Mayan Temple Cycling
Imagine cycling through an ancient Mayan temple that is tucked away in a lush tropical rainforest. All you hear is your breathing and the babbling of Howler monkeys in the trees up above. The smell of damp soil and vegetation hangs heavy in the air and the cross-cross of sun and shadow throw psychedelic patterns into the jungle where, you’re almost certain, you saw the silhouette of a Jaguar on the prowl.
On the Doomsday Ride, we visit three of some of the most well-preserved temples in Central America. We did not spot a Jaguar but fellow travellers reported several sightings of the apex predator.
In Honduras, exhaustion, injuries and sore muscles could not keep us away from Copán which, during its peak, was the most powerful Mayan city in the south. It is hard to drag yourself away from the pretty cobblestones and artisan food shops in Copán to visit this site, but it is so worth it. At the height of its reign, the kingdom of Copán covered an area of over 250 square kilometers (100 sq mi). Give yourself at least half a day to explore the enormous complex consisting of several quixotic plazas, ancient temples, monuments, artifacts and Sepulturas. Take a bit of time to study the history before you go – it’s peculiar, somewhat morbid, and fascinating. Truly stunning is the Hieroglyphic Stairway, 63 steps and several thousand glyphs tell the history of the royal house of Copán. The Hondurans are very proud of this site and they take great pains to preserve and promote it.
Tikal in Guatamala is a World Heritage Site. The main temple rises 47 metres (154 ft) high and the grounds are vast. Our group left Flores, the closest village to Tikal, at 3am to avoid crowds and watch the sunrise over the temples. We arrived in the dark and sat quiet like statues on the temple steps. When the sun finally made an appearance, so did the fog. And it stayed for a long time. The fog eventually lifted to reveal the ancient Mayan structures. The magical sounds of the jungle waking up make it worth the wait. Some of the clever cyclists visited the temple the day before for sunset. You can also book a hammock at the Jaguar Inn, in the heart of Tikal, to experience the sunset and wake to the nattering of monkeys and parrots. It is a real popular hotspot so expect crowds during peak hours. Don’t bother to eat at the tacky little restaurant, it is expensive and the service is poor. Rather go back to Flores to enjoy a meal at one of the many quaint restaurants.
Our last temple visit at Lamanai was a curious mixture of elation and melancholy. It was our last cycling day on the Doomsday Ride into the heart of Lamanai ruins in Belize. It took place on 21 December 2012, the day the world was said to end, and certainly the end of the Mayan calendar. We were expecting swarms of hippies and Doomsday theory supporters but there were hardly a soul in sight. We had the entire ruins to ourselves. It was magical, mystical, and oh so peaceful. Lamanai may not be as well-preserved, loaded with history, or as large as Tikal or Copán, but it is my favourite out of the three purely for its mystical ambience. We set up a table next to the Jaguar Temple and enjoyed a last early dinner. We poured whisky on one of the ruins: a local told us this will appease the gods and it might grant us a reprieve from this end-of-the- world business. And then we waited for the grand finale. Which, clearly, never arrived. Not that we are taking any credit.