Monday, December 24, 2012


TIKAL and the dawning of 14 BAKTUN

Last hours of 13 Baktun in Tikal National Park
December 20th, 2012 was the last day of the 13 Baktun of the Mayan calendar. Many folks around the world feared that this meant that it would also be the last day of the world as we knew it. Of course, we all are aware now that life on earth continued.

Just days before that date I was given the opportunity to actually BE IN the ancient Mayan city of Tikal here in Guatemala and take part in the celebrations! A small local travel agency threw together a bus trip complete with meals and park admissions so off we went. No hotel was needed as we would be sleeping (or not) in the park. The Guatemalan  government decided in the last few days to open the park all night so that people of all faiths or lack thereof could experience this historic time. Our group of 28 adventurers (Jonesy stayed home) arrived in the last few minutes of the 20th, hustled to the Gran Plaza of Temple 2 and set up camp. Thousands of people were already there. What a scene!

There were bonfires with dancing and chanting, music, and spotlights in different colors moved about the crowd and up into the nearby jungle and structures of the Gran Plaza. It was spectacular and at yet, at the same time subdued! Kinda reminded me of the music festivals I used to attend back in the late '60s, but with a little more spirituality and fewer drugs. Mayan shamans conducted ceremonies, incense was burned and a rainbow of candles were lit.
Long climb up to the top of Temple 4, Tikal

Through the night and into the next day marimbas (the traditional Guatemalan xylophone) were played by different groups. At about 3am (Dec 21st) a group of young people donned costumes and danced the Dance of the Deer in the Gran Plaza. The costumes were so different from those that I had seen in the past. Some were form-fitting jaguar (printed jersey) outfits and real deer skins and heads! Loved it!

A fire pit and ceremony Tikal December 21, 2012
Some of us decided to walk over to Temple 4 to view the sun rise over Temple 2 and the entire park. It was a long hike through the dark - thankfully, Jonesy had suggested that I take my headlight. After the 4am hike, we all climbed the stairs up the side of the temple. Huffing and puffing we made it to the top an hour before the magical moment of the winter solstice. It was a smart move to go early - the temple was closed to the public before dawn. Why? Because President Perez of Guatemala was there. So only about 100 people were up on top with us.

The sky was clear and filled with stars. We witnessed many shooting stars and I even spotted a satellite crossing the sky right before dawn. A park guide asked us all to be quiet and reflective. That made the next 45 minutes so much better. Yes, as soon as it was light enough my knitting came out. Unfortunately, the clouds moved in right at dawn.

Terry and President Perez of Guatemala
As you know, we all survived and dawn came as usual. A whole lotta people were very relieved and joyous. Don't President Perez of Guatemala and I look happy in this photo here? Although there were plenty of well-armed military police surrounding the base of the temple, up on top the president chatted freely with a few reporters and anyone who approached.

So, after being awake all night, it was time for a guided tour of some of the park. Why not - I figured I could sleep later. Our guide started us out with a detailed description of how the pyramids in Tikal form an astronomical matrix. I think he finally realized that the glazed looks on our sleepless faces meant we weren't absorbing much of his talk. It just wasn't the day for this discussion.
Tikal Gran Plaza Dec. 21st, 2012 Celebration
So we simply wandered through the park and adjacent jungle after that. He pointed out a Aracari Toucan up in a tree! Then we watched a group of spider monkeys swinging through the trees, and a gaggle of Great Curassows strutting their stuff through the underbrush. These are large black birds that look a little like chunky pheasants. Of course there were large green parrots throughout the jungle being their loud and boisterous selves. Coatimundis (coati) cautiously ventured out of the thickets to search around the trashcans for bits of food.
Marimba and Mayan dancers

Temple 2 and Gran Plaza 
By late morning we were ready to find the bus and begin our 4-hour ride back to the Rio Dulce and our bunks on our boats. At the beginning of the ride there was plenty of animated chat about what each of us saw and experienced. But after half an hour there was silence except for the rumbling of the bus engine and the roar of the tires on the road. Heads nodded. I even had the head of one of the male passengers slowly creep my way and land on my left shoulder. So we bounced along the road, his head gently bouncing on my bare shoulder. It's OK. He was about my son's age so I just imagined that's who he was and was content.

At some point on the trip home, we turned into the small town of El Remate which is located on the shore of the lake Lago Peten Itza in the district of Peten. We had stopped to enjoy a light box lunch with views of the lake. Also, this village is known for it's wood carvings and there were plenty there to see. Children hawked keychains with carved animal figures to anyone who would make eye contact. If I didn't live on a sailboat with minimal storage spaces, I would have eagerly purchased some of the beautiful serving bowls and platters.

We made it to the Rio Dulce and were quickly tossed into launcha boats and delivered to our respective marinas. I'm sure my fellow travelers hit their bunks quickly like I did - with visions of bonfires, dancers and temples in their heads. Life is good.

WOW! Wasn't that a Party!!!
Awesome adventure!
Sorry to have missed it!! I KNOW you took lots of pics though so will "see" it vicariously thru those. What a marvelous experience!! Jackie
I really enjoy hearing about your adventures!
C- fellow knitting camper
Ok, now that sounds pretty darned amazing.
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