In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age
of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this
financially independent lifestyle, they invite you
to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.
One of the major sites of
Mayan civilization, inhabited from the 6th century B.C. to the 10th Century A.D.,
lies in the heart of the jungle surrounded by lush vegetation.
This is Tikal, in Guatemala
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli
Ninety-one percent humidity
met us when we arose at 4:30 a.m. that morning in
Flores to get ready
for our early collectivo ride to the preserve of Tikal. We get our tea
together, eat some oatmeal and grab our daypack which we filled the night before
with sandwiches, cheese, raisins, drinking water, sun block, mosquito repellant
and our camera.
I scrape my freshly washed
hair into a hairclip, head downstairs and watch the sun rise.
Tikal is the largest
excavated site on the American continent
We were to be picked up at
6 a.m. for our one hour ride to the mysterious Maya ruins, but after 15, 20, 25
minutes, no one came.
There are over 3,000
separate buildings in the protected Tikal ruins, including temples, residences,
religious monuments and tombs. It is Guatemala's most famous cultural and
Much of the Tikal city is
still covered by jungle
After waking up the night
guard (who is a 16 year old kid) and asking him to call the tour company to see
if we are still on the list to be picked up, the collectivo finally
arrives at 6:25. We are the last ones to cram into the minivan. Then, instead of
heading on to the ruins, we head to the gas station to fill up!
This site, which comprises
222 square miles of jungle natural preserve, is an archaeological jewel. It took the University of
Pennsylvania 13 years to uncover about 10 square miles of structures at Tikal.
However, much is still left to be unearthed.
Thick jungle closes in on
well-worn truck trails
The road was fairly
straight to the Tikal National Park but it still took the full hour to arrive.
The night before we had paid our 120Quetzales each for the transportation to the
site, and paid 150Q each at the entrance to the park.
The jungle is thick and
over 2,000 plant species have been identified in the park area. Fifty-four
species of mammal are here including howler monkeys, anteaters, armadillos,
spider monkeys, puma, ocelot and jaguar. Not to mention 38 kinds of snakes!
We were set to see some
Large termite nest lodged
into this tree
After the Maya abruptly
left Tikal in the 10th Century A.D., the jungle ate away at civilization's mark leaving nothing but a
mystery for hundreds of years. Among the indigenous, only a legend remained of a lost
city, a place where their ancestors had achieved a high cultural development.
Trails are wide and
comfortable to walk, but we were completely alone on them!
Trails are broad and easy
to navigate, but it's a bit unsettling to be so alone in the jungle, thinking
any moment some creature could jump out. Billy fired up his GPS so we knew where
we were in relationship to the park's entrance. There were other people with
guides in the preserve, but it is so large one might not see another person for
half an hour or more.
In 1848, Tikal was an
unexpected discovery made by Ambrosio Tut, a gum collector otherwise knows as a
chiclero. Can you imagine what a wide-eyed revelation that must have been
for him? A deserted ancient city!
Even though these buildings
have been rescued from the jungle, the plants are still asserting themselves.
These jungles are moist and
plant growth is a continuous presence. You can still make out some of the Maya
engravings like the curved one on the stones center left.
We were completely alone
here in this area of the ruins as well. Seemed as though no one was around at
Note the dark door on the
left. We wanted to go in and explore, but anything could have been living in
there...ready to jump out and defend its territory. And besides, it was jet
Adventurer's Guide to Guatemala
Donít go to
Guatemala without this book! Take advantage of what we know. Click
Curved tunnel lit by a
We could not see more than
a few feet in front of us, but Billy took a quick photo for later. We didn't
know if there would be monkeys, tarantulas, snakes or even a new puma mother
protecting her cubs inside for all we knew!
See how narrow and low this
tunnel is. The average height of the Maya was 3.5 to 4.5 feet tall. Even today
we see Maya in the villages at this stature.
A little closer look at the
The city has been
completely mapped out and it covers an area greater than 6 square miles. It was
great to have so much privacy in these ruins - wonderful for photo taking. If
only we could have gotten the clouds to lift!
Akaisha in the jungle with
her jungle pants on
One of the largest of the
Classic Maya cities, Tikal had no other source of water other than what was
collected from rainwater and stored in 10 reservoirs. This and the fact that
there was a large population living here showed the industriousness and
forethought of the Maya.
The top of this building
has been excavated but the bottom is lost to jungle
Excavations have turned up
the remains of cotton, tobacco, beans, pumpkins, pepper and many fruits of
As it turned out, other
than one spider monkey scurrying along a trail, we saw no other wildlife! It was
a bit disappointing because in
other Maya sites we have heard howler monkeys and
seen wild creatures up close.
Imagine these buildings
covered in brightly painted stucco
Today the clouds were low
and the humidity was high. Some areas had mosquito pockets and we were grateful
we had brought our repellant.
The area to cover at Tikal
is so large that some people choose to spend the night. There are 3 hotels and a
camping ground in the park and if you spend the night you can get up to see the
sunrise, or go out again to watch a full moon rise over the ancient buildings.
The Maya painted their
buildings with deep red and blue. Can you imagine these same buildings with
The Main Plaza
The Main Plaza is a great
place to spend some time. We walked up the highest area we could and ate our
lunch overlooking the amazing sights below. It was a romantic and pensive way to
enjoy lunch, with this impressive view and the history of the Maya right before
us. Truly, it is one of the things we enjoy about visiting these ruins, is that
we can walk around
without ropes and signs telling us what we are not able to do or experience.
The area is massive and
with the moisture and encroaching jungle, the buildings need constant
maintenance. Here you will see the scaffolding on the right hand side where workers
are cleaning this major pyramid.
The scaffolding took a bit
of magic away from the experience, but still, the site is impressive.
A closer look inside the
At the height of the Maya
influence here at Tikal, the population is said to have reached between 90,000
and 120,000 people. These steps and buildings must have been swarming with
traders, religious and political figures and the local families.
The few people you see in
this photo shows you the most "crowded" the site got during our visit.
A look from above
The acoustics in these Maya
Central Plazas were well thought out. High priests could be heard perfectly
during ceremonies due to the enclosed architecture of the plaza. Musicians
played to enhance the atmosphere during ceremonies that were held here on the
Steep stairways provided to
get to the top of one pyramid
There were steep stairways to
climb as well as stone steps in order to obtain the best views. These stairs
were somewhat hidden so as not to ruin the photos you might take of the area.
Just a side note here -- as
you can see, these stairs have a very sharp incline (although no more than the
pyramids themselves). There are no ropes to hold onto, and it's not like there
are park rangers walking around to make sure you are safe if you lose your grip.
This isn't a theme park and you are responsible for your own safety.
The main pyramid in Tikal
Central Plaza is on the right, stelae are in front, below
If you stand at the point
where the dark circle is at the right of the photo and clap your hands, you can
hear it echo all throughout the area. It will give you the experience of how a
high priest might be speaking, and at the distance where we were, we could hear
the clapping quite clearly.
Here we are!
Fortunately, the sun came out for a few
moments off and on. It was humid and warm even without the sun shining.
Located in the rainforest of northern Guatemala, Tikal was
the capital of a conquest state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of
the ancient Maya.
The stelae and altars in
the Main Plaza
Stelae and circular altars
are considered a hallmark of Classic Maya civilization although their actual
function is uncertain. The earliest dated stela has been found here at the great
city of Tikal.
Billy with the stela and
The signs asks us not to
sit on the round altar. Billy is giving you and idea of how large these
structures are by standing next to them. The engraved stelae found at other
archeological sites record the glories of the reigning king. These stelae were
less engraved or not engraved at all.
A different view
The Main Plaza is quite
large, but there are other areas in the Tikal city where you could venture. We
saw some tourists with guides who were taken place to place in a truck. This
seemed reasonable if you wanted to cover more area in a shorter period of time.
Otherwise, you might choose to stay a few days, see the sun or moon rise and
take your time walking to each area.
From a distance, looking to
the Main Plaza
There were all sorts of
trails and steps of one sort or another. Some were made wide by truck traffic
(by both maintenance trucks and tour trucks) others were like a trickle down
stone steps. Still others were simple footpaths.
Directions in the jungle
Lots of temples, lots of
trails. One sign leads to The Lost World.
A pyramid almost obscured
This was the first place we
had visited which clearly exemplified the assertiveness of the jungle. One could
easily see how a "hidden, secret city" could be right there before your eyes,
but covered with jungle growth so as to virtually disappear.
Amazing tree roots
We saw many of these old
trees with their roots thick above ground. The roots made small walls to collect
moisture and jungle debris.
A pyramid in the center, a
pyramid on the right, and the mound on the left is a "hidden" pyramid
This photo shows you the
various stages of excavation. The pyramid in the center has been fully
unearthed. The one of the right has been mostly exposed, and the mound of green
on the left is one that has yet to be cleared of the jungle.
Excavation in progress
The scaffolding at the top
shows the clear pyramid in the process of being unearthed. The bottom shows the
mound that you would see if you were simply walking around before the
excavation. There were areas that were in various stages of excavation such as
this. On the lower right of the photo you can see steps or a platform that is
Sometimes you would see
trees with their roots slowly ripping apart the soft limestone of the buildings.
What to bring to Tikal:
Take a lunch, bring drinking water, your camera, a hat, some sun block and
mosquito repellant. You might want to bring a flashlight and some rain gear,
depending on the weather. There are maps at the entrance that you can purchase,
or fire up your GPS so you know where you are. And bring your identification in
case a puma gets you!
About the Authors
Early Lifestyle appeals to a different
kind of person Ė the person who prizes their
independence, values their
time, and who doesnít want to mindlessly
follow the crowd.