Secrets of the Maya
The Notiers Notes
Our Sunday Scoop
One of the pleasures of being back home in Chicago is that it has given us the chance to take joy rides on the bike around the suburbs, which we do almost on a daily basis. It's been wonderful to just feel the hot summer breezes whip through our jackets, and not have to worry that a cow might just stray into the road. Or that we'll randomly hit a hidden speed bump going at full speed. African roads are amazing in their own ways, but American roads have their advantages as well. So whether it's through twisty roads along fields of prairie grasses, or forests of buzzing cicadas, or along strip malls and residential blocks, we've been loving it all.
But another thing we've been doing is making videos about our journey through Mexico and Central America, and chronologically following the book 2Up and Overloaded. As Tim finishes up his newest book on South America, it's been fun to relive all our experiences as we headed into Latin America for the first time. And one of the things I wanted to share with you is our exploration of Meso-American ruins.
Visiting ruins on the motorcycle was a real highlight of the region for us, and the Mayan ruins of Central America truly captured our hearts and imaginations. And so the following is a list of some of our favorite ruins that we rode to on our motorcycle (doesn't get more magical that that!). And I've tried to pick ones that are off the beaten track, and a little obscure -
I know what you're thinking: I'm not even going to try to pronounce that. But luckily, these expansive ruins in Belize are pronounced similarly to "Tuna Sandwich". Located deep in the jungles close to the Guatemalan border, Xunantunich has an incredibly tall temple called El Castillo, or The Castle, which is truly terrifying to climb, but has rewarding views from the top, along with some incredible friezes and carvings.
Located in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, Uxmal is not as popular of a site to visit as the famous ruins of Chichén Itzá, which are also spectacular. But what I liked about Uxmal was that the artwork of the carvings there are just head and shoulders above the carvings I have seen at any other Mayan site. Plus, the structures there are very expansive, so there's plenty of space to get lost and feel like you're exploring it on your own.
These are the smallest of the ruins on this list, but I think it's one of the coolest because there was really no one else there. Cahel Pech is found within the town of San Ignacio, Belize, and it's basically just a forested park with lots of Mayan ruins that you can explore at your leisure. Stone passageways, moss-covered rocks, and tree roots and vines eating away at the stone-work... it's like a lost city within a modern city. And there was pretty much no one else there, except we ran across some archeologists doing an excavation. They even invited us to watch them work!
Also in Belize, in my opinion Lamanai is one of the best ruins to ride to on a motorcycle. Not only does the ride take you through Mennonite lands (similar to the Amish) where you can catch a glimpse of them using horse-drawn machinery for their farm work, but then you enter the spectacular jungle around the ruins. Most tourists take river boats to the site, and are therefore stuck on a guided track in groups. But by coming on a motorcycle, we got to explore the site without having to be in a group, which meant that we basically had whole sections of it to ourselves, including the Mask Temple (pictured above). We even had a picnic lunch on top of the Jaguar Temple. How cool is that?
For me, this is the mother of all Mayan ruins - Tikal. Located in the northern portion of Guatemala that is covered in thick rainforest, Tikal is truly a magical treasure of the jungle. There are several reasons why coming here on a motorcycle is better than any tour bus, but most of all it's because you get the opportunity to camp just outside the site gates overnight. This will mean you're one of the first people into the grounds in the morning (you can even take a sunrise hike in), but also you might just hear the howler monkeys in the night surrounding your tent, like we did. It was so eerie... Then to top it all off, you get to explore some of the most iconic and incredible temples that the Mayans ever built. it's one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
All this reminiscing makes me excited to start traveling again. Even though we won't be heading back into Mexico and Central America any time soon, we are currently making plans for a great American tour this summer, hitting up all three Overland Expos in the fall (Colorado, Arizona, and Virginia, hope to see you there), along with checking out a few National Parks and seeing friends along the way. We'll also be visiting some spots we went to on our original trip across the country at the start of our trip.
As always, we'll keep you updated. So stay tuned!
If you want to see us exploring some of the temples I mentioned above, check out the following videos. Plus, we'll cover even more awesome ruins in the next few videos that we'll be posting this week.
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