Tikal, by Carlos R. Solis


by Carlos R. Solís

BioEsfera Project Essays

It was late, as I turned in bed, sleepless. The images of my two nahual, the Mayan totemic spirits, the Jaguar and the Quetzal, came to mind and started sweeping me away. I was transported back to Tikal, The City of Whispers, where I had recently encountered my past.

In my veins flows the blood of many proud races: Vasque, Germans, Spanish; but none of them makes me as proud as that nth part of Mayan blood that I see in me. No one has ever documented that in any of my lineages, but look at me, look at my dad; dark straight hair, dark skin and deep brown eyes. Did they come from our caucasian ancestors?

As I walked through ancient Tikal with my new group my spirit soaked up all the beauty and the magic of a place as old and as mystical as this. The rainforest vegetation, covering most of it, the few structures that have been reclaimed, and the spirits of this ancient race, which stopped whispering the day the white man began to dig the mounds. At the top of the Palacio de las Ventanas [Palace of the Windows] I came to the realization that one of the things that made this civilization different from other great civilizations was that while its structures were monumental and grandiose, the spaces within the structures were a far cry from the Parisian Palaces that I had seen just six months before. They were small cubicles, with even smaller windows. Looking into each room brought a new surprise. A surprise linked to my current world and to childhood memories. In one, a silent, quiet, black moth sat up an angled ceiling. Somebody is going to die, my nanny's voice said in the back, quoting an old Guatemalan belief. No, said my biologist voice, it has never happened.

And, fortunately, it did not. The next room brought some bats, invoking the old Lords of Xibalbá, from the ancient Quiché manuscript of El Popol Vuh, that documents the cosmogony of this ancient race. Here and there, small nests of wasps on the ancient chicozapote lintel, still holding up after 2,000 years. El Palacio de las Ventanas was only the beginning. Next came el Templo IV [Temple #4], the tallest structure in Tikal and only partially uncovered. The final shot of George Lucas' StarWars, the guard with his futuristic helmet looking out from the temple's door, flashed in my mind, only to be wiped clear by the vastness of this Empire. From the top of the temple, El Mundo Perdido to my left, the main acropolis with el Gran Jaguar and Templos II and III almost in front of me, rainforest as far as the eye can see and visions of a culture whose commercial links reached as far North as the Anazasi and as far south as the Inca filled my mind. I felt the peace I had felt at the stairs of the Sacre Coeur, looking down to Paris, but an order of magnitude bigger. After all, this was fusion of my passion, the rainforest, and my proud past.

It was late afternoon and I told myself, that my body needed some nourishment, so I started the long walk back to the 'Restaurante El Gran Jaguar', the rustic establishment with tin roofs and bark covered walls, probably sitting over an ancient house. As a small band we started in that direction, only to stop half way and wonder what might be found under this other mound.

People had obviously gone up this way, as the white, smooth rocks, the bare polished roots, and the white karstic soils let us know. We set out for the top of what I later found out was Templo III. Up there, my final encounter with my nahual awaited me. The small structure at the top of the temple had barely been uncovered. As we reached the upper structure, we curiously entered it, and there He was. Out of the millenary chicozapote lintels of the last great pyramid built in Tikal, jumped The Jaguar. His spots, carved in the wooden supports of the doorway, came out of the skin that cover the Jaguar Priest. The view was breathtaking, and peace filled by mind and spirit.

Time kept flowing in this ageless place and eventually we had to start finding our way back. As we reached the acropolis again, we were greeted by the Montezuma oropendolas, singing to us from their hanging nest, and teasing our cameras with their golden tail feathers. Again, the thought entered my mind, that if I could ever travel in time, this would be the place that I would like to visit, as a priest, during a ceremonial day, but with the knowledge of who I am and where I was.

Eventually the night arrived, and after attempting to enter the park again, only to be sent back by an honest guard, I went to sleep. The Batz (howler monkeys) said their 'Buenas Noches'.

Early next morning, before dawn, I entered the The City of Whispers again. The toucanets great me from atop a ceiba covered with red leafed bromeliads.

This time I enter the paths through the forest. Leaf cutter ants, los zompopos, have built their trails parallel to mine. I can follow them for meters, as they had cleared the leaf litter to reveal the white karstic soils underneath. Spider monkeys, los micos, have breakfast overhead, grabbing fruits of palms and ignoring my smile. I move through the forest trail, where I come across the small xate hembra and the xate macho palms; the all spice with is smooth light brown trunk, and the chicozapote, which not only holds the temple doorways but produces the chewing gum latex. These are the three economic renewable resources the ProPetén tells us puts a higher dollar value on a standing forest than can be gotten from the cleared stand used for milpas. These are to be the saviors of the Petén rainforest, as long as western man demands them in flower ornaments, in food and in candy. The path also shows me the cordoncillo, that medicinal piper which is said to keep a snake-bitten man alive until he can reach a medical facility for proper treatment. Just behind it, the zompopos amaze me again. I have found the beginning of their trails. It is the largest social insect structure I have ever seen. This mound of coarse dirt, in all shades of brown and white would have me waist deep in it and would certainly not show my head nor my feet if I were to lay flat on my back to be covered by it. As I admire this metropolis within the Tikal, the micos join me again, reminding me that it is time to turn back and join my group. As I retrace my steps, even through a path the scenery changes so much that I wonder if I have not strayed and taken the wrong path back. I have been lost in the rainforest before and know how just taking the wrong turn can lead us into an unknown universe. I start to worry until I come across a chultun I saw before. This is a mysterious hole dug in the hard rock, just bellow the shallow tropical soil, said to have been used by the Mayans to store food.

Eventually I reach the main trail, and I am on my way. The ocellated turkeys say good bye, as I walk by. The vultures, zopilotes, start to lazily spread their wings. Breakfast is not going anywhere. Songbirds start filling the morning air with calls and the orchids begin to shine as the early morning sun finds its way to their frilly corollas.

Edited by Carlos R. Solís