On the road… again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
G is Guatemala
The people of Guatemala have always been a personal attraction because of their cultural distinctiveness. A mixture of Mestizo, Indians, and European-looking classes have ensured that in any given place you are likely to find people from different cultures interacting in front of your eyes. To the Footloose Forester, however, it was always the Mayan Empire, its history, and its remnant architecture that was the big attraction.
The first trip to Guatemala was a gift. Instead of booking his return flight after the Organization for Tropical Studies course from San Jose, Costa Rica directly to Miami, he asked to be routed through Guatemala City and then into Miami. That routing was only a short hop of less than an hour to Guatemala City, but required an overnight stop. So they booked him in at a Best Western Motel before continuing on to Miami. The airline picked up the cost of the motel, a steak dinner, and breakfast the following morning. Rather than being an inconvenience, the Footloose Forester wanted it that way, so that he could see some of downtown Guatemala City before returning to the USA.
But the best memory of Guatemala was of the Mayan ruins in and around Tikal. In order to make that trip, he included it with a scuba diving trip to Belize and Mexico. After a few days of diving in Belize, he booked a short flight to Santa Rosa, Guatemala. Once on the ground, he arranged for a service taxi to take him the 50-60 miles to the ruins at Tikal.
Words are not adequate to describe the remarkable, expansive temple complex and Mayan architecture to be found there. It would be better to look up Tikal in a book or to view the mile after mile of discovery by taking a virtual flight with a Google Earth simulator. The best of the temples are located at Latitude 17°13′ 19.39″ N and Longitude 89°37′25.69″ W. At this point in his darkest memories, he recalls the scary steepness of the steps leading up to the top of Temple #1 in the central courtyard. No problem climbing up, kind of like scaling a mountain face. But when he turned around and looked down, he decided that the steps were too narrow and the fall was too far to tempt fate by descending face forward. Sheepishly, he turned around and backed down. In retrospect, he would have been crazy to do otherwise if he were on a real mountain and just wanted to come down. But the next person to mount the hundred or so narrow steps did come down face forward. He was a local wearing cowboy boots.
Tikal Central Plaza
One mysterious memory was of the hundreds of mounds that one can find throughout the Tikal complex. Each mound protruding from the ground was an unexcavated part of Mayan history. There are still thousands of them that have not yet been touched. At one outpost some miles from the main assemblage of temples and courtyards, Footloose Forester came upon a solitary worker on a scaffold who was excavating a small pyramid. The work had only recently begun, and only part of one side was unearthed. The Footloose Forester mounted the excavated steps to the top and peered at the completely undisturbed other side. When you looked at that side from the jungle floor, all you would see is a 100-foot mound covered with soil and scrubby vegetation. It would take excavation to determine exactly what it was and what significance it held in Mayan culture.
When it was time to return to Belize and continue with the scuba trip, Footloose remembers the flight being canceled because he was the only passenger that day. They told him to come back the next day, but even then there were only three passengers, so perhaps he was lucky that they didn’t scrub that flight, as well.
Wow what the Footloose Forrester could see in one day would be a lifetime achievement for most to capture in one trip! I was scared to death as you started to ascend the narrow steps, I'll dream about that one and probably end up falling and do that, wake up with a jerk in your entire body thing, when one falls in their sleep!
I'm so glad you kept you journal as it is just filled with treasures to share, thank you, Christine
Thanks for commenting, Christine. Actually I never kept a diary or a travel journal; except for the 15-20 notebooks I took to my field assignments and consulting jobs. The memories were vivid enough to recall with clarity. Once in a while I have to consult a reference to get the dates correctly; as that part is important for credibility purposes.