I used the light from my camera, peeled off 100 Quetzales and handed it over. He told me, “cien por persona.” He must have thought we were together. We weren’t. She paid her hundred and he continued to collect from the six or eight other people joining us. It was too dark to get an exact count.
He put the money in his pocket and slung his shotgun over his shoulder and started toward the entrance gate. As he passed me again, with help from the faint moonlight, I noticed the embroidery on his shotgun strap. The gun seemed extremely special to him, I just hoped he wouldn’t need or want to take the gun off that shoulder.
The March to Templo IV
He began at a brisk pace and the hike felt like a near military march as we were led through the gate and into the jungle. As someone not used to any 4 a.m. wake-ups I felt it. My legs felt it. But we needed to arrive well before the park opened and I suspected he needed to return to his post for work.
The sunrise hike was not part of any “official” tour. There are tours available, but they cost more, not to mention you also need to pay the park entrance fee (150 Quetzales). So for a 100 Quetzales this was certainly a bargain.
We continued through en route to Temple IV, the very place I watched my Tikal sunset the night before when I had met the guard who offered me this “tour” and I recalled we faced due east. As long as the weather cooperated and the thick fog lifted, I expected a perfect sunrise.
The pace quickened. I stumbled and nearly tripped. I slowed down to fix my boot and the others just passed me. No one was talking and no one wanted to fall behind. We all needed to keep up as the jungle began to wake up. The howler monkeys were up now and although the loud howls instilled some fear, we were told they were harmless.
I had done the hike a day earlier so at times the signs and paths seemed slightly familiar. Yet at other times I just hoped we took short cuts as the same paths seemed new. It was still too dark to be sure. We kept on with the brisk pace and suddenly arrived. I decided to rest for a minute before climbing the steps. Yes, in Tikal, you don’t climb on the temple stones but rather wooden stairs built next to the steps, and Temple IV had plenty.
Eventually I made it to the top and left the wooden platform to finally step onto the cool, wet stone. A few folks had already arrived and staked out their viewing places, while others still lagged behind. I moved across the stone and found my spot. My phone read – 5:17a.m.
The Fog Eventually Lifts in Tikal
On the top, a fog seemed to come and go like a ghost. At times, stars appeared in the sky and then disappeared. The fog lifted but often returned thicker than before. It almost seemed like a wall, or an object you can touch. With such limited visibility, I wondered if we would even be able to see the sun rise over the jungle.
As time continued to move forward, howler monkey calls echoed across the thick forest with growing intensity. I imagined what an unknowing explorer might have thought of such sounds when trekking through this terrain hundreds of years ago. Frightened, no doubt. Then to add to the moment a new group arrived. The eventual English words made me realize this was another “tour” and maybe even the “official” tour. They seemed quite surprised to see us already sitting on the top.
Light arrived as an intense whiteness through the fog, but the wetness continued to keep us all cool. People left, new ones arrived and the park was open. By 730 a.m. I could finally see the distant temples. I debated heading down myself, but instead I waited. Already nearly four hours had passed and I wanted to see the sun.
Then just before 8 a.m., I finally started to feel the warmth of the sun. I finished writing a few words in my journal, attempted a sketch of the scene and decided to take one last image before my descent. In the park so early, I knew I’d enjoy walking the grounds of Tikal with hardly any other tourists, so I spent the next few hours exploring.
Watching the sunrise was a welcome change, as I normally prefer sunsets. Sure, it wasn’t the perfect sunrise with such limited visibility, but with the chance to experience it at such a mystical site, Tikal, it will be a sunrise I always cherish. And like some sunsets, the sun itself wasn’t the entire show. The mystery and magic of the setting and the moment proved just as important.
Stay adventurous, Craig
Travel Tip: Be silent. Listen. On my excursion, a couple on top of the pyramid kept chatting, chatting and chatting. I asked them to be quiet but then and I eventually moved away from them. Listening to the sunrise from the jungle is just as rewarding as seeing it.
This post is part of the Get To Know Guate Series.