Tooting Through Tikal

January 2020
by Amy

I find the older I get, the more my digestive system plays a roll in all my plans. One of the best things about traveling by boat is always having your toilet with you. What invariably happens when I go on an overland junket is that when I need to poop, there’s no toilet available, and when there is a toilet, I’ve been holding it in so long that I can’t go. This leads to constipation and it’s constant companion – gas. So when planning our trip to Tikal to visit the most splendiferous Mayan ruins, the 6 a.m. bus was out of the question. Even though it was equipped with a toilet, it wouldn’t be user friendly, and both of us knew at some point in the morning we’d need to relieve ourselves. We opted for the 3 p.m. minibus sans commode, which would take us to the town of Flores, not far from Tikal.

Fellow cruisers had suggested spending a little time in Flores, so I booked two nights there and two in Tikal at the Tikal Inn, which was the cheapest joint in the park. The day before we were leaving, Kenny looked on-line to see the place I’d booked in Flores and started reading reviews out loud about bed bugs, shoddy service, dirty rooms, showers that electrocute…It seemed perhaps I’d made an error in judgment. According to, we could cancel, but would forfeit the cost of one night’s stay. I wrote a letter to the hotel explaining my husband was just recovering from shingles and was concerned about the reviews he’d read, which I then quoted, and asked if it might be possible to cancel without penalty. The hotel responded promptly suggesting we stay away from budget hotels and book a room in a more expensive hotel which would cater to our hifalutin tastes. They let us off the hook, with no charge. I thanked them graciously for understanding and we booked a room in a $60 a night joint that was clean as a whistle. There were no bedbugs, the shower drained and didn’t electrocute. Our needs were met.

When we arrived in Flores, the locals had just begun their 10 day celebration of the black Christ, which meant fireworks and music every night and crack of dawn parades with firecrackers. How festive. Our first night we arrived at the hotel at 9, ate dinner at a nearby restaurant and walked up to the central park to check out the music. It was too crowded to see anything, so after a few minutes we headed back to the hotel and crashed. We were beat. Due to all the fireworks and firecrackers, we didn’t sleep all that well. Having been through Christmas and New Years in Rio Dulce, we were used to lots of bangs in the night, but we never really got good at sleeping through it. In Central America explosions and really loud music are an integral part of celebrations. I suppose it’s the same everywhere. Maybe we’re just getting old. But it does seem that some cultures take “loud” to a whole new level.

Flores is located in the Department of Peten, in a very large lake. It’s connected to the mainland by a causeway, but feels like an island as there is water everywhere you look. Our second day in Flores, we went for a guided tour in a lancha to various points in the lake. Our guide was young and sweet, but never stopped talking in rapid fire Spanish about the history and wildlife of the area. It was exhausting as my Spanish is very limited and Kenny’s even more so. I tried to translate what I could understand.

We approached a tiny island populated by huge iguanas. “One iguana had 125 eggs…something about snakes eating the eggs…several varieties of iguanas…” Across the lake from Flores, we got out of the boat and climbed up a hill which was actually an unexcavated Mayan temple at the top of which was a lookout tower providing a fabulous view of the lake and Flores. Raul, the guide, continued his rehearsed spiel about the history of the place, the depths of the lake, and other fun factoids, which I probably got all wrong as I relayed them to Kenny. (I was starting to look forward to the end of the tour). One thing we really appreciated about the lake in Flores was the absence of any fast moving power boats and jet skis. Unlike Rio Dulce where everyone zooms around creating massive wakes, all the boats around Flores moved slowly through the water. Muy tranquilo.

That night it rained cats and dogs, so we didn’t make it to the park for loud music. We did return to Flores after our two nights in Tikal and made it to the central park where we were treated to a series of lively dances by children in traditional costumes. The opening act however, was a Michael Jackson impersonator. He stuck to the dance moves and did not try to mimic the “King of Pop” in any other unseemly manner.

The morning explosions in Flores kept us from sleeping in, which was just as well as we had to catch the 8 o’clock bus to Tikal. The bus was full to the brim and we were packed in like sardines, but it was a mercifully short ride. Thank God for that, because Kenny was suffering more each day with his sciatic hip. Sitting can be very painful, and only standing up or lying down can release him from his agony. About 5 miles before entering the national park of Tikal, all buses disgorge and everyone has to file up and purchase entrance tickets. You have to decide then and there if you want a day pass, sunrise pass, or sunset pass. Everybody told us – you gotta do the sunrise tour. Even if it’s cloudy, it’s worth it for the howler monkeys. And if you do the sunrise tour you have to have a guide. We elected to buy day passes for our first day, and sunrise tickets for the following day. We would find a guide at the park.

It turned out everyone on the bus except for us were part of the same tour. We were rogues. It was a short walk from the bus stop to the Tikal Inn, where we ate breakfast. Our budget room was a small trek from the restaurant but I loved the walk through the dense foliage along the red path made of a thick cushion of gumbo limbo bark, which is thin as paper and soft. It felt like walking on a cloud.

True to my prediction, I arrived in Tikal constipated. That first day I just tooted my way all through the park. Fortunately we had decided not to do a group tour our first day. So I tried to save my sonorous farts for when no one else was around. One time I let one rip when I was alone behind a clump of ruins and suddenly a couple emerged from around the corner. I avoided eye contact and became thoroughly engrossed in a piece of rubble, as if it couldn’t possibly have been me, even though I was the only one there. It was a stinker too.

Tikal is big, both in terms of the temples and the size of the park. We walked until we hurt all over. About six hours. It was kind of nice just doing things at our own pace without being held hostage by a guide spewing historical facts that you won’t remember 10 seconds later. What amazes me is the size of the stone blocks they used to build these temples and dwellings. I mean, why did a people so small in stature make such huge steps? How could they be so bloody strong? Everywhere in Guatemala we see indigenous people carrying heavy loads of wood or produce. Marina employees pick up boat batteries and toss then on their shoulders like they’re nothing. It takes two of us huffing and puffing to carry one half the distance. It’s mind boggling. They must think we’re pathetic.

It’s not known exactly what brought about the decline of the Mayan civilization. Historians surmise it was drought or climate change. But the Mayan people didn’t die out. They’re still here! They just don’t build giant stone temples anymore. So why is that? I think it’s pretty obvious. The rulers, priests, upper class all lived in these fancy stone buildings and beyond lay the crops and the lower classes who lived in wooden houses, tended the crops, built the temples, and played ballgames for the amusement of the rich, after which the winner would be sacrificed. It was supposed to be an honor. Really?? Don’t you think the average Joes got a little tired of tending crops, schlepping stones and serving as sacrificial lambs? “I’m not carrying one more friggin’ rock for your bloody temple to the sky. Build your own bleedin’ temples. We got a union now and you’ll operate on our terms.” I think it was a good old fashioned socialist revolution that brought the Mayan civilization down. Take note, Mr. Trump!

So it rained cats and dogs all night our first night in Tikal. We set the alarm for 3:30 a.m., to be ready for the guided sunrise tour at 4: 30. When we awoke it was still raining, so we thought of blowing it off. We were exhausted and our bodies still ached from the previous day, but we’d already paid for the park entrance fee and the guide, so it seemed a waste not to make the effort. We finally dragged ourselves out of bed and stumbled through the dark with our flashlights to the park entrance.

We waited for our guide, who turned out to be a different person than the one we’d signed on with the previous day, but no matter. Off we trudged with our group through the damp dark. We fell quickly behind being the oldest and tiredest from overdoing the day before. Eventually they paused and we caught up to hear the spiel.

“Hak San Poopsi Quatl” built this temple in 700 AD at the height of the classic period. It took 100 years and 18,980 bricks weighing 65lbs each. Divide 18,900 by 365 and what do you get? You see where I am going with this? Right? (Uhhh, no not really). 52! There are 52 weeks in a year. It’s aligned for summer solstice. The Mayans were astronomers and engineers. And Temple 2, here, Hak San had built for his wife Mrs. Poopsi Quatle.” Oh boy, here we go.

We made our way over, in the pitch dark, in the rain to the base of temple number four, which gratefully is equipped with normal human sized wooden steps, so the poor tourists can make it to the top. Our guide, Luis, told us, “Be careful going up. And at the top stay to your left, or you’ll fall off the edge. Find a seat on the stone steps. Stay quiet. No talking. No rattling of paper to open snacks. Just listen. This is your time to commune with the jungle. I won’t be coming up. I’ll be over here under this shelter when you come down. We’ll meet here around 6:30, ok? Enjoy. Remember. This is your time.”

We let the others go ahead, so we could take our time on the steps going up. Of course, our group wasn’t the only one. There were at least 70 other people doing the same thing. At the top, Kenny and I stayed to the left to avoid going over the edge. We found a spot and took a seat among the multitudes on the hard, wet, cold, stone steps. All of us sat there in the pitch dark, and the drizzling rain in complete silence like good little school children, waiting for the light of day. I thought about the tour guides below, sitting under the shelter drinking coffee, chatting and eating snacks. After about 20 minutes, Kenny leans over and whispers to me, “You know they’re just all sitting down there laughing at us.”

Eventually the howler monkeys started sounding off. It is the sound of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. No kidding. It is a haunting, unearthly sound. When the sun finally arose, all that was revealed was the canopy immediately below us and a thick bank of fog all around. Kenny and I were fortunate to have taken in the view from another temple’s summit on the previous day. We could see for miles and glimpse the tops of other temples poking through the canopy as well as observe the numerous chatting parrots and a toucan with it’s flashy bill. The fog on this day, was not lifting anytime soon, so we descended as instructed and rejoined our fearless leader.

Luis was actually a jolly, enthusiastic guide once he woke up. He taught us a lot about the flora and fauna, which seemed to be his true love. Kenny left the tour to return to the hotel as we were covering the same ground we’d already seen, and his hip was killing him. I stayed on and was treated to the spectacle of several families of coatimundis scampering and playing, the alpha males sparring with each other, just feet away from us. Clearly they were used to the presence of humans. The day before we’d seen a lone coatimundi poking around for insects, but nothing like this. Even Luis said it was rare to see so many. I didn’t have my phone with me to take a picture, so Luis took a photo of me with the little beasts in the background. He vowed to send it to me via email, but I think he forgot.
I often wonder, a couple of thousand years from now, when our race and the world as we know it has been extinguished due to climate change or nuclear holocaust. What will the future, more evolved species think of us when they unearth our civilization. What will remain? Plastics! The archaeologists and tour guides of the future will pontificate on how we worshiped the Gods of plastic. And that dog poop was so highly prized that we enshrined it plastic, so it would last forever.

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