The Colors of Guatemala

Text: Ramona Eichhorn • Photography: Ramona Eichhorn, Uwe Krauss

When last we heard from them in the tropics, our world travelers Ramona Eichhorn and Uwe Krauss had crossed Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras on their KTM 640 Adventures. They now take us into Guatemala to explore the Mayan heartland of Central America.

Tikal
The road curves from the mountains into the humid lowlands of northeastern Guatemala. The air remains thick for hundreds of miles, and the pavement that slices through the monotony of rolling pastures only occasionally passes by colorful villages and homesteads. Painted in pastels, the picturesque town of Flores lies on an island in the lake Peten Izta. The colonial architecture, the narrow alleys, and the lake all radiate a vibrant Mediterranean mood; and only the appearance of a man wearing a sombrero and paddling past in his dugout, with a bicycle strapped to the top, reminds us that we are in Central America.

A half-hour ride from Flores, we see the Maya pyramids of Tikal towering amid the thick jungle canopy and arranged like stoic sentinels guarding relics and ancient mysteries. Yellow signs on the way warn of snakes crossing the road. The large, bag-like nests of bayas (weaver birds) hang from branches. When the road ends, we continue on foot over a dark pathway piercing the dense foliage. Soon, we step onto a sunlit plain, and the vision we behold is impressive to say the least. The site, enclosed on all sides by jungle, is ringed with stone tribunes and stepped pyramids, some as tall as 200 feet. Parrots and toucans squawk and flit, and howler monkeys screech and scamper in the trees.

As we wander intricate pathways, entering the deep-green tangle beyond the cleared boundary, the jungle is splashed with brilliant, exotic flowers, and we "discover" even more ruins. Altogether, the archeological site of Tikal consists of more than 3,000 structures, including palaces, temples, steam baths, and ceremonial platforms. Built sometime around 600 B.C., Tikal became a prosperous metropolis of 100,000 inhabitants, and for the next 1,500 years the area was a vital religious, scientific, and political center. We constantly look out for snakes as we go, expecting one to uncoil and hiss from a tree limb. And at last, safe from that kind of harm, we climb one of the highest pyramids to watch the sun disappear: a bright orange disk dipping into the great green sea of leaves.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the July/August 2007 back issue.