Up in the northeast of Guatemala and into the region known widely as the Yucatan, we’ve a day at Tikal, a Malayan site deep in the jungle where once 100,000 folk lived. Formed firstly around 700BC and lasting 16 centuries until around 900AD when, along with many other lowland Mayan city states, it collapsed. It wasn’t for a further 900 years when the archaeological expeditions were sent out to find the site. The site is centred around a Gran Plaza with 5 or 6 of those iconic towering temples that break above the jungle canopy, as well as an extensive acropolis being intact. Originally there were some 4,000 stone buildings in this 16 sq km site. We’ll be visiting another 2 or 3 sites as we ride around the Yucatan – being city states there were many Maya sites originally and inevitably conflicts between then weren’t uncommon.
The landscape in this first stretch of the Yucatan is quite distinguishably volcanic with hundreds of lava mounds around. Still the burning of the forest is extensive as pastureland pushes the bush back. The area around Tikal is a National Park so monkeys, tucans and all the other species are pretty abundant. However you have to worry about teh ever-shrinking canopy that they are being pushed back into.
50% of Guatemala’s population today is Maya, most of the rest mixed race. In the countryside their housing is reminiscent of their ancestors with thatched roofed huts atop volcanic stone mounds being reasonably common. Small mixed cropping is the most common rural pursuit and the villages have the inevitable myriad of stalls selling products, many from China. The Chinese motorcycle is ubiquitous as well, most commonly as the family vehicle carrying up to 5 or 6 at a time!