31st August 2023
Nanajuana Boat Yard, Rio Dulce, Guatemala.
The opening scene of ‘Raiders of the lost Ark’ is iconic. Our hero comes running out of the jungle pursued by an enraged tribe of Indians after liberating a golden idle from a booby-trapped Peruvian temple. He then evades their poison arrows, climbs onto a sea plane and deftly flies away with his treasures. This fictional scene was supposed to happen in 1936, but we think it could have happened in 2023 in Tikal, Guatemala.
Taking leave from Ruffian we headed into the hills and found our way to the ancient city of Tikal. Walking into the jungle was no different from any of our other jungle walks. Trees rose high into the air searching for light, bugs scurried around our feet looking for food and the air was full of howls from unseen exotic creatures.
Rounding a corner we were suddenly plunged into the world that Indiana Jones had escaped. Ancient walls, covered in creeping ivy and age old lichen blocked our way. With no easy way around we discovered a tiny tunnel leading into sheer blackness and, ducking down, we followed. It emerged into bright daylight and a playground where we could almost feel the eyes of ancient Indians on us. Rooms complete with 1000 year old lintels and kitchens complete with ovens lined the edges, all having a prime view of the poor who would have lived in plain sight.
Venturing further we found that this palatial accommodation was small fry compared to the real focus of the Mayan people, their temples. Rounding a corner the first of our temples made the trees look small and poked its head high up into the sunshine. Nearly at the top, at unattainable highs, was a small alcove where we could imagine a high priest holding the severed head of a recent sacrificed victim in an offering to the gods, while the victims body tumbled down the steps towards the baying crowd that would have been standing on the very ground we were on.
At every turn we found more and more ruins and more and more temples. In the main plaza having a single temple bigger that all the hills around wasn’t enough. The people, or more likely their masters, decided to build two. The temples were nearly mirror images of each other and seemed to face off in an eternal battle for the souls of those who built them and those souls seemed to be reflected in the pained distorted faces that had been been built into the rocks in the temples crowns.
The more we walked, the more we saw and the more we wondered how this huge city could have ever been constructed, and then simply lost. The hills around us were steep and impenetrable, water courses were far away and inaccessible while there was simply nowhere for game to be hunted or farmed. The length these people went to to either hide from India Jones or pay homage to their gods was extraordinary.
The more we walked the more we learnt. In time we started to see the detail both big and small. Standing stones were always in groups of 5, 7 or 9. Alters that lined the edges of the stadiums were always in groups of 3 or 5. There was a fascination with numbers, a fascination with geometry and a fascination with the stars.
After walking Tikal for many hours and many miles we are sure that this advanced civilisation would have had no problem in defending itself from the likes of young Indie. We are sure however that there are are treasures yet to be found that modern day Indie would love to pillage as there is still much more to be discovered here.
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