Howling with fear

Company policy prohibited us from using the small local planes that flew from Guatemala City to Tikal. But I didn’t have time for the bus. My local host dropped me off. “If you were to go left,” she explained, “you would get to the airfield where you’re not allowed to go. I suggest you go right instead to see the museum that’s down there.” And with a wink she was off.

Needless to say,  couple of hours later I touched down (too gentle a word for that landing really) in Tikal and got myself to the national park where, as luck would have it, one of the three lodges was available for a couple of nights.

Any ancient place has interesting energy, and the combination of that and the jungle setting make Tikal pretty special. I had an interesting day looking at everything and reading up about it. A Scandinavian couple I chatted to recommended getting up early the next morning with a torch and climbing to the top of one of the pyramids to see the sun coming up over the rainforest. Sounded like one not to miss.

So early the next morning I stumbled out of bed, remembered to bang y boots out before putting them on (just as well, a scorpion fell out of one of them) and headed off. For some reason I hadn’t considered, until ten minutes into the walk to the ruins, that walking through a rainforest on my own in the dark could be uncomfortable in any way. Unlike my children I hadn’t spent hours watching animal programs so didn’t pay any thought to possible dangers.

Then I stopped dead in my tracks as a terrible roar went up, sounding only a few meters away. Quick, think. What did they have here? Jaguars? Cheetahs? Mountain lions? Why didn’t I know this? My heart was pounding but I decided I had probably better just proceed and hope for the best. It happened again. And again. The noise was quite terrifying. I rushed along the path, wondering how I had been so foolish as to embark on this foolhardy notion and waiting to be mauled to death. I heard voices and saw another torch wavering along ahead of me. Hurrying to catch up I saw immediately that this small group of 3 did not have a look of abject terror. In fact they were chuckling. “What is it? What is making that terrible roar?” They laughed and explained to me that the howler monkeys loved to impersonate other animals. That’s why it was hard to place the roar because they were jumping around the tree tops. We were fine. I was fine. Relief expressed itself in mild hysterical laughing and we carried on.guatemala tikal panorama

Needless to say the view was spectacular. I was completely alone up there (the other group seemed to have disappeared), looking down at the parakeets swooping across the treetops and the sunrise felt like my own personal show. I will never forget that moment.

And I will also never forget how something that sounds very terrible can in fact be of no danger at all. How often has that been the case? The unknown bad news we invent in our heads can carry so much fear and offer us no way to deal with it as it hasn’t actually happened. How much better to work on what life actually does bring us.

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