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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.

Tikal Ruins, Guatemala

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

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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 natural preserve.

 

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 nature!

 

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 all!

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 black inside.

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Curved tunnel lit by a camera flash

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 encroaching jungle

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 pre-Columbian origin.

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 color?

 

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.

 

Constant maintenance

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 Main Plaza

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 main platform.

 

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 altar

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 by jungle

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 partially exposed.

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!

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Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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