Tikal

We spent a surprisingly quiet night by the road at the entrance to Tikal, so we were up around 6am and soon ready to go. We had decided to give Aimee her cat flap, so that she could explore during the night, but the sound of her fighting something in the surrounding jungle quickly changed our minds. Are jaguars still in the wild in Guatemala?

We bought our tickets first, before returning to the van to decide how best to hide the cats. Tikal has a strict no pet policy. Some places around claimed to watch your dog for you, but we didn’t really think that was viable for cats. We could have paid for a hotel room and left them in that, but that was expensive. We decided we would smuggle them into the park and leave them in the camper. We had no intention of letting them out, so that should be a problem, we just needed to get past the barrier. Lizzy was barricaded into the litter tray, while Aimee who normally sits calmly in the back when we drive, refused to comply. In the end we shoved her in the box between the seats. Needless to say she was not impressed, despite the fact she normally loves an empty box. It took only a few minutes to pass the barrier. 

“Do you have any pets?” One of the guards asked us.

“No.” I loudly replied. Leaning on the box lid trying to look casual while drowning out the sound of Lizzy scrabbling around in the litter tray. 

“Are you sure….?” He confirmed.

“Yes quite sure!” We smiled back, a cat toy swinging in between us from the roof rack.  

A few seconds later, we cleared the barrier and Aimee howled. We quickly freed the pissed off cats and drove at the monitored 40kmph speed limit. The other end another guy checked to make sure we hadn’t been speeding. This wasn’t an issue as we had pulled over several times due to our engine overheating problem and were therefore much slower than most people. He was oblivious to the cats circling the camper and we continued on. In the car park, we parked up in the shade, popped the roof and drew the curtains. We planned to spend some time around the site, before driving out and camping somewhere different that night. 

The site of Tikal is huge. Thousands of ancient structures buried deep in the jungle. We set off early in the humid rainforest, grateful for the still cool morning. 

It is possible to hire guides and also book specific tours here, but we opted to view it at our own pace. We started off at some of the smaller ruins on the outskirts, here we were impressed more by the jungle itself than ruins. Giant tree surrounded us, covered in vines, lichen and orchids as they all competed for a small piece of sunlight in the dense overgrowth.

It wasn’t just the tree that were enormous, so were the insects.

As we walked further, we reached more of the main sites.

Tikal is known for its giant pyramid structures, and soon we saw the first. It was still being excavated, so as we approached from the back it looked like nothing more than a big hilly mound. As you round the side you can see the scaffolding of where the current work has got to. It’s incredible to think that this huge pyramid is just waiting under a fairly plain looking hill.

Continuing on, we were surrounded by ruins and also, I was rather excited to see, toucans.

It’s possible to climb several of the pyramids, giving an impressive 360 view out over the rainforest.

It’s also possible to climb the main pyramid that’s shown in the centre of this photo. This is where you would watch the sunrise from if you were to pay for the tour. We headed there next before making our way to the Main Plaza.

As you would expect from the name, where the majority of the civilisation was based. There are several large pyramids, tombs and many other buildings.

The day had warmed up considerably and we were enjoying a cold drink when a park official came and found us. He told us someone had spotted the cats and that we had to leave immediately. Fortunately, we were all but finished and it was now a roasting hot day. We weren’t too sad to be leaving, we had spent nearly five hours lost among the ruins. 

We assumed Aimee had given the game away by lying on the dashboard, one of her favourite spots. We made for the entrance once more. They were not happy. One of them seemed fairly unfazed, pointing out we had lied. We shrugged. OK, but we never let them out the van so we didn’t seem the harm. He told us it’s just policy. The other guy was pretty angry. He clearly took it personally that we had deceived him. They took Lee’s license and after sometime let us leave, making it quite clear we weren’t welcome to come back any time soon. While we can understand not wanting to harm wildlife with dogs on the loose, we hardly saw the issue with two cats inside a locked car. At least we had got to see the magnificent ruins…

We were now back in the village of El Remate. The steering clonked ominously, a noise that had got a lot worse in the last day. The engine temperature stayed stubbornly in triple figures. We decided to camp locally, a somewhat forced decision made at the point where Lee attempted to turn in the road. The steering wheel grated and moved, while the wheels stayed in the same position. The engine hit 115 degrees. Traffic started to back up in either direction while we attempted to get out the way. After a very stressful few minutes we pulled over. We decided to head to Hotel Gringo Perdido. Something clearly needed to be done about the steering box, which now only responded to light movements at speed. Pulling out of junctions present a problem and I was also seriously worried our head gaskets had blown due to the persistent air in the system and the fact we had just boiled our engine again.

We had made it less than a week in Guatemala before a serious problem. Time to find out just how hard it was to get parts here. The campsite was not far, although the dirt road to it produced several more horrible noises from the front end of the van. After checking we could camp, we rolled down a hill to the lake shore of Lago Peten. One other camper was there and looked like a pretty permanent fixture. There were two large palalpas with power, basic toilets and showers, not that you need a shower when you have a lake like this on your doorstep.

We introduced ourselves to the neighbours, Louisa and Chus. Funnily enough, Louisa was English and had now been living in Guatemala for over 20 years. She gave us some pointers for postal services and it was now a certain fact that we needed to buy a new steering box from somewhere and I really hoped that we didn’t need some new engine parts too. At least we had got to a good spot to breakdown in.

Things could be a lot worse than camped on the side of a beautiful lake.

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