From Jungle Tales Blog
View from the top of Temple IV in the ancient Maya city of Tikal, a magical place. The city flourished from 600 B.C. to around 925 A.D. I climbed Temple IV with the aid of a modern wooden staircase/ladder. It is the second-highest pre-Columbian building known in the Western Hemisphere. To reach the highest, also part of Guatemalan Maya civilization, you have to hike five days into the jungle to El Mirador. Tikal is also in the dense jungle, but there are pathways throughout the city, including some original roads built by the Mayas. There are also hotels within a 40-minute walk of where I took this photo.
When I closed my eyes last night she was there, just as I feared she would be. She was beautiful, really, and unforgettable. I resisted holding her for quite some time, but eventually he convinced me. “Come on, Lilli. You are not in Tikal every day.”
He had persuaded her to leave her house and come meet me with the skill of one who knows just what to do, just how to hold her. After I convinced him to take her back, he held her gently in his hand and blew in her face. Her two claw-like fangs lurched forward, and I could see drops of liquid venom on the tips. I did feel a little sorry for her though, sprawled on her back, all eight legs in the air.
Rubén, my guide in Tikal, had no problem letting the tarantula crawl all over his hands, like he was playing with a toy, but he grew up here in the Petén region of Guatemala. I have only ever seen a tarantula behind glass.
Earlier on our exploration of the ruins of one of the great Maya cities we had come across a hole in the ground. He told me to watch as he stuck in a long weed; watch for the animal. I expected a snake or other rodent, as the hole was nearly three inches, bigger than what the ground squirrels make in my neighborhood. But that spider would not be enticed. When we were finishing out day, at the very last place we went, he found another, larger hole.
“Sit there.” He pointed me towards the corner a wall that overlooked the Temple of the Gran Jaguar, built more than 1,500 years ago. “Don’t jump or be afraid. I’m going to push it out towards you,” he said.
The hole was probably only three feet away. I wasn’t sure this was enough space between me and this form of wildlife. As he twirled the strand of weed around in the opening, it began turning filmy white as she covered it with her web until eventually she came to the front door. Then he grabbed her and tossed her forward.
Of course I jumped – a little bit. He picked her up and turned his hands over and over and she crawled all around on him. I’d say she was close to the size of his hand, or mine. She was black and furry, but her rear portion was rust colored and her hair was soft. It did take a lot of coaxing for me touch her. He brought her closer and closer until she was practically on me anyway. I finally succumbed.
But you’ll have to take my word for it, because as she was crawling along my thigh, my camera malfunctioned. It would not work at all. It could have been that in my excitement, I was doing something wrong. I don’t know. But I do have the memory, and photos of Rubén, holding her close.
This story is, by far, the highlight of my visit to Tikal, a trip filled with highlights. Rubén also does an amazing monkey call. So good that at one point he had two howler monkeys screaming at him to get the hell out of there. Supposedly, you can hear a howler for five miles, a fact you would not doubt if you ever heard one. We saw toucans, turkeys, pheasants and many other birds I don’t know the names of. There are more than 260 birds indigenous to the area, and another 225 migrate here for the winter, along with a slew of bird watchers. I smelled copal incense right off the tree, allspice from seeds picked off the ground, and wild cilantro, which smells just like the kind we eat, but looks more like a flat dandelion leaf.
I also learned about Maya spirituality, their wisdom and symmetry. How they knew, more than a millennium before the Europeans, that the earth revolves around the sun. I climbed to the top of the highest pyramid and viewed the ancient city from above the jungle canopy. I visited the site where archaeologists were digging temples out from under more than a millennium of tree growth, and saw the bones still half in the earth where they had discovered an ancient burial site.
Last evening I sat on the front porch of my room and watched spider monkeys play in the trees, and listened to the wild sound of twirling bird calls. As the light faded to the point where I could no longer see my pen on the page, cicadas overtook the night with a nearly overpowering vibration. This morning, I was the first into the park at 6 a.m. The ranger turned on his light just as I came along. At times, I had the entire main plaza to myself. I ate my breakfast next to the silent stone altars that were once used for blood sacrifices.
In the process of all this, I climbed up and down many stories, and walked for miles through the jungle. Now, back in Guatemala City, I am pleased to have a huge and comfortable room, but sorry that it is on the second floor. My legs protest with every step. Tomorrow I will do some sightseeing here, and then pack up for my flight the next day. It’s hard to believe this trip is over, but I’m ready to go home.