Tikal, April 15 (actually posted April 17)
The trouble with writing a travel blog is that you write about the highlights and lowlights, not the daily slog. True, a blog is not as bad as Facebook, but it tends to emphasize the exciting. So I faced down a bandit and we busked on the pedestrian mall, but what about an hour of waiting for a bus on a noisy road with semi trucks going by in the hot sun? So here we are at Tikal and we took 3 days getting here from Panajachel and it was a bit of a slog, and you don’t want to read about it. On the other hand, there is something to be said for that style of travel in comparison with the Malaysian woman we met here who is an investment banker in London. She’s smart, articulate, friendly, poised in every way, and perfectly gorgeous. She flew in the same night we arrived, went on the 4:00 AM guided tour of the ruins, and flew back to Guatemala city that night, headed for Lake Atitlan the next day for one day. So we could have flown from the city to Flores in under an hour instead of 10 hours on buses, broken up into two days, but aside from saving some money we had a different kind of travel experience.
I didn’t know whether I’d like Tikal, it being touristy, expensive, hot, and humid, but I do. The ruins, besides being big and impressive, are spread over a large area in a remote location, so it involves hiking in the tropical jungle, seeing and hearing monkeys, parrots, pizotes, toucans, turkeys, and guinea pigs. The spider monkeys are curious and come close to check us out. We extended our stay to 4 days here.
Now for a rant. What’s a blog good for if you can’t rant once in a while? Any U. S. president before Obama could have negotiated an agreement with Iran and been a hero, as Nixon was with China, but our congress will thwart anything the black guy tries to do, because he’s a black guy. I’m no fan of Iran because it is a theocracy, but like Iran or not, what is our national interest? Let’s look at who the most important allies of the U. S. are in the Middle East. One is Saudi Arabia, a sclerotic, autocratic monarchy that supports Islamic extremists and will collapse into chaos when the king can no longer hold things together against social change. The other is Israel, a religious-nationalist apartheid state that will collapse into chaos when a Jewish minority can no longer keep an Arab majority suppressed. Iran is the strongest, most stable country in the Middle East right now, and as such, is our natural ally. I don’t like them either, and I don’t want them to have an atom bomb because atom bombs are a bad thing, but we’re already teaming up with them to fight ISIS because we have to. As far as atom bombs go, I’m more worried about Israel than Iran. If Iran gets the bomb, it will change the balance of power in the region, but they won’t have to bomb anyone with it precisely because they are strong. Israel is terrified and crazy and I fear that if their status as a Jewish state is threatened, they would start World War III.
So back to talking about Tikal. These Mayan structures impress me not only for their size but their esthetics, their symmetry, the proportions between their elements. I don’t know anything technical about it, for example whether the Mayans were interested in the same Golden Ratio as the Greeks, but clearly they had a sensibility that is universal, that we can appreciate esthetically and mathematically. I can’t illustrate this with pictures right now because we’re in a place with low internet bandwidth even during those hours of the day when there is electricity. Actually, it’s kind of interesting that even in this place that’s off the grid, where they have to run generators for 6 or 8 hours of the day and it’s turned off for the rest, and where there is no cell phone reception, we have wi-fi.
When I look at the ruins of a former civilization, I think about how they didn’t build these monuments to be appreciated after the builders were gone. They planned to be around forever. The legend we repeat today is that the great Mayan civilization collapsed abruptly, but actually their populations ebbed and flowed, with fluctuations in the climate. What finally did them in was the Spanish. However, at Tikal in particular, the wealth and capability to build these monumental structures disappeared around 1200 or so years ago (the people themselves are still around). I think the collapse, besides the grandeur of the site, is what fascinates us. We like the idea of a collapse rather than the idea of fluctuating populations.