Hike to El Mirador

5 Nov

Middle of October, 2010

I´m in a misquito tent full of misquiots as well as one mean tarantualla.  I´ve just witnessed an argument between my fellow italian traveler and our tour guide over the best way to cook pasta.  Pio´s hands pleaded his case and exasperated, he vowed to never talk to Maria, the tour guide again.  It started two nights ago when Maria mixed ketchup with mayonaise in an unforgetatable combination that upset the italiean so –  that he wouldnt touch his plate, even after an entire day of trekking.

It is our last night together and we are on the way back from the lost Mayan city of El Mirador.  Covered by dense sub-tropical jungle, El Mirador has only recently been discovered and most of it still sits below a vengenful jungle canopy on the border of Mexico and Guatemala.

To get there is an adventure.

Four days ago, an ill-fated van with hopelessly thin tires and no suspension to speak of picked up myself and six other sleepy tourists from our hostel in the middle of the night.  It would wobble along Guatemala´s rocky backroads for the next four hours, the scenery wavering from busy forest to african like havannas.

We arrived in Carmalita, a relaxed frontier town with small wooden huts surrounding a soccer field.  It’s a warm, small community.  Maria invited us into her home and offered us chicken for breakfast.  I was happy when I learned the rest of my group was not very thrilled with the idea either.  Seeing our reactions, Maria whipped up scrambled eggs with homemade corn tortillas, avocados, and beans, and we readied ouselves for the hike of a life time.

The trail was long and ardous and although there were never any steep ascents, it was thoroughly covered with mud and painful brush.  We hiked with dizzying speed and no breaks were permitted.

Then after six grueling hours,  a blue tent became visible through the trees and two rangers greeted us with warm eyes and glowing smiles.  They were stationed there in thirty day rotations and any company was good company, even if we didn´t speak the same language.

After seeing the sunset on top of an old mayan pyramid, the rangers entertained us with stories of jaguars and mexican drug cartels and conjured up living nightmares by showing us scorpians and tarantulas.  Thrilled and shaken, we called it a night in our respective hammocks.

Hiking the next day was suprisingly easier and our group glided over the drier terrain.  The sceneray stayed much the same though and soon I was surrounded by one giant green blurr.  We played games and got to know each other to keep things interesting while we trekked.

I was amazed at Pio´s ability to spot out details in the otherwise mundane scenery.  Were I saw rocks and dirt, Pio would stop mid stride to avoid stepping on a dieing butterfly.  Out of the corner of his eye, Pio would stop me to point out a tree he recognized, a bird nestled in a tree, or a posinous insect to avoid.  He worked in a steel mill back home in southern italy, but he loved nature, and he appeciated it with all his heart.

We played soccer against the locals when we arrived at the camp grounds later that day and Pio showed us again why he was from Italy.  With every play, near foul, and missed goal, his hands flew up in protest and cries.  He accused our opponents of cheating and dropped to the ground when a defenders foot came near.

I loved every moment of it.

We spent the next day touring the vast city state of El Mirador.  At times, it took 45 minutes to walk from one ruin to the next.  This was one of the largest Mayan settlements and it was truly special when we stumbled upon El Dante, a fully excavated temple.

The heart of an empire once stood where we had lunch.  Men were killed and sacrificed and there we were, on blood stained steps, enjoying the day, humbled by the enormity of what lay before us.

Onwards we went, treading in and around archeological digs still in progress.  Shovels,and water bottles still visible from the labor that ended a few months prior.  Only 10 percent of the ruins have been explored and rumor has it that millions of dollars in ancient treasure still remains buried through out the jungle.

As we trekked from the ruins back to Carmelita on the fourth day, I kept my eyes out for any old artifacts that might still be abound.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw a ceramic hidden in the leaves.  It was a small piece.  Broken.

Back in my hammock on the last night, I examine my discovery.  It might have been an old plate or vase but it didn’t matter to me.  I was happy to have claimed my own little prize for the arduous undertaking I had done.

The next morning Pio and I would wake in the middle of the night to climb the heights of an old temple to see the sunrise. Suddenly the jungle which had almost appeared friendly by day was an eerie, unforgiving place.

The thunder of birds in the night startled us as the unkown intruders awoke them.   Territorial monkeys rustled the tree branches at the sight of two incoming men.

At the top of the temple, the jungle seemed haunted.  Like a magnificent optical illusion, mountain tops enshrouded by a thick layer of fog were belittled to little islands.

Then, beat by beat, the jungle awoke with every ray of the sun.  The earth groaned, like an animal unkown, and we could here a hungry tremor emanating from the center of it all.  Birds and insects became filled with life and a cacophonous song started the day.

Pio and I sat on top, waiting for the glow of the sun to warm us.  He was still sore from the previous night’s altercation.  Halfway around the world, in the middle of a dense jungle, cultural differences still played their role just like the struggle over who would have the rights to study the temples.  But underneath it all, the Mayan lay silent.  And next to us, a spear-like plant pertrudeding straight into the air, stood nature’s flag in the end.

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