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Postcard :: Tikal under the {big} moon

By Monday, April 18, 2011 , , ,

The howler monkeys had kept Lukas up all night, so 4 am came rather quickly. We met up with the tour group, bought our entrance passes and walked through the dark into the park - welcome to Tikal, Guatemala!

We walked quickly in the dark and heeded our guide's direction, but we went so quickly in fact that two people were left behind. Our guide was obliged to wait for them, but gave us directions to continue on.

"In about 5 minutes take the path to the right. Then at the 'y' keep left. Then 30 seconds later go up 150 stairs on your right." Sounded easy enough, but in the dark?

We went right when the path came to a 'T' but saw no 'y' with a left or stairs. We were stumped until we heard a voice high above us. "Go around to the left. The stairs will be on your right." I counted as we went up - 171. This was it - we'd "followed" the directions without really knowing it. With a little help from a person already at the top of Temple IV.
The 171 stairs in day light.

We were there just in time to take in the pretty pink color {photo at beginning of the post}. Then in one minute, total fog out. So instead of watching the sun come up we watched the fog get lighter and listened to the sounds of the jungle waking up. The howler monkeys sounded more like an angry jaguar than monkeys. The birds added to the ruckus.
From the top of Temple V.

But the coolest, most amazing part of our adventures at Tikal came that evening. We had planned our entire trip around being at Tikal for the full moon. All day there were big, ominous moon-blocking clouds in the sky. But we decided to go for it since this was what we planned for.
Ladder to the top of Temple V.

The park officially closes at 6, but we knew that with some finagling we might be able to stay for the full moon. This could be done by either bribing a guard or by hiring a guide that takes care of all the details. We went that second route and ended up with the experience of a life time. We had a light dinner before we were to meet our guide at 5 pm.

While eating the hotel guy {p.s. all the staff at Jaguar Inn were wonderfully nice and helpful} that had set up our tour came up and explained that the only guide who could do the tour was Juan and Juan only spoke Spanish. Juan came over and introduced himself. I explained that Lukas was a photographer and Juan nodded with understanding. Right away we could tell he was very personable. His reply when I told him I only spoke a little Spanish was to joke back that he only spoke a little Spanish too.

We thought there would be other people on this tour with us but that wasn't the case. A little worried that there was already a plan in place we asked if it was possible to walk to other places once the moon came up. Por su puesto! {but of course!}

As we walked back into the park with Juan in the warm afternoon sunshine we paid a bit more attention. Juan explained that we were walking the original way the Maya would have gone. In their day the path was white from lime stone plaster and they had leveled the jungle. Juan asked if we'd like to go to the plaza first. The plan had been to head to Temple IV to watch the moon rise, but in the golden light it was a quick decision. Por su puesto!
Temple I in the light of the setting sun.

It was great that he offered the little detour. When we rounded the corner and came into the plaza we saw Temple I lit by the warm light with beautiful blue sky and clouds behind. Suddenly Lukas was in a rush to get out his camera. Juan and I wondered a little bit away to look at the birds that built hanging nests in a nearby tree. Lukas shot to his hearts content.

Juan followed behind us as we climbed to the top of Temple IV {for the second time that day}. At the top Lukas set up to take some pictures while I scoped out the possibility of going past the railing to the other side of the temple to watch the sunset. The guard there made it clear this wasn't an option. Juan reached the top a moment later and we went to rejoin Lukas. We found him standing next to a guard with an expression on his face like, "What do I do? I don't understand a thing this guy is telling me." I pointed to the guard that we were with Juan. As I walked back to Lukas I caught Juan say to the guard, "You talk to me about money." We let them work out matters and moments later Juan was telling us it was all ok.
Juan got us permission to duck under the railing and go to the west facing side to watch the red sun sink down. Then, with the small group of people that had worked out deals with the guard separately, we waited for the moon to rise. It came up big and yellow, playing peekaboo with the clouds just on the horizon.

Back at the main plaza, the moon was up but directly behind Temple I. The shadow fell in perfect line with Temple II. As neat as a perfectly alined shadow was, we would have to wait for the moon to get higher in the sky. We lay down on the large steps to look up at the stars. The bright moonlight drowned out many of the stars. Still it was something special to lay there in the night at this ancient place. It was like we were the only ones there.
Moonrise, the view from Temple IV.

That was until the group of people that had watched the moon rise at Temple IV caught up with us. They were {slowly} on their way out of the park, being led by the guard they'd paid off. Their voices broke up the jungle silence and the flashes from their cameras were uncomfortably bright. Our moment was gone.

Juan could tell we were bummed this group showed up so he offered to take us to see the view of Temple V. He led us across the plaza and up the other side. Temple V stuck up tall and dark above the jungle. We stood in front of the ancient palaces, which, upon learning we were on our honeymoon, Juan joked were for us.
Temple II

We made our way back to the plaza hoping the moon was higher and the people were gone. High above the plaza we paused. The group of people with the guard were just leaving so while Lukas took a couple pictures we waited. Then once again we had the place to ourselves. The shadow was gone and Temple II, dedicated to the moon, was completely lit by moonlight. I could imagine the ceremonies that had taken place right here thousands of years ago.

We were contentedly tired when we arrived back at the Jaguar Inn. The moon was now partially blocked by clouds. It was amazing though that the entire time Lukas had been photographing the moon had not been blocked at all. We thanked Juan profusely - he had totally understood what we were hoping to get and have given us the chance for the experience of a life time. We were excited to discover that we had made it back to our room with just enough time for each of us to have a hot shower before the generator was turned off for the night.

The clear skies the next morning taunted Lukas but once again it was a travel day. Today we were leaving Guatemala for Belize - and the second half of our honeymoon adventure.

{click here for: Postcards #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5}

*Note: I know when we were planning this trip we were hunting down any details we could find. So, if someone doing the same thing happens on this little blog of mine and would like more information and specific details shoot me an email. I may not have the answer, but I can tell you what we did. megan{dot}a{dot}wenger{at}gmail{dot}com

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