Howler monkeys and roaring Jaguars, oh my!

Posted: April 12, 2013 by Central America Overland Expeditions in Expedition/Travel
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The roads leading to Tikal were surprisingly smooth, with the exception of a few miles of teeth chattering bumps. We had heard the roads were much worse conditions  than Belize or Mexico, however, so far so good. As we entered more dense growth along the way, we were excited to see the over head sign announcing we had arrived in Tikal!

As we approached the entrance we noticed a gate with a guard standing beside it. He told us we would be better waiting for thirty minutes to enter the park, as the next days entry would also be included for one price. This gave us an opportunity to get out and stretch our legs. Out of the Land rover and checking out our surroundings when all of a sudden there was a screeching through the trees above us. Was this the famous howler monkeys welcoming us with shrill screams? No, looking up we saw a zip line amongst the tree tops where people were jumping off a platform and flying overhead. Sounds like fun!

As we stood there we saw the outline of a mammoth vehicle approaching. I immediately recognized it as  a Mercedes Unimog. This is a serious off road machine designed to be a totally self sufficient overland vehicle. It is the size of a commercial Semi truck or Massive dump truck. It has on. board generators, air compressor, winch with synthetic line, and many other amazing features, bells and whistles.

We talked with the owners for a while as we waited to enter the park. They had been on the road for five weeks, starting from Canada. They planned to be traveling for two years before returning home. We exchanged travel stories and contact info to place on our website. It is always nice to meet up with fellow overlanders and make new friends along the way.

Finally, it was time! We followed the winding canopy tree covered road along back towards the ruins and lodging area. Along the way, we noticed numerous signs warning of possible encounters of animals such as turkeys, snakes, anteaters, deer, and most interestingly, jaguar!

We pulled into the Jaguar inn, one of several accommodations inside the park. We checked in and were shown to our rooms. We were centrally located deep in the jungle. The atmosphere was consistent with our surroundings. As with many outlying areas, we noticed a sign that said we would lose power from 9 pm until 6 am. A candle was provided for light, however.

The park closed at 6 pm, so we decided to take a sunset walk into the ruins before dinner.  The trail was an easy 10 minute walk from our rooms. We encountered many interesting jungle sites.

As we rounded a slight bend, you could see the remains of a towering building with stairs all the way to the top. The stone had eroded away in areas, but it was very much intact. Of all of the ruins we have seen, this was surely one of the most complete and spacious layouts. On the other side of the building was a large open stadium style grass area. It was surrounded by many other ruin remains. Obviously this was the central area of the town lost and forgotten. The sun was beginning to set, casting interesting shadows from the piles of rocks and stairs. One section was still open to be climbed so we made our way to the top to watch the bright sunset.

Interestingly enough, we learned that a portion of the original Star Wars was filmed here. We talked with a couple that was from Southern Belize, expats, originally from the U.S. They owned and operated a dive school there and had come to see the ruins on vacation. A large group of teenagers approached the massive stair steps and proceeded to have a group photo done. They were a traveling soccer team and were taking some time to enjoy their stay in Guatamala. At one point the teacher/coach made his way to the top of the pyramid for the photo, clearly announcing he was the “head”. I couldn’t help but walk behind him and tower over him with my hand resting on his shoulder, waiting for another photo. l usually would have easily stood a foot taller than him, but with me standing on the top platform, towered over him by two feet! The kids roared laughing despite our language barrier, until the coach looked up to see why they were laughing. We shook hands and the team moved on across the field.

After dinner in the nice onsite restaurant, we made our way to our rooms. As promised, the power was cut off later that evening, leaving us without lights or a fan. It was a little stuffy, but not unbearable. All of a sudden,we were awoken from our sleep by a hissing howling sound. It was eery! What made that noise? All around us, there seemed to be a chorus of this sound. It finally calmed down and we were able to settle back to sleep. The only thing I could figure is the Jaguar Inn had lived up to its name. Then around 5 am, we heard the hair raising sounds again. Hair raising even when you know you are sleeping in the middle of a  jungle.

The next morning, I asked the host, if in fact that was jaguar we had heard. He chuckled a little and said, “no, howler monkey”. That was like no monkey sound I had ever heard. We packed up the Land rover again and were off toward Lake Atitlan, a lake surrounded by volcanoes and traditional Mayan villages.


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