July  2009

rubber treeThis month, we have been adjusting to life in a marina on the Rio Dulce River in Guatemala.  We prefer to be at anchor on the boat, but we plan to be away from the boat for a couple of months and need the marina to watch over the boat while we are away. It was very hot the first couple of weeks, so we visited the shady marina pool almost every afternoon.  Most recently the heavy rains have started and we are fighting to keep mildew away.  The river has risen about two feet in one week.  We have been warned that most docks are underwater for at least a few weeks each year as the river rises above the level of the fixed docks.

Several mornings we have walked on a road nearby where hundreds of rubber trees are planted. Each of the mature trees has a small pot collecting latex sap where bark from the trees has been stripped and a tap was inserted into the tree to direct the sap into the collection pot.  Farmers collect the sap which dumps out of the collection pot like a small white colored Jello mold.   Our limited research revealed that rubber trees were original to Central and South America, but taken by Europeans to Southeast Asia where 90% of the world’s rubber is now produced.

Sap collection from a rubber tree

Bob and John cross the finish line dragging 2 of the course buoys

blind dinghy racesOur marina hosted a July 4th party for everyone on the Rio Dulce River.  There was a barbeque around the pool with hamburgers, bratwurst, and water melon.  The highlight of the afternoon was a blind dinghy race.  Each team had two people, one blindfolded member who steered the dinghy and one un-blindfolded member who gave instructions to the blind driver.  Each team completed the course two times and the team with the fastest combined time was the winner.  The teams had to maneuver around a course of four buoys in the water.  John teamed up with our friend Bob on Neverland.   They were the only team to catch two of the buoys with the dinghy and drag those buoys throughout the remainder of the course and all the way to the finish line.   Fortunately, the rules were lax and John and Bob were not penalized for destroying the course.  They finished the competition in second place, but would have only been happy with first place.

Our tuk tuk

a tuk tukWe needed a break from marina life and traveled to north central Guatemala to visit the Mayan Indian ruins at Tikal National Park. The bus made a quick stop in Rio Dulce to pick up passengers and we boarded the bus to find no seats available. We stood in the aisle and held onto the rail to keep our balance as the bus traveled down the road.  One passenger started to speak in a loud voice and we realized that he was reading from the Bible.  After a Bible reading, sermon and prayer he pushed down the crowded aisle to ask for donations before he exited at the next bus stop.  In less than four hours we arrived in the town of Santa Elena where the “gringos” were surrounded by people trying to sell tours.  We took a short ride in a small three-wheeled taxi called a tuk tuk.  These drivers aggressively speed around town for taxi fares.  It is common for a dozen tuk tuks to quickly surround a larger bus like a motorized swat team to “capture” future taxi customers as they exit the bus.

Tikal's Grand PlazaWe took a minibus taxi to our small hotel located on the shore of a large lake about 30 minutes from the Tikal National Park.  At 5:30 the following morning, we left the hotel to arrive at the Park soon after it opened.  The name " Tikal " means "Place of Voices" or "Place of Tongues" in Maya.  The earliest structures have been dated at 500 BC, but settlement in the area may have been as early as 700 BC.  At its height, during the Classic period around 500 AD, Tikal had a population of 50,000 to 100,000 people. For reasons not yet clear, around 870 AD the city's decline began, and was it completely deserted by the end of 900 AD.  The city’s pyramids and temples were grown over with jungle soon after it was deserted.  The city was rediscovered by European explorers in the late 1800s and archaeologists from all over the world have conducted the excavation and exploration which continues today.

Tikal's Grand Plaza 



Tikal National Park covers 222 square miles and only 20% of the estimated 3,000 structures have been excavated.  The vast majority of structures are high mounds with stones and lush growth of trees and vegetation. Structures include temples, palaces, shrines, ceremonial platforms, residences, ball courts, terraces, causeways, and plazas and most are interconnected with aqueducts and cisterns for holding water.

The partially restored area of Tikal consists of nine groups of courts and plazas. There are five large temples in the partially restored area with the tallest being Temple IV or Temple of the Double Headed Serpent, at 230 feet.   After climbing about 200 feet up a wooden stairway, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of Temples I, III and V towering above the dense tropical jungle.   An impressive Great Plaza includes Temples I and II and structures believed to be the palaces of the royalty.


Ceremonial stela



Another major attraction in Tikal is the jungle wildlife.  As we drove into the park in the early morning we saw several groups of oscellated turkeys which are colored like a peacock.  Throughout our hikes in the park we saw toucans, agoutis, coatimundis, gray foxes, and deer.  The tour guides captured two tarantulas and gave our group an opportunity to hold them.


Tarantula in the wild at Tikal

howler monkeyThe highlight of our wildlife experiences was hearing and watching the spider and howler monkeys.  As we walked through the jungle trails to the next ruin, we heard the “roars” of the howler monkeys as they argued over territorial disputes.  The roars sounded like a guerilla, but the howler monkeys are usually only about three feet tall.  Most of the time, we spotted the monkeys high in the trees as they jumped from limb to limb, but we had a wonderful opportunity to view a group of monkeys in the tree tops as we were climbing the wooden steps to access the top of a temple.

Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoUFff273H0 to see and hear our YouTube video of howler monkeys at Tikal.  (You may have to cut and paste the link in your internet browser).  We hope that this video gives you a brief sample of the amazing sounds of the jungle. 

Howler monkey at Tikal

We are posting this cruising log before the end of July.  We are flying back to the states on July 27 and will be away from the boat for a couple of months.  While we are back in the U.S., we will be visiting with family and friends in Utah, Yellowstone National Park, Las Vegas, San Diego, Michigan and Georgia.  Our next cruising log won’t be posted until early November.

View of Tikal

View atop Temple IV shows Temples I, III and V rise from the Mayan jungle at Tikal