Journeys into the Jungle
Wednesday turned out to be nearly perfect weather-wise, with high temperatures around 75 rather than the 90’s which would prevail during the summer. The helicopter ride was the highlight of the whole experience for Virginia, and it was a great experience to land in a clearing in the jungle, and to see tree covered pyramids below us as we came in for a landing.
In the nearly six hours we had in El Mirador we barely scratched the surface of all that was to be seen. Geographically, the city was about the size of Los Angeles. It contains the largest pyramid ever discovered. In fact, the second largest pyramid in El Mirador covers as much area as the entire central temple complex in Tikal. And it dates to 500 B.C. and even earlier, in contrast to most other ancient American archaeological sites which are more likely to be some 1200 years younger. In contrast to more developed sites such as Tikal, which can be crowded with tourists, our group of six were the only visitors in all of El Mirador for most of the day, along with the six men hired as guards to curtail looting. Two of them accompanied us, along with our guide, on our tour. The guards also function as workmen for the ongoing excavation, which occurs primarily in the rainy months, as otherwise there wouldn’t be enough water to sustain the work force, which increases to some 300+ from about May or June through September.
We’ll make a few comments about individual photos as follows:
The town of Sayaxbe, some 50 miles west of Flores, where we began our boat trip up to El Ceibal. Note the ferry on the left and the freely roaming pig on the right.
A group from the University of Arizona had just found a jade ax head, which you can see on the left under the measuring stick.
El Ceibal is noted for its stelae, of which this is one, but once one has seen Copan or Quirigua, these are less impressive.
Unique stela showing Mayan ruler speaking into a microphone! (Okay--what do YOU think it is?)
Ready for our helicopter ride to El Mirador
We made it!
No doubt the world's least accessible soccer field--presumably recreation for the workmen in any spare time they have.
Another welcome sign
The Jaguar's Paw Temple
The temple has a tunnel under it which we were told excavation continues.
Steps of the Jaguar's Paw
Red paint still visible after 2500 years
Pieces of ancient pottery
Pretty yellow bird
Typical El Mirador sight
Walking along an ancient Mayan highway--originally they were quite wide and elevated.
Elegant carving representing one of the twins from the Popul Vu. Many had thought that the Popul Vu was a late creation, tainted by Spanish and Catholic influences, but this carving shows that the story is at least 2000 years older.
Another typical El Mirador mound, under which is an unexcavated building
Surface of an ancient highway
Piece of ancient pottery I found on the ground, with paint still vivid after many centuries.
Brightly colored red bugs
Sign showing the pyramid of La Danta, the largest pyramid by volume ever built, so far as is known. As you can see, it is a pyramid complex, with pyramids on top of a base which is the size of about 16 football fields.
The stairs at the beginning of the lower level of the La Danta pyramid
Climbing up La Danta
I grabbed this little fellow by accident, as he was on the handrail. He rewarded me with a bit of a sting, but happily it subsided after a couple of hours.
Still climbing up La Danta
Our group at the base of the top level of La Danta
A smaller side pyramid on top of part of La Danta
Another smaller pyramid on top of the La Danta complex
Climbing up the last part of La Danta
On top we could see the ancient city of Sacbe in the distance.
Another Mayan city, Tintal, in the distance
The second largest El Mirador pyramid, El Tigre, as seen from the top of La Danta
Enjoying lunch on top of La Danta
Sign showing the El Tigre pyramid
Sign showing how El Tigre could have covered all of the main plaza of Tikal
The ascent to El Tigre. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and didn't get to climb it.
We returned to Guatemala City Thursday morning, grateful for a most memorable trip, with two tours rather than the one we had originally contemplated.