“Tiani, how long does it take to walk from here to the temple pyramid?” Nicholas asked. When she shook her head in confusion, at first Nicholas questioned whether she was willing to show him the way. Then he remembered she didn’t speak English. He translated to Spanish and tried again. “¿Cuánto tiempo se tarda en caminar desde aquí hasta el templo?”
“Veinte minutos,” she said with a shrug.
“Twenty minutes?” Nicholas gaped at her. “To get over that mound? ¿Para superar ese montículo?”
She scoffed. “Nosotras no caminamos sobre el montículo.” She shook her head and rolled her eyes.
“You don’t walk over the mound?” Nicholas laughed. “How do you get to the temple? ¿Cómo se llega al templo?”
“A través del túnel.” Her statement was so matter of fact as if the answer was obvious.
“Si.” She nodded with a smirk.
With excitement, Becky asked Tiani if she would show them the way. “¿Nos mostrarás el camino?”
“Si, right now, ahora mismo.” Nicholas responded.
Tiani started to walk away but Nicholas stopped her to ask if they could leave their tent here in the village.
“¿Podemos dejar nuestra carpa aquí?” Nicholas pointed over to where he and Becky still had their tent set up near the cenote, where it had been for two days.
She nodded and then gestured for them to follow her. “Vamonos.”
Nicholas took Becky’s hand and followed the Mayan princess toward the mound and a little to the west, where she ducked between several trees and held aside the branches of some bushes to reveal an ancient earthen tunnel that was as fascinating as it was terrifying.
Holding out the flashlight, Nicholas revealed a dark hole the other side of which could not be seen from where they stood. He turned to Tiani, asking if she would come with them.
“¿Vendrás con nosotros?” Nicholas raised his eyebrows in question, nervous to enter this void without a practiced guide.
“Un momento por favor.” Tiani held up her hand and asked them to wait a moment. She returned with a lantern and led the way into the tunnel, Nicholas and Becky in tow.
The darkness swallowed them almost immediately and they walked in the small space of light created by Tiani’s lantern and Nicholas’ flashlight. A moist, earthy smell enveloped them. The floor was smooth and hard from hundreds of years of Mayans passing through the mound to reach the temple pyramid quickly and easily. The sides and ceiling curved above them, barely higher than Nicholas’ head. He tried not to think about how many pounds of gravel surrounded them. If the tunnel collapsed, they would be killed or trapped indefinitely, especially since they were the only three people who knew they were in the tunnel.
After what felt like forever, but was probably only fifteen minutes, the tunnel lightened ahead and grew brighter the closer to the end they walked. Nicholas felt the urge to run ahead and burst through the trees and brush, but stayed behind Tiani, letting her take the lead.
When they reached the end, Tiani pushed aside a similar camouflage as what hid the entrance at the other end of the tunnel and suddenly they were blinded by sunlight. Even through the shielding canopy, the sun was too strong after being in the tunnel.
Ten scientists, including his twin brother, stared with wide eyes and gaping mouths while Nicholas and Becky shielded their eyes. As with most everything, Tiani seemed to take the intrusive sun with stride and barely showed an annoyance.
“Where the heck did you come from?” Levi asked the question all of them were probably thinking.
“There’s a tunnel.” Nicholas pointed behind him as if the evidence wasn’t immediately in front of their eyes. “Took us less than twenty minutes.”
Several of the guys glanced up the hill of the mound, the one they wasted an entire day of travel chopping through with machetes, when they could have walked casually through a tunnel.
As his team of scientists gawked at the hidden tunnel, Nicholas stepped forward, finally seeing the temple pyramid for the first time. Although camouflaged beneath overgrowth and shaded by the jungle trees, the structure was enormous.
“Oh my gosh.” He was at a loss for words after that. In all his years studying archaeology, crisscrossing the globe to excavate digs that were tiny in comparison, Nicholas had never encountered anything like this. No amount of research prepared him for this.
This Mayan temple was life altering.