Tuesday 22 Nov
After a month in Mexico it felt like we were never going to make it to another country. However, we decided we had to miss out the Yucatan Peninsula - partly due to time and partly because the unprecedented hurricane season had really taken it's toll on the coastal resorts such as Cancun.
From Palenque we headed for Flores in Guatemala to visit the Mayan ruins in Tikal. Our route took us down a huge river which reminded me of Huck Finn's adventures on the Mississippi as it swirled and eddied sublimely around our motorised canoe. A bumpy bus ride and one crocodile later and we were in Flores: a lake island which has become the Gringo landing pad for exploring Tikal. Not that we had time to appreciate it however as Sara was adament we had to catch the first bus to Tikal at 5am the next morning (I blame the guidebooks).
Like Palenque, the ruins of Tikal are set in thick, lush jungle, where the trees, creepers and plants appear to have evolved into one symbiotic mass of vegetation. Tikal is far bigger however, spread across an area of 10km square or so. We would be walking along the paths, veined with enourmous snake like roots, and come across a massive mound of earth which climbed above the canopy into the thick mist which floated above the trees. A rickety ladder would suggest you could climb it. At the top was an uncannily familiar view of misty foliage with enormous pyramids poking out of the tree tops. There were at least 6 of these mighty structures interspersed with tombs, temples and a magnificent plaza which was home to by far the most impressive of the pyramids, which were all impossibly steep and crowned with what used to be the faces of Tikal's great Mayan rulers ("Mr Chocolate" being the mightiest of all)
As if this wasn't enough to blow your mind for one day, we also saw the most incredible wildlife every where we looked. Wild turkeys, multi-colour Tucans eating berries from the trees and Cotamundi snuffling through the soil, all in this incredible setting. On our way out of the park we heard a rustling in the trees above us. We looked up and slowly began to make out the impossibly long limbs of a spider monkey slowly making it's way across the branches. Our hearts melted when we saw the baby one following behind. We watched what turned out to be a family as they ambled their way along and finally settled down for a rest while the baby hung by it's tail looking at us inquisitively. We polished off the best part of a roll of film on our zoom lens SLR in about five minutes.
There was no arguement that this was the most incredible day of our trip yet. Sara was so happy she actually cried, no shit. Later in the evening someone told us why the view from the top of the pyramid was so familiar: it had been used in the scene in Star Wars where the rebel forces fly off to take out the Death Star. Normally that sort of fact would have made my day, but not this time.