Rio Dulce had been a neat overnight. It’s a cool busy harbour town that straddles the river of the same name and has a frontiersy feel to it that I liked. It had been a long ride up capped off with some nasty weather and night riding so Rio Dulce had been a welcome destination. The fried chicken at a roadside stand sealed the deal, it was awesome and as we were the last customers of the day the lady loaded our plates up like we’d just ridden across the continent…then again I guess we had, well almost, Pacific Coast to Caribbean.
The ride to Tikal was fairly uneventful. The weather worked for us and the only small concern that crossed my mind as we headed north into the Petén region was cow shit on the road. I don’t say this lightly as there was a lot of it and not from cows crossing the roads, but of overloaded cattle trucks moving livestock from one location to the next excreting waste as they rolled. A pattern emerged pretty quickly with the bulk of the slop in uphill corners where it would flow out the tailgate of the slowing trucks. For a while I had to change my riding habits to avoid the worst of it and it crossed my mind we'd been a bit lucky on our ride into Rio Dulce the night before, cow shit on a wet road doesn't make for good riding, and I'd been oblivious to it, another reason not to ride at night.
We rode into the outskirts of Santa Elena just as I had done 23 years ago, the difference was night and day. Where before things were still pretty much undeveloped this time we were greeted by the golden arches of a McDonalds along with signage from competing fast food outlets, ahh, and some call it progress, misgivings started to creep in.
We crossed over the causeway into the beautiful tiny town of Flores on the Island of Lago Petén Itzá and lickety split found a room for two nights and settled in. Flores is a little oasis loaded with small and medium sized buildings that line narrow winding streets. Our place overlooked the flooded road at waters edge, the one that I had tried to ride down before coming to my senses. According to one of the staff the flooding had gotten much worse in the previous five years, climate change and new watershed channels as a result of one of the earthquakes that had hit Southern Mexico a few years back. He told a convincing story.
The next day we loaded up our gear and headed to Tikal, what many consider the finest Mayan ruins to be found today and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. We were excited. The ride took us an hour or so then we paid our entrance fee and parked the bike next to three other Beemers and waded into the ruins. Tikal is large in geography and rugged in spirit as it sits far from modern influence in the Petén jungle. It blew me away in 95 and it blew me away again this time, and Cole was pretty impressed too. We started with Temple V, then moved onto the Plaza of the Seven Temples before climbing pyramid IV, the highest at Tikal and a must do for anyone visiting as it gives views over the jungle that are hard to surpass. From there we headed toward the Grand Plaza where we climbed the Gran Jaguar Temple that offered great views of the Grand Plaza, the North Acropolis and Temple I. With our tour complete and clouds moving in we called it a day and headed back to the bike and Flores.
It had been a grand day, all in all Tikal was probably the one thing that had changed the least since my last visit to Central America, it hadn’t become an amusement park and I was very happy for it.