Instead of describing the day by day account of our hike to and from El Mirador, I think it would be better to let the pictures to most of the talking. As it was, we awoke at 6am that Sunday, March 21st, and after a helping of black beans, eggs and tortillas (of course!) we began to pack our bags, load up the mules and ready ourselves for the long hike ahead. The passages in italics are direct from my journal.
Markus carefully wraps his already blistered toes, and then begins slapping on the sunscreen and spraying mosquito repellent all over his clothes.
Early morning en route. We have a total of 3 mules. 2 are fully loaded, and the other either carries our guide, Adoniz, or his wife, Brenda. In the background is Julio, who walks with the other 2 mules.
“First four hours on logging roads. Well worn paths. Very uneven terrian. Big dried mud holes. Can’t imagine this in rainy season. Very hard to walk over. Exposed roots lace the terrain. Fallen branches, leaves, trees, fruits, rocks, vines, more mud holes all dried up. I trip over 9 times during the day. Mayan burial mounds. Tombs. It’s hard to look up and around the scenary because you have to watch where you step. Lots of holes. And (if you happen to be walking behind) looking at the mule’s ass and tail swipe away the flies from its butthole. Watch out when it shits and walks at the same time! Lots of mule shit on the trails. In camp by 2pm. According to Marcus’ GPS gadget, we’ve gone a little under 20km for the day.”
These are the big, dried up mud holes we tried to traverse over. All of us tripped on numerous ocassions, but I think Markus was the only one who actually fell once or twice.
It wasn’t all dried mud holes though. Much of our path was narrow through the woods, led by Brenda’s lightening quick pace.
Our camp for the first night. Hammocks for the three of us. Julio was also in a hammock, Adoniz and Brenda slept in a tent.
We also had individual mosquito nets placed around each hammock; the top of your roof was just inches from your face when sleeping. But one word of advice regarding mosquito nets….try to make sure that there are no biting creepy crawlies and flying bloodsuckers that are trapped inside the hammock tent before going to bed! Or learn as I did.
All smiles before the evening sun sets.
Our first night camp was at El Tintal, where a covered temple was just a few minutes walk from our site. Before sunset, we all climbed to the top to gaze at the view from above the treetops and to watch the sunset.
Julio, Kirk, and the setting sun.
Me, Adoniz, and the fading light.
- DAY 2, Monday March 22 -
“5:45am wake up. Granola with milk, pineapple and melon are fresh and cut into it. I see some crawly things on some pineapple; take them out with my spoon. There’s also some small bread rolls. Last night we had really good tea. We leave camp at 7:20. 7:20! It is a very quick pace. only two, 5-minute rest stops. Finally, lunch at 1:30. Flour tortillas with black beans and fresh cut onions, radishes and a cucumber. Kinda bland, but I have two anyways. Then it is back to walking. But we have a slower pace, it’s so so hot. Sweltering heat. In a trance. Silence. Just the sounds of our footsteps, our breathing and the jungle birds, insects and rustling of leaves. 2:30pm. Stop at an old Mayan prison ruin “El Muerta” and explore inside. Tired. Hot. 4pm. Arrive at El Mirador and our camp. There are two wooden house structures for the 3-4 guards. There are also 3 wooden benches. I fine one and collapse on it, laying down. So so tired. Later the hammocks are set up, and I tiredly walk over to relax. We have 90 minutes before we go up El Tigre to watch the sunset…”
Sunday night we lost one of the mules. Somehow it got loose and ran away. So now we just have 2 mules, all loaded up with our food, water and belongings. Brenda and Adoniz will each have to walk the whole way today. But one of the mules was also attacked by a bat, according to our guide. I didn’t know that they attacked mules! But here’s the proof.
Here’s my lesson from the previous night about trusting the mosquito net too much. I count over a 100 bites on my hands, wrists and arms.
En route to El Mirador, we pass by countless Mayan mounds that are hidden away in the jungle’s growth. However, this one was easily seen and Kirk takes a look inside.
La Muerta, a Mayan prison, according to our guide.
We go inside and don our headlamps. Some passages are very small and narrow and we have to crawl. Here, Kirk begins to exit back into the natural day light.
Just before dinner, we climb up to the templo El Tigre, which is the tallest pyramid ever built in the Mayan world. 60 meters high, and its base covers 18,000 square meters. The going is steep and there is no shame in using the rope, as Adoniz does.
Sunset from atop templo El Tigre.
- Day 3, Tuesday, March 23, full day to explore El Mirador -
Waking up to the rising sun atop the Mayan grand temple “El Tigre.” Breezy. Tree braches sway back and forth. Refreshing. Clear skies, except for the far east, where low clouds hang in the horizon, partially shielding the sun’s light. But the sun rises higher, over the clouds to bask my face in warm rays. The small temple top is rocky, hard. Below I hear different animals. Mostly birds of all spieces.
Just an hour earlier I woke up to the Dolby surround sound of howling monkeys, roaring in the distance. For 10 minutes straight it was a cacophony of roars back and forth. And when that died down, I had a pack of bees buzzing and hoovering near an aloe vera plant, right next to my feet. Kirk and I dared not move. Cool, but scary to be so close. It wasn’t a swarm, but there were definitely a lot of these bees.
A few minutes later, all we heard were the whizz and shir of a bunch of dragonflies jetting back and forth through our little camp. Another 10 minutes of these insects playfully dancing admist the breezewaves.
And now all I hear are the birds, the breeze, the ocassional flying insect buzzing past me…it sure does feel amazing to be up so high, to have spent the night at such a magical place with so much yet-to-discover histroy. What went on at this temple thousands of years ago? What happened to this great society, that thrived for well over 300 years? I can see 360 degrees all jungle canopy. Just verdant green all around. I spent the night up here last night! All those stars. And the bright moon. I can’t believe I’m here.”
My little camp on top of El Tigre. Rising beyond is the temple’s sister, La Danta.
More morning light gives way to the view from my camping spot.
It’s fucking hot. Sweltering. So hot that I can’t even fall asleep in the shaded hammock, even though I’m very very tired. I keep looking at the pink polka dots spread all over my wrists, arms and top side of my hand. Damned fleas/mosquitos/ticks or whatever feasted on me on night number 1. I’m so stinky with 3 days of sweat and hard walking in the same shirt, pants and socks. I’m not going to shower or change into clean clothes until our hotel Thursday night. Still over 50 hours away. I’m still paranoid about ticks finding their way to my nuts and ass. I’m sure I have ticks and other critters in my unkept hair on my head. It is so thick and dirty and dry. It feels dead. Kirk has taken a “shower” 3 times. Twice in the Mirador camp. It’s basically a bucket of brown water than you dump on yourself. I think I’ll pass and just wait for the hotel. I’m paying over $20 for the privilege, so I’m going to really really look forward to it and enjoy it. My bites are so so itchy. I wonder if they will make a permanent record of this trip. So tired. Feet have blisters. And they stink of course…”
There will be no further pictures of the Parque Nacional Mirador. It took us 2 days of hard hiking to the site, 1 day to explore the major ruins of the site, and another 2 days of hard hiking back to civilization that it wouldn’t be fair to just show pictures of what we came to see. It is just something that one has to experience and feel in person. Feel free to google pics if you want, or to find the in depth National Geographic article. But no more photos from this blog from the site itself. Day 4 and 5 we hiked back. Yes I was more tired, more dirty, and somehow managed to get more mosquito and tick bites. Here are some final journal thoughts about our trip to El Mirador for all 5 days.
- ant highway in our camp next to our dining area.
- Markus spraying insecticide all over his pants, legs, arms, etc. Basically taking a shower in it.
- taking a shit in the outhouse and hopeing that nothing comes up from within the darkness and bites me in the ass.
- our guide smoking natural herb joints every other stop.
- dinner…soup that makes me hot and sweaty.
- used toilet paper strwen around the ground a few meters from camp, the previous user unaware that there is a baño a few more steps away.
- Kirk catching ticks on his body before they start to dig in.
- my “Insectashield” special bandana NOT working as advertised.
- a dream about my shoes falling apart – but in reality, they are still holding up quite well for only a $7 repair job.
- drinking fresh hot tea from the leaves of the pimienta — smells like Juicy Fruit gum to me!
- getting hot and sweaty under my ballcap and mosquito headnet–which I wear sleeping at night
- watching a legion of ants ascend and swarm the empty plastic mug of sweetened tea that Markus left on the ground
- craving the doublescoop of vanilla and chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone.
- Adoniz’s personal museum of plates, pots, bones and other old things stashed away in a hidden grave mound site that he showed to us.
- Adoniz pointing out plant stems and tips just teeming with hundreds of ticks. In the photo below, look to the tips of the stem to see them all!
- the last lunch – fresh sliced pineapple with bread and a potato/cucumber/egg/mayo salad mixture for the bread. I had 5 or 6 sandwiches.
- Adoniz’s son getting a ticket for driving without a license. Stopped for 10 minutes.
- Before taking us to the hotel, his son picks up a motorcycle, loads it in the back of the pick up and we have to find spaces to sit in around the motorcycle.
- Kirk’s spider leaping at his feet at dinner. The table underside harbored the spider’s home.
- In the middle of the night, there’s a huge fire that erupts and Kirk wakes up to it. Mysterious flames from the embers of the fire.
- Adoniz mumbling to himself as he walks along the trail (usually this happens after he had smoked one of his joints).
- whenever having the urge to piss, just stepping off the side of the trail and doing it–and inspecting my crotch for ticks and bite marks.
- the smell of our collective feet as we take off our shoes and socks and let our feet breathe.
- stopping suddenly to listen closer and scrutinize the nearby area for movements of things not seen, but heard. Just a bird? A monkey? Snake?
- Drinking a juice box of peach juice and eating chocolate wafers at the side of the trail. The juice is thick and Kirk also gets peach, but Markus only gets apple juice.
- Walking back to Carmelita and hanging back, enjoying the silence and just thinking about my life, the future, and enjoying the moment.”