the capital, San Jose, that is a good place to stay while visiting the nearby Manuel Antonio National Park Here's a snapshot of the main street...
Stay tuned and we hope to show some of the prettier sights of this tropical land. Here's a start...

Posted by Hawkson 14:56 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (4)

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