You must cross the footbridge carefully, taking your steps quietly so as not to wake up the border guards and customs officers dozing in hammocks. This is not an easy task. The footbridge – a board put across the border river – serves as a bridge between Honduras and Guatemala. The creek is knee-deep but full of awful tropical bugs, it’s not easy to cross it. The only way across the board leads right to the post of Guatemalan Border Guards. They are on watch standing bravely or rather lying, stretched out in the hammocks hang under the makeshift roof. A hubbub of voices puts them on their guard. The one lying nearest to the footbridge opens his one eye and observes what is happening. This is, however, too much effort for him. After a moment his tired eyelid closes again. The commander of the guard, a tall man, some 160 cm, with a huge ancient revolver next to him, is also asleep but much more lightly. When we are about to leave the sleepy post, he gets up lazily. He rubs his sleepy and amazed eyes. He looks at us as if we were ghosts. As if he didn’t really believe that this is no longer a dream. But a good commander at the border post knows how to behave in such situations. He gives a long gaping yawn and yells “pasaporte porfavor”. We give them to him eagerly. Then he starts to stamp our passports making such a noise that the rest of soldiers raise their heads. They look in disbelief what is happening. Nobody remembers so many people at the same time at this border checkpoint. Even the oldest guard, wrinkled, thin as a rake, likely a year before his retirement, with a murderous expression and handlebars. Meanwhile, the commander is talking to us. When he finds out that we are from the Pope’s country, he stands at attention, gives a salute and politely gives our passports back. The formalities are done. We cross the border, and the guards at the post and their commander get back to their favourite activity again. The face of the oldest moustache man expressed only one wish – so that another group would not disturb his sweet, refreshing and needed sleep today. His guard’s dream about the power of Guatemala.
It has been three hours since we left Guatemala’s best-guarded border. The Indian driver of the bus in which we ride toward Antigua tries to gain favours of one of the participants of our journey at any cost. He looks furtively at her, keeps his eyes open for any bigger pothole and puts his foot down. Then the bus bounces high on the bumps. We hit our heads on the roof and he checks in the mirror the impression this ride has made on his lady. When finally he spots how pale she is, he is pleased as Punch and turns his head away showing his wonderful teeth. After another pothole, the bus bumps up so high that the passenger next to me bites his tongue when falling onto his seat. This key speech organ is injured so much that he is even not able to express his discontent with that. The bus keeps speeding over the bumps. Like a Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the driver has no intention of slowing down. A brown cloud of dust hangs behind us. The dust gets inside the bus through the open windows. It is difficult even to breathe. We start to count down the time to our destination, and suddenly, out of the blue, the driver brakes sharply. We are thrown forward, and the unlucky man with the bitten tongue hits his face against the hard backrest of a seat in front of him. He hits it so awkwardly that it seems only the nine lower teeth out of his beautiful set of teeth are likely to remain as a memento. That was simply too much. We demand to stop right now. Our tropical disease doctor steps in. A bottle with peroxide and spirit for disinfecting injuries are found. After his face is washed, it turns out it doesn’t look so bad. His teeth are in one piece. Admittedly, the upper front tooth has been knocked out but as the injured revealed himself in the end, it was false anyway. The driver has achieved his goal. He managed to disfigure the most handsome gentleman in the group who earlier also turned on the charm for the same woman as he did.
Nonetheless, we are fed up with that ride. We decide to change the means of transport in the first town we arrive in on the way so as not to put our health or maybe our lives at further risk. When we reach the destination all stiffened, after a two hours’ ride in a minibus suitable for ten people, a man who welcomes us on the doorstep of his hotel has round eyes with surprise. The view of nineteen strangers from far away getting out, all twisted (including one with a knocked out tooth and a tongue bitten in half), makes an impression on him. It is clear that he wants to chat with us but nobody has the strength to talk. All the more, the Mayan world lost in the virgin rain forest – the pyramids in Tikal – awaits us. After an hour of a shaky flight over the rain forest, plane AN-2 produced in the Soviet Russia, tied with wire and strings, takes us to the north of Guatemala. Lake Peten Itza is ahead of us. The Russian crew comes in to land nosediving. The passengers who are more sensitive close their eyes. When they open their eyes, the plane is already taxiing on the runway. Using the great Soviet wonder of modern technology, we saved 18 hours of a killing ride across the interior. We are in Flores, a stone’s throw from Tikal.
Tikal – the grandest gem of Mayan culture transfixes with its largeness, mystery, simply unimaginable harmony of odd buildings around the rain forest. Discovered relatively recently, it became a Mecca for real sightseeing lovers, people who crave for exploring the mystery of this strange nation at least to some extent. Tikal – an extraordinary place, thrilling your body, stimulating your imagination about the lost civilisation. This is also a place where you go into the world of gods, traditions and Mayan culture, the world of material legacy of what was once built. Just cross the border of the excavations to feel the great breath of history, which nobody has fully explored or explained yet. The excavation conducted by scientists, mainly from the University of Pennsylvania, are well on their way, let us in on the great secret of Mayans only a little. Thanks to them we know that the builders of these structures had great knowledge on astronomy and mathematics. We see the Temple of the Jaguar with the sun in our eyes. It’s wonderful. With an effort, we go up hundreds of steep steps leading to it and then freeze in silent admiration for what we see. From the jungle, where a semi-darkness is, the sun scarcely goes through the thicket, and the view is limited to a few metres; we have reached above the tops of the highest trees! The sight goes far, somewhere where the sky blurs with the horizon line. We feast our eyes on the vivid green spilt around. We sit down and contemplate the surroundings in silence, following the jutting tops of the pyramids with our eyes. It’s midday. All animals have hidden in the forest. Cicadas – the forest crickets – are giving a curious performance. Midday is the best time for their songs. Delicate, light, rustling noises are spreading everywhere. They are accompanied by the slight waving of the rain forest moved by a warm breeze. Besides, nothing else can be heard. Only sometimes, somewhere far away, the sound of monkeys romping among the limbs of trees reaches us. The peculiar harmony of nature and the beauty of Mayan architecture frozen in the stone buildings.
Nobody of those who mustered the effort, climbed up the top of the pyramid can be indifferent to what they have seen. This dose of aesthetic experiences is worth a much more complicated and dangerous route than the one we walked along to get to this place. It’s getting late, snakes start to go out for a walk and we’re still sitting in the same place. You wish you could take this view with you. We realize language is not enough to express and describe what we see, feel and experience. This inexpressible throat cramp, pounding spirit, the bliss of mind, shivers down your spine. This is a magic place, the only one of its kind, unique and stunning. If you haven’t seen Tikal, you haven’t seen anything, you live in a sightseeing sin and will go to Hell…
Images © Soumitra Pendse, Adwo