Tuesday, April 16, 2013

fun and fiasco: chapter two

Continued from prologue and chapter one

Chapter Two
The Fun: Tikal

Thursday morning we got up early, packed food and water, slathered on the sunblock, and got into a private bus that we had contracted the night before. The driver took us all the way in to the park and then came back for us at the scheduled time. Totally worth the $US38.50.

This girl is part dog. Her head is forever hanging out the window.
(That dog bite must've affected her more than we thought.) 

I knew the children were excited to go to Tikal—we’ve been prepping for this adventure for six months now—but I didn’t realize how excited they were until we got there. They were like a pack of espresso-fueled squirrels. It was all we could do to keep up with them.

Hey, Dad! Come check this out!

In fact, we didn’t.

Uh, guys?

They zipped up and down those temples like they were on a mission. It didn’t matter one wit to them that hundreds of tourists parade through these grounds every week. To them, it was like they were the discoverers. They claimed those ruins.

Look, Mom! Tikal money! I found Tikal money!

It was early morning—the best time for seeing wildlife—and my husband and I were quite aware of the other tourists, all adults, all composed, all without children (though later we spied a few young'uns), so we did our best to get our kids to talk in quiet voices. But it was hopeless. The thrill was too much. (They did do fairly well—perhaps we were a little hyper-vigilant.)

And then I realized, “Everyone is excited to be here. Some people express that by sitting quietly and looking around. Others (eh-hem, yours truly) take insane numbers of photos. Others do complicated poses to commemorate the moment. Still others read all the signs and charts in an effort to absorb as much information as possible. And some—my children, for example—express their delight by running around and up and down and shouting with glee over every tunnel, staircase, and hidey-hole. It takes all sorts of people and children are people, too, so there.”

Tourists doing their thing.

No temple was too high, no crevice too small—all of it had to be investigated.

Yes, he tried to crawl in. Of course.

Even the ants were fascinating.

Hey, we're at some awesome huge giant ruins so let's video tape these tiny, super ordinary ants!

Within an hour, the kids’ faces were flushed bright red.

 We paused for granola bars, water, and beef jerky on the plaza.

The beef jerky was a MAJOR highlight for this meat-loving boy.

Later there were apples on a park bench.

Still later, when we had run out of water and I had a headache and my vision had gone all wavy, there were Milky Way bars and expensively purchased, and carefully divided out, bottled water. I had to force myself to finish my chocolate (I don’t think I’ve ever eaten an entire candy bar in one go), but  then I started to perk up.

precious water, equally divided

Lesson Learned: If you think you have enough water, you don't. Also, high-calorie snacks are the way to go. We ate every hour and that was enough, but just barely.

random park worker sweeping the path with a branch
At one point, a park ranger came up to express concern that the kids might get hurt. This was kind of funny, because in Guatemala, kids ride helmet-less, carseat-less, and seatbelt-less. They play in the road. They handle machetes. But I guess Tikal has been North American-ized. Probably, they’ve been sued for deaths and such.

nifty swirly designs in the freshly swept path
It’s not like bad things don’t happen at ruins. I overheard one of the guards explaining that the main plaza temples had been roped off (they were open for the climbing when I last visited 18 years ago) because there were too many accidental sacrifices. Plus, the last time I was at some ruins (in Honduras), one of my friends leaped a stonewall-lined ravine, didn’t quite make it to the other side, and knocked her foot almost clean off the bottom of her leg (it was still attached, but not by much). So the night before we went to Tikal, I fretted. What were we doing taking our children to such a place? One slip and SMASH.

(There was the time when we went up a particular mound to catch up with the children and there, on the other side where my kids were running back and forth like clumsy mountain goats, was a fifty-foot drop, good grief, let’s go around to the other side RIGHT NOW PLEASE.)

But no one went bang-crash-smash and my husband made friends with the ranger who gave my children water from his own stash, bless his heart, and then gave us our own private little tour.

My husband liked to pretend he was a tour guide.

Upon seeing this stone door thing, he commenced a-quoting from The Hobbit, his voice all deep and quavery:

Stand by the grey stone where the thrush knocks. The last light of the setting sun will shine upon a keyhole...

Apparently he was pretty convincing, because on our way back when we passed by it again, my younger daughter went over, knocked on it to find the spot, and then starting yelling that she found it. She was ecstatic.

Upon climbing a wooden staircase, my husband waxed eloquent about how the Mayans used inferior wood for their other structures, but for this one, they used the best wood and look how well it’s lasted!

We climbed to the top of Temple IV.

It was so high that it made me slightly dizzy (or maybe that was the lack of water).

It put the fear of death into my fearless 7-year-old. He was so paralyzed with fright that he could only inch around on his behind.

We kissed, trying to center the smooch over the temple.

OVER the temple, dingbat son!

It took a lot of tries, but we finally got it almost right. (Tourists are so weird.)

We tried to call the States, but couldn’t remember the correct country code.

Mom, here’s the proof that your son-in-law tried to call you!

Back down on the solid ground, we took the obligatory child sacrifice photo...

...and then headed back to the central plaza. The kids ran around for the last little bit and then it was time to head back. If it weren't for the heat and the lack of water and more food, we could've stayed for hours. The place is pure magic.

To be continued....


  1. Hi Jennifer! I've been lurking about & enjoying your blog. I just had to comment on this one. It's so beautiful, just as it was (it can't be...) 18 years ago. And I'll never forget the fated, leg-crunching ruins and long ride to the capital that followed. Looks like you're having quite the adventure! Casandra

    1. CASANDRA HELLOOOO!!!!! Leg-crunching ruins, indeed. I had nightmares.

  2. Hey that's me you've referenced! :) Just for the record--I did make it to the other side which was I why broke my leg instead of my head (seriously--that's what I freaked out about for years....what would have happened if my body slammed into that wall). :) Glad you all stayed safe! Honestly though--I hardly remember that day at all--it was thanks to Cas I had all the memories I did (as in she was my memory). :)

    1. I stand corrected. You certainly did make it to the other side...with a resounding smack. (Just not ONTO the other side.) I never thought about what would've happened had you not made it that far---good grief and thank goodness!

  3. And oh yeah, sorry to give everyone nightmares....

    1. You LIVED the nightmare, dearie. I'll forever remember your courage, grace, and strength.

    2. And no one will forget the jump!!!!! Long time no talk girl!!

  4. I love how your field trip pictures look so much like ours - snacks on park benches, fighting over the last drop of water, kids striking funny poses. I love the wooden stairs joke. And we almost died of dehydration in Philadelphia once, until I broke down and spent the kids' college funds on some bottled water.

  5. I JUST read that part of The Hobbit a few days ago! I never pictured it in Guatemala though...

  6. Ha, my husband and I have a tendency to take TOO MUCH water with us to places. This will probably be useful for when we have kids.