Tikal: 24th of October
With the head on the window, I try to get some sleep. That is not going to well for me as the small bus is bouncing on the bumpy road. It is 5 AM and it is way to early for me.
But everybody does it. There are tens of hotels and hostels in Flores during season all of them full with tourists. And all of them go to visit Tikal. It is after all one of the biggest Mayan sites discovered and we thought we might as well “play tourist” for one day as well. So… here we are, in the small buss, with other 6 foreigners and a guide, on our way to an old Mayan city.
Now Tikal is a National Park in Guatemala. But it used to be a flourishing Mayan city, an epicenter of their civilization. At it’s peak, it is estimated that it had a population of over 100000 people living on a radius of more than 7 miles. Now the place is home of just a few archeologists and other researchers. Fortunately they do not wake up that early so the paths in the jungle are still silent.
I haven’t seen the pyramids in Egypt. The Mayan ones appear to be generally smaller and they are solid, there are no inner chambers
And if the ones in Egypt are known to be tombs for the Pharaohs, the ones here served different purposes, they were ment to help men be closer to divinity by performing different religious ceremonies. The interesting thing is that while the Egyptians knew the concept of the wheel the Mayans did not. They knew how to make “round” things from stone (their altars are like this) but they did not used the wheel as a method of transport stuff. Then how did they managed with these huge blocks of stones? There are many theories (some of them involving Extra-terrestrial beings) but maybe a simple, albeit gloomy answer is much more “down to earth”: slaves. Many many slaves.
From our guide, Gonzales, we find out a lot of interesting details about the life back then. He speaks good English and he is not avoiding more sensible topics. Maybe now one can marvel at the architecture and ingenuity but the truth remains that on a lot of these temples there were human sacrifices. We can only imagine the priest climbing the stairs followed by the lucky person who was climbing them for the last time in his life.
The gloomy sky and the musky jungle add to the atmosphere that surrounds us. Beating hearts, taken from living bodies, bloody offerings to feared gods.
But who were these humans that started such a complex civilization? The research suggests that they actually came from Asia, crossing the frozen Bering Straight, then starting a journey South to Central America.
We continue our walk, and we reach the central plaza.
We observe a field where they used to play a ball game. The purpose could be differ (there were several games played) but the win prize was the honor of being sacrificed. Yeap, so the winning guys found their way up a pyramid and their slash! Uhh, that is a game that it might be better to lose…
It is difficult to understand all the details of the life back then. To me it was a strange combination. A society so advanced (written alphabet, math, astronomy, culture, art, buildings) and yet so entrenched in mystical believes and violent practices of them. Later on, Europe, with it’s Catholic Church, would burn on the rug a lot of it’s illuminated minds (philosophers, writers, mathematicians and so on) on the grounds of heresy, effectively delaying discoveries and technical advancements. Here, the “sicence” was somehow in symbiosis with a religion that was much more violent.
The same thing was bound to repeat with the Spanish conquest of Americas and the arrival of the church on the other side of the Atlantic. Thousands of writings burned, objects and building destroyed and people killed in the name of a peaceful religion, a religion of love.
And yet, the actual reason of the fall of the Mayans is unclear. When the Spanish came, the Mayans were already in decline. Entire cities, like Tikal, suddently were abandoned and were left empty. It is speculated that one of the main reasons for this was in fact… the heavy deforestation. The need for more agricultural space in order to feed an increasing population, the desire to build bigger and bigger buildings (the cement used was created involving a process that required burning huge amounts of wood), all of these led to cutting off a lot of the jungle. This in turn lead to irregular rains, which meant bad crops and also less drinking water. The funny thing was that just a few years after Tikal was abandoned, the jungle reclaimed it and covered most of the buildings.
And so it is. The humans who conquered Americas, the nature and in the end time itself, destroyed a good part of what was once a great Civilization. The little that we know and see today, remains though utterly fascinating!
All is tranquil now, but how was this place 1100 years ago? We can only imagine today. The jungle seems to know a lot but keeps it secretes well.