- Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)


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El Remate, Guatemala,  January 30, 2007 --
It is Tuesday.

Yesterday I went to see Tikal the mother of
all Mayan ruins, rediscovered in 1850 or so
and which has been a steady project of
restoration and scholarly study since 1900.

The culture responsible for Tikal's
creation lasted almost two millennia.

Most importantly for us turistas, the
expiration date  of Tikal's cultural credit
card occurred a couple of hundred years
before Columbus was even a gleam in his
daddy's eye.  So that when the Spanish
arrived anxious to convert bu the sword if
necessary the local folks to the one true
faith, Tikal had been long reclaimed by the
jungle.  Other Mayans with whom the Spanish
came into contact, who were still praying
to their three gods, had their temples torn
down, stone by stone, by Los

It was no big deal to  to convert,
seemingly at least, a people who worshipped
three gods to a religion based on the Holy
Trinity.  My opinion.

But anyway, six hundred years came and went
before Tikal was ever seen again, at least
by someone who could write Guatemala City
to tell about it; I imagine there was the
occasional Mayan who passed through, but
because it was overgrown and the existence
of temples an evanescent legend if legend
at all, and the locals, without the leisure
time upon which scholarship has its
foundation, out there planting their corn
and digging up their roots and avoiding the
jaguar, were somewhat less than interested
in these of rocks which had subsided into
the forest.  Eventually, though, word got
through to the governor or somebody and he
sent someone to check it out.  The rest is,

Excavation on Tikal got underway around
1900, the University of Pennsylvania came
in sometime in the middle of the last
century, I think, and joined in work which
continues today.  So that's like a little
more than a hundred years they've been
digging and restoring (and looting, some
would maintain).


For 250 or 300 quetzales (35 to 40
dollars), you can catch the early bus from
Remate at 4:30 am and climbe Temple 4 to
watch sunrise.  Well, I already had a
sunrise spiritual experience back in 1969
and I'm on a tight budget anyway, so I took
the 5:30 for 50 quetzales and another 50 to
get in.

Buy a map if you go, because this is a big
place and still mostly jungle.  Be careful
of the jaguars.

Gran Plaza

I started walking up a lonely road and
walked for 20 minutes heading for the big
deal, the Plaza Central.  The Plaza is the
one you see most pictures of; it is a
semi-enclosed area with the temple of the
Gran Jaguar (one of the main main dudes) on
the East, the Northern Acropolis on the
uh...north, Temple II on the west, and the
Central Acropolis on the south.  These
things are stupendously big.  Gran Jaguar
is, using that Boy Scout thing, 45 to 50
meters high.  Think fifteen-story building.
It's that big.
There are lots of buildings, palaces and
temples, uncovered, but as you wak past
hill after hill to get to the next site.
the natural slope, engineers call it the
angle of recline, I think, is all out of
whack, and you realize that under these
hills, too, are other structures, probably
not to be uncovered in my lifetime or

El Gran Jaguar

These guys were busy, and thought they
didn't have the wheel, much less cranes and
earthmoving equipment, there were at times
200,000 of them and they had nearly 2000
years of mostly uninterrupted determination
and they did a lot with it.

I'm not going to wax mystical here: some
things are just too overwhelming for a
guitar player.  I was up there ascending
tall flights of high steps and walking long
routes for six hours.  I was glad to get
back down and into the van for the return
trip to Remate.  Today my quads and glutes
are killing me.


And now a word about Remate.  Should you
come to see Tikal and you're squeezed for
time or money, stay in Remate.  The people
are polite and friendly and the
accomodations are startingly cheap.  My
first night here notwithstanding, my second
and third were at Bruno's Place...about
$4.50 per night for a comfortable room.
The only drawback was the lack of a hot
shower and the shower itself was too dark
for an elderly gentleman (not to say
geezer) such as myself.  Today I moved up a
notch into the Hotel Gardenia, because I
wanted hot water and a comfortable shave
for a change.  Besides, it will be my last
night here.  I am indeed going down and
over to the Highlands, where there are
volcanoes and a storied town called San
Pedro del Lago.
But as to Remate, there is the lake and
these people and the little Arabian-looking
horses that wander untethered beside it.  I
could stay here forever.  And I know that
whenever that happens it's time to move on.
It's just as well that San Pedro is
I'll keep you posted.