Taking a bus from Belize into Flores, Guatemala, we stopped on the way at a former Mayan city called Yaxha (pronounced Yash-ha). Being our second such site so far we thought we knew what to expect, but it turned out to be very different in many ways from the site we visited in Mexico. We were immediately greeted with a temple-pyramid.
This told me at once that I was in a place that was also used as a ceremonial centre – a place where the ancient Mayan priests and what-not could come and appease their gods and do their ceremonies and rituals. We were told some interesting facts, such as that of course the locals always knew that these ruins were here, but of course the credit to discovering them would need to go to some foreign explorer. So when such an explorer / archaeologist came and started excavating the ruins, they would of course catalog all their findings and then send them to whatever museum and such. Let me try put you in the picture. Let’s say you were the one discovering these ruins, and in them you found burial sites where the old kings were entombed with all sorts of valuable possessions, made of gold, precious stones, and other artifacts. You would of course do the right thing and not steal them or keep them for your private collection right? Well yes, I probably would too, but apparently the guy who discovered this site reported that in all the roughly 500 buildings he discovered, there was nothing like that. Sounds fishy if you ask me, considering many other such Mayan sites discovered by others did contain all these kinds of things. Oh well! Men and their greed.
Here’s an area with three large pyramids, at cardinal points.
I climbed one of the higher ones and looked out to see a cool lake.
We also saw a howler monkey in the trees, I couldn’t get a good picture of it since it was hidden high up. They make a really cool sound, which gives them their name, hard to describe it really.
We carried on into Flores which is a large town in Guatemala. The place to go and stay there is in the old city which is on an island on a huge lake, connected to the mainland by a causeway. It’s a really nice place, feels safe even at all times of the night, and is a really great place to relax and eat and drink Guatemalan style. There are a fair few small hotels and restaurants around the island offering cheap and delicious eats, and there’s even a night market on where you can have a filling meal of street food for about $1. I wouldn’t call the street food gourmet of course but there were all sorts of interesting things to try!
The lake is nice and warm and the water is fairly clean, so I went for a swim or too since it was so hot. Here’s a pic looking out from the side of the road where our hotel was.
And turning to the right…
Our second day of our stay in the area was to get to Tikal, the largest Mayan city we saw, and one of the largest in the world, so of course it was a pretty big deal! I took this photo at the entrance of a scaled down model, I hope it helps. The actual area it covers is 16 square kilometres.
One common denominator between all these sites is that although they’ve been mapped, not every building has been dug up. I’m sure you would realise that since these cities were last inhabited over a thousand years ago, they were eventually overtaken by the very thick jungle. So much so that if you stumbled upon one of these pyramids you might look at it and think it was just an unusual hill. Here’s a pic of one of the bigger pyramids, you can see where they started restoring it at the bottom, and a bit at the top, but in the middle it’s still completely covered by the bush.
I climbed to the top (phew good workout going up and down these pyramids I tell you what) and looked out and could see some other pyramids and buildings on the other side of the site.
Now imagine this. The area you’re looking at was the home of up to 100,000 people in its prime, and it is safe to assume that it would have been mostly cleared out of all the trees and foliage much like today’s cities.
Walking through the ruins we came upon a very friendly little critter, apparently it’s called a coati which is part of the racoon family.
Me chilling. The sign on the bottom left says something like No Pasar! No Entry!
This area was their main sacrificial and ceremonial area. See all the little circular bits of stone? Those are all sacrificial altars.