Well here I am in Tikal Park, doing it the posh way. I flew from Guatemala City (Tag hanger) rather than taking the the 8/9 hour bus journey. I was picked up from home at 4.15am in a shuttle for the airport and arrived for the flight at 6.30am. The plane was a propeller job taking 33 passengers, but it wasn't full. The flight was about an hour to Flores and then an hour and a half bus journey to Tikal Park itself. I thought a few others had booked the same trip as me but when we turned up, I was the only one being picked up for this particular package. My guide (Berta)was waiting for me and the transfer to the Tikal Inn was in (wait for it!) an air conditioned bus. Flores is very hot and so I basked in the luxury whilst I could. The hotel is a set of thatched bungalows surrounding a very inviting swimming pool, but as my room wasn't ready yet I just took a cool drink and set off for the guided tour. I am not sure Berta told me too much about the park or the Maya, I sort of had to prise the information out of her (which was not too easy with laryngitis AND no Spanish to speak of!)My questions regarding conflicting stories about who was sacrificed after the ball games (the winners in Copan and the losers in Tikal) met with an indefinite shrug! Note to self: Read up later! Tikal is grand, magnificent, large and impressive. Spread over a large area, it has temples so tall they poke out above the jungle canopy. The sculpture and hieroglyphics have been mostly worn away and defaced by conquering neighbours so it is amazing in a different way to Copan and I glad I have seen them both. The highlights were climbing Temple V and VI to see the views across the top of the jungle canopy and the other temples poking through the trees. Temple VI has an extremely scary climb up a 60 metre, vertical wooden ladder. It was the scariest thing I think I have ever done. I needed both hands to scale the ladder and was hanging onto the rails for grim death. It was truly terrifying (please see pics that attempt to convey the terror).Bearing in mind I am not usually scared of heights, I forced myself up by refusing to look down else I wouldn't have completed it. Mind you, it was as scary to go back down so it was Hobson's Choice after a certain point. When I got to the top there was a narrow walkway in front of a sheer drop and I pressed my back to the wall and edged my way to the "door" at the central part of the Temple. After mentally celebrating the fact I had survived to this point I steadied myself in order to let go of the wall to dig the camera out of my pocket. The view made it all worthwhile even though the sense of trepidation at the thought of the descent was dominant even at that point. It was hugely atmospheric up the top. Howler monkeys "growled" very loudly in the canopy and the sounds added an eerie aspect to the experience. Howler monkeys sound like what I'd imagine Jaguars to sound like (not that I have ever heard a Jaguar). They do exist in Tikal Park, but away from these tourist areas I would imagine. On reflection, as I write this I am considering the Guatemalan Health and Safety considerations don't make this assumption necessarily true. Getting down the ladder (had to be backwards as it was so steep) took as long as the ascent and this blog is testament to the fact I made it. There is a picture of me at the base of the ladder looking a bit like Dora the Explorer. Tikal Park is 576 square kilometres of protected jungle and habitat to a huge number of reptiles, birds and mammals. It is a twenty minute walk from the entrance to the Great Plaza. I of course, wore my heavy hiking boots thinking they would be best and most Americans wore trainers. So, in my shorts, with white legs and hiking boots I looked very English. Even worse than the socks and sandals or white knotted hankie on the head brigade. The Pyramid of the Giant Jaguar (Temple I) rises 45 metres above the Plaza and faces West towards the setting sun. Temple II is 35 metres high, on the western edge of the Plaza and faces the rising sun. This one is also known as the Temple of the masks and considered by the Maya to be the portal to the underworld. There is a ball court in the Plaza too, the guide book says it is the smallest known so far. The Central Acropolis on the South side of the plaza was were the Royal families and their retainers lived and was a structure of 45 buildings. The Acropolis on the North side, was were they were buried... Tikal was the first city to adopt an emblem glyph and other cities followed suit. The Maya civilisation was a series of separate city states and did not have a central ruling city. Tikal placed increasing emphasis on building ever more massive and impressive Temples and palaces. Rulers were depicted as God men and the population forced to worship them as deities. Blood sacrifice and human sacrifice became common. During the late classic period Tikal's population rose to nearly 100,000 and the city spread across 120 square kilometres. Art, science and architecture flourished but so did wars with neighbouring civilisations. Warring increased and resources depleted leading to the fall of the civilisation eventually. The morning tour took around 4 hours, which was more than enough at one go and in this heat.It won´t surprise the reader that the jungle is very hot and humid. At the hotel I had lunch and a dip in the pool, luxury! I did the two museums in the afternoon but to be honest they were disappointing. So, I had the night at the Tikal Inn which had electricity from 6 pm to 10pm after which the ceiling fan ceased of course. Many strange jungle noises during the night so it was good to be surrounded by brick... Morning day 2, I went back into the park on my own to explore further. It was great to do the smaller parts and be away from crowds and alone on jungle paths. As I entered the park this morning a ranger pointed out "jaguar Tracks" but I was dubious..I think he was angling to be my guide as I was on my own. However, after surviving the climb of Temple VI yesterday I have discovered a new bravery (or is that fool-hardiness!) I entered the park in sandals today (vanity winning over sense) but was luckily carrying my boots as after an hour got bitten on the feet by ants. Sense returned sharply. I headed for the Mundo Perdido complex which was the astronomical centre of Tikal. At the centre is an observation pyramid which the Maya used to observe the stars and plot the cycles of the sun and moon. They drew up solar eclipse tables and used their knowledge to create 2 calendars. The "Haab" had 365 days divided into 18 months of 20 days each (with an extra 5 added on the end) The other was a ritual calendar "Tzolkin" of 260 days. This one has 20 signs and 13 numbers and was used to determine festivals of God's and to predict human destinies.Not much change there then! In terms of wildlife I saw, Coati (a racoon type animal), Keel billed toucans, Weaver birds and their nests, parrots,butterflies, spider monkeys, growler monkeys and a bug of some grasshopper type. Got a good photo of the bug for Dr Smith, but forgive lots of blurred photo's of numerous tree canopies which (believe me) are hiding birds and monkeys...little devils didn't stay still long enough to get good photo's. This trip has been a real highlight. On my way back through Guatemala City I saw the large piles of Volcanic ash deposited on the city by the eruption of Volcan Pacaya last week. It has been swept up and piled either in bags or mounds at the side of the road. It looks like a fine black soot and must have been a nightmare to be in.