I have been exploring the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal for several days now, finding many hidden paths and nooks and crannies that I suspect see very little in the way of tourists (even though they are only just a few metres away from the main trails and temples). Little anoles (Norops spp.) and spiny-scaled lizards (Sceloporus variabilis) are plentiful around the ruins, but secretly I am hoping to find a snake or two while wondering these quiet places.
Today I took a private tour to the nearby ruins of Uaxactun (pronounced W-ash-ack-tun), some 23 km north of Tikal. Though not as impressive in size as their famous neighbour, Uaxactun has a beauty all of its own. Not least the total lack of tourists. It is also a fabulous example of the sophistication of Mayan skywatchers. The site is split in two by a disused airstrip (now a football pitch) that in Mayan times would have been a river that was traversed by a bridge.
In the eastern part of the site stands a complex of four temples. The largest of which stands on the western side of a small plaza facing the other three. From their vantage point of this lone temple Mayan skywatchers where able to track the equinoxes and solstices. When viewed from here at dawn on the summer and winter solstices the Sun rises through the left and right temples, respectively, on the other side of the plaza. Sunrise on the equinoxes occurs through the centre temple.
AFTER SPENDING SEVERAL HOURS AT UAXACTUN IT WAS TIME TO RETURN TO TIKAL. DURING THE DRIVE BACK, TONY, MY GUIDE (REALISING I AM SLIGHTLY OBSESSED BY SNAKES) TOLD ME THAT HE HAD TAKEN ANOTHER GROUP OF TOURISTS TO UAXACTUN YESTERDAY AND ON THE WAY THEY HAD FOUND A BOA CONSTRICTOR ON THE ROAD.
I could not believe it, I had missed seeing one of this planets most classic of snakes for the first time by a day! Rather than descending into a pit of self deprecation for not choosing to take the tour a day earlier I decided to put my mind to the task of cosmic ordering. After a few deep breaths, I asked in no uncertain terms for the universe to show me a boa of my own on the road. Tony and I carried on our conversation and in the back on mind the thought that it was highly unlikely to find a snake of any kind on the road at 11.30 in the morning in what was now blistering heat – clearly my snakey friends would all be taking shelter.
About 10 minutes later after I had forgotten about the order I could barely believe my eyes as I spotted a well recognised shape in the middle of the road, right in the path of the passenger side tyre. At the top of my voice I shouted “STOP, STOP, STOP!!” The truck screeched to a halt several metres after the shape. I jumped out, heart in my mouth, had we hit it (I prayed that we hadn’t), Tony still confused asked me what it was. “Snake, snake” I replied. To my delight, there on the road at 11.45, was a beautiful boa constrictor alive and unharmed (it had pulled its head back just in time to avoid us)!
Knowing that wild boas can sometimes be a bit snappy when initially handled and knowing from experience with captive boas that bites from adults can be very painful, I looked for a branch that I could use as an impromptu snake stick so I could move the snake off the road to safety and take some photos. Tony passed me a metal rod from his truck to use, perfect. After a few lunges the boa settled down nicely and with some careful handling calmed down enough for me not to need the “snake stick.” Several photos later we let the snake disappear into the forest. It was time for a celebratory beer over lunch!