Some memories will never fade... Late afternoon. A path at Tikal in the Guatemalan rainforest. A shimmering-blue butterfly as big as a handkerchief floated out of the shadows into a beam of sunlight. Spider monkeys rustled in the tree canopy.
Looking up, I met their pebble-dark, peering eyes, as curious as a cat’s. The trail brightened ahead – opening onto a grassy square surrounded by towering stepped pyramids. Each was topped with a small platform, and a single cave-dark chamber decorated with an elaborately carved roof comb.
I followed the path behind one of the temples. It climbed steeply up the building’s back – which was covered in an Indiana Jones tangle of roots and vines. I pulled myself over a piece of ancient, tumbled masonry and hauled myself up. By the time I reached the top I was sweating, out of breath and transfixed by the view.
After the closeness of the forest, all was space and light on the temple top. I was above the canopy. The bright sun was buttery yellow and sinking over endless trees – which stretched green and semi-silhouetted to every horizon. A toucan perched a few feet away on a moss-covered kapok branch. A pair of scarlet macaws cawed and cooed and flew off in a clamour. An eagle soared.
As the sun fell it deepened into orange, then dropped red behind the tree line, leaking colour into the sky. The day thickened into tropical twilight. And a chorus of tree frogs and crickets serenaded a full moon, which rose to the north-east – yellow in a violet sky.
Central America floods my mind with memories. Dawn over the smoking volcanoes of central Nicaragua. Iridescent quetzals in Costa Rica’s misty cloud forests. Snorkelling over a stingray and turtle-filled sandy alley, cut like a valley in Belize’s barrier reef. I can hear the bustle of street markets and marimba music.
And smell roasting coffee, mango blossom, the heavy perfume of the rainforest, the copal-scented air in the mystical Mayan mountain temples.... And from far away they draw me back to Central America. Inevitably.