Day 21: Flores, Guatemala
In general I’m not a fan of tour guides and I was wary of Tikal tours. I’m not a history or archeological buff and I usually get everything I need to know beforehand and with on-site signage.
To be completely honest I usually forget most of the information by the time the sun has set.
In Central America I’m far more wary as there’s so much uncertainty about the Mayans, most often the “facts” are educated guesses and I’ve heard some wild guesses listening in on other tours.
So I wasn’t happy to hear that unlike other sites, Tikal allowed tours in first and the public bus afterwards. Rather than pout that life wasn’t fair I jumped on a friend’s offer to book me with his tour the next morning.
It was the right decision. Luis, our guide, is only 33 but has an amazing story. His father was a bushman and he grew up in the area. He was passionate about ecological issues and wanted to share the rainforest with us, which meant showing us every creature he could call into an open space.
Interestingly, he also worked on Survivor Guatemala and is apparently featured in episode 25 – for Survivor fans he says about 60% of the drama is real – which is far more than I had suspected.
Within the first 15 minutes Luis shows us few very large rodents (bigger than some dogs), entices a wild turkey to do its mating call and calls a crocodile to the water’s edge for photos. We hadn’t even entered the main site before he picked up a tarantula and held it next to anyone’s face that was brave enough.
The Tikal tours was delightfully light on dates and “facts” and more about the excavation of the site and plans to preserve the area. He explained the Mayan calendar and how we really weren’t going to die in 2012, we would just start a new calendar cycle.
As he noticed the group beginning to fade after a couple of hours he arranged for someone to come sell us fruit flavoured ice at the bargain price of one quetzale (12 cents) and recommended the tamarindo flavour.
Best of all, when my irrational fear of heights prevented me from climbing the steep ruins, he didn’t say a peep. I left feeling like people who hadn’t had a tour really missed out on something special. I think sometimes when people are planning a Central America itinerary they skip out on tours but really thing is something you should do.
If you’re heading to Tikal you may also want to check out the Yaxha ruins, which are about 70km from Flores.