Bribing Temple Guards- Camping in Mayan Ruins

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Isleta Flores is known for its quick commute to Tikal’s ancient Mayan Kingdom, the main attraction for travelers. Tikal has some of the biggest Mayan temples ever discovered. The largest pyramid known to man, El Mirador, is only accessible by a 5 day hike through the jungle just westward. However, Tikal offers the next largest of the Mayan temples, and the most notable archeological site in Central America.

We walked around the tiny island of Flores for an hour or so before eating breakfast burritos at a cute little restaurant near the isleta’s main entrance. A kind woman served us, beautiful in her day- eyes windowed to decades of wisdom, tired but strong and sincere. We met James at that meal. James was a good friend until the restaurant phoned the police. Those details fit in better later

After staring at and comparing maps with time tables we formed a basic plan to stealthy stay the night in a Mayan temple. This adventure was recommended to us by the Jungle Party hostel staff, Canadian Bryan, in Antigua.

“When in Tikal, sneak pass, hide, deceive, whatever the temple guards because it’s worth spending a night in the King’s corridor, overlooking the Great Plaza.” – Bryan.. not verbatim.

The opportunity comes when the temples are clearing, closing and locking up the site. As the light gets dark the guards sweep the premises. Silently hiding in the dense jungle, out of sight was the plan.

The ruins lie among the most tropical rain-forests in Guatemala. The street signs warning of jaguar and snake crossing heightened the adventure.

We shared this epic plan with a few people at the hostel. Most thought we were crazy, others nonchalantly agreed it was a good idea, showing no interest in joining us. I was disappointed with the lack of adventure in these travelers. But then there was Raphael, a French man showing some curiosity and by the time I returned from the shower he had made a verbal commitment. Christiana-inception. Within the next hour or so we walked to the market for food, snacks, water and other picnic supplies. Raphael has now made a financial commitment to attempt this journey into the jungles thousands of years of history. This isn’t just a temple, but where man learned to throw spears rather than engage in hand to hand combat, where blood spilled in Mayan warfare. This is where the rulers of the western world, before it was the western world, resided.

We were going to sneak up to the temple and share an evening under the stars and above the jungle’s canopy .

We were told our best bet is Temple II, according to Bryan, who we only actually knew for a few hours. Just as the sun was setting we ran into a guard. At first I pretended not to know any Spanish, just smiling a lot with some thumbs up and a few broken-Spanish compliments. Then we were getting down to business and my Spanish got better. Including Rafael in the conversation, we got the guard laughing and relaxing.

After about 45 minutes with the guard, we agreed on a bribe of 10$ each to leave us alone to camp in the temple. We chose Temple II, The Temple of the Mask, the west side of the Great Plaza.

$10?   si, ok, bien.
-photo by Raphael Nouailhat

We shared the sun’s set, some rum, and stories as the shadows grew over the jungle spread beneath. As the fading sun lit the sky in a magnificent display of colors and clouds to a symphony of jungle noises, we watched in awe.

The night quickly took over and was the darkest yet. With flashlights we eventually made our way to the top of our new Tikal-temple hostel to make camp. Rafael toyed with the sliding metal gate’s lock until he defeated it. Now we explorer the inside of the temple, the section off limits even during tour hours. We were surrounded by bats, massive insects, monkey howls.

Old dirty-dust-like filth was everywhere. The walls were damp, the floor crusted with presumably bat shit and the walls had been carved by those who came before us. There were no windows out of the temple, there was only the half-opened, rusty slider gate. Obviously, there weren’t lights, but also no place for torches. The ceiling was high, well out of reach and covered by bats, squeaking yet seemingly friendly for some reason.

After settling in on the outer East-facing ledge, we played cards and music. Under the candle light we had a picnic and read about the Mayan civilization and the specific temple we made comfort in. The air was electrified with distant lightning and the bellowing cries of howler monkeys, which if we had not known better, would have mistaken for jaguar roars. The howls were surrounding and from every distance. We were lucky the sky stayed clear of rain clouds for the stars to pierce pin holes in the dense night.

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-photo by Raphael Nouailhat

In the midst of laughter we heard voices and halted everything. I crept down the temple for a better listen. The irking sound came from  Temple III, the Temple of the Jaguar Priest. Maybe they are Mayan spirits?

With our small fire on the outside platform, atop one of the largest temples, facing inwardly at the Great Plaza, we were surely seen unless we extinguish all light and noise. After consulting each other and the rum we decide to call out and befriend the mystery voices.

They failed to respond. We made offerings, yet they still refused us. Maybe we’re being set up for ambush. Maybe we should counter it and strike temple III first. Rafael, Christiana, the rum and I continued to deliberate. Another offering slowly evolved into a ritualistic like dance. With fire flaming on the front edge, I stood behind and announced our peace. Speaker and blue light held over my head the music echoed off the temples and back. I danced and jived with the sounds as the others created a spectacle of strobing and flashing lights at my back, casting a show high above the jungle blaring into the plaza and to the ears of anyone remotely near.

To be continued…

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