When the Kath is away...
Central and South America - 2005
About Me (2)
Costa Rica (2)
Kath's Confessional (3)
The Weird and the Wonderful (1)
Viva Mexico! (8)
* Horsing Around Chugchilan
* Through the Clouds to Chugchilan
* Half the fun is getting there - Saquisili
* A Dog Called Quito (and a city too...)
* Of Showers, Monsters and Monkeys
* Beach Bummers in Puerto Viejo...
* Costa Rica entry-turned-rant
* Learning to dive in Utila
* Leaving Guatemala
* Lazy Days in Lago Atitlan
* Little altars everywhere... Chichicastenango
* Shopaholic goes abroad - The Chichicastenango Market
* Half the fun is getting there... To Chichicastenango
* Comments on the El Mirador Trek
* El Mirador Trek - Day 6
* El Mirador Trek - Day 5
* El Mirador Trek - Day 4
* El Mirador Trek - Day 3
* El Mirador Trek - Day 2
* El Mirador Trek - Day 1
April 05, 2005
El Mirador Trek - Day 3
We were allowed to sleep in for as long as we wanted today, and I voluntarily got up at 8am. What´s going on? Perhaps it is my new and improved travel self emerging.
After breakfast, Silje and I went to say hello to the vigilantes, and to give them a bag of snacks we had brought from civilization. At their "house" we were treated to a collection of pottery found at the site. Gorgeous bowls, plates, masks, ceremonial incense burners, most intricately sculpted and painted. What a treat it was to be able to hold these objects (which really belong in a museum)! I felt bad touching them, accustomed to the "no touching or you´re kicked out" policy of museums and galleries, a policy which is in place for a good reason. Amazing!
In addition to the ceramics, the vigilantes showed us their guest book, signed by Mel Gibson this past November. I was disappointed to learn that he arrived in a helicopter.
El Mirador is part of a national preserve called Reserva de la Biosfera Maya. Covering a huge area of over 2,100 square km, the reserve is made up of 5 different kinds of tropical forest, with great biodiversity. This area is also where the largest and oldest Mayan sites are found, making it important not only for its natural but also for its cultural value to Guatemala and the world.
Also called the Birthplace of the Mayas, the region was the center of power in the Maya world during the Preclassic Period (1000BC - 150AD), with El Mirador as the main center for the last 450 years or so. Around year 150AD, for some reason, all 29 cities in the area were abandoned. Noone knows what happened, though theories range from a great flood to a great draught, overpopulation, exhaustion of the land and so on. As far as I know, nobody has yet blamed it on UFO´s. Perhaps that could become my claim to fame, I´m sure I could come up with a theory or two if I put my mind to it... Especially considering that more than 50% of the area remains unexplored.
As I´m sure you´re interested to know, the excavations at El Mirador are directed by American archeologist Dr Richard Hanson as well has his Guatemalan partner-in-toothbrush-digging Lic Edgar Ley. They claim to be working on an eco-tourism project called Eco Archeology. I´m not sure how well that particular project is going, as the tourism we have seen in the Biosphere Reserve is far from ecologically- or archeologically friendly. Quite the opposite; people leave trash anywhere they please, we are encouraged to climb and dig around anywhere we want on the pyramids, kick away loose stones and bricks, basically do as we please. It feels both like a great pity and also like a privilege that (hopefully) won´t last long. We had to hike for two days to get here. Who knows how soon before there will be a road and the site will be landscaped and tightly guarded like for example Tikal and Palenque.
We headed off with Umberto on a couple of hours´excursion to see some of the pyramids. The site is huge, so we had quite a walk ahead of us just to get to the closest ones. The interestingly named Temple 34 was, as the only pyramid at El Mirador, partially restored in the front. This enabled us to see what the front steps and one of the giant mask-like carvings in the front would have looked like before the jungle took over. The sides and back were completely in shambles... it literally takes years and years of work for a team of 100 to restore just a small pyramid like Temple 34.
Next off we went to La Danta, the world´s largest pyramid in mass. All I can say is it is bloody enormous!! Its height is "only" 70m, but the base is really unbelievable... We went up four levels, each time walking a couple of hundred meters before going up the next one. La Danta was once a pilgrimage site where Mayas from near and far came to pay their respects to their gods. The view from the top was just fantastic, and in the distance we could see miles in all directions, including several of the area´s lost cities.
After seeing a couple of stelas (the best description I can come up with is that of an oversize, gravestone- or pillar shaped, carved stone object), we headed back to camp for lunch and some more relaxing. I like days like this :-)
The last pyramids of the day were El Tigre and Templo los Monos, both around 50m high. We were hoping to catch a few of the famed monkeys (monos) playing around, but the canopy was silent. Instead we entertained ourselves finding small pottery shards and ancient snail shells on top of the pyramids (more like pyramid shaped mounds of stone). Unlike the previous group, we didn´t bring the shards down with us... Not sure if the Guatemalan customs agents would be too happy to see their heritage disappear in the hands of scruffy backpackers...
Thanks to the travel agency, halfway into our trip we were already running low on food and water. What to eat for dinner? Rice with nothing? Flour tortillas with nothing? So we wouldn´t go hungry we decided to buy a chicken from the vigilantes. At $10, the price was far from right, but having some protein was so worth it. Off we went, Umberto, Rob and I to select a gallina. Umberto immediately saw which one would be a good choice and asked if we were OK with the choice. Uhm... We usually select our chickens from the meat department, so we´ll trust your professional opinion, Umberto.
After much ado and even more cackling, we caught our chosen gallinita after a 20 minute hunt. Her husband / father was koo-koo-roo-ing like crazy, as he furiously ran in circles upon realizing what was going on. "How dare you, she´s my favourite!!" All I can say is I fully understand, she was damn good! Like the curious person I am, while the others looked the other way I watched Umberto wring her neck around a few times, dip her in boiling water then pluck her feathers. With the machete as a chef´s knife, he cleaned her up before boiling her and crisping her on the coals. We ate her with tortillas, and it was delicious!
Throughout the trek, Umberto and Geronimo have eaten after us, away from the table. Today we managed, for the first time, to successfully invite them to eat with us at the table. Apparently not used to such a gesture from his clients, Geronimo was very hesitant at first, but after that meal he really thawed up and his usual quiet self fell away to reveal a nice man with much to share and teach. We all hung out for the rest of the night, chatting and watching the stars until late.
How beautiful the stars are out there! Far away from any city lights and with pure, clean air, we saw for the first time what the night sky is really supposed to look like. I have never seen so many stars in my life. I never knew so many stars existed! Now I understand why the Milky Way is called just that. WOW...
Having worked in the jungle for 34 years, Geronimo doesn´t need a watch or compass to know the time and direction. The sun, moon and stars are his leads. He knows the medicinal plants, the natural antidotes to snake bites, and which tree contains sweet water that´s drinkable. The jungle can kill you if you don´t know it, and save your life if you know it well. Us gringoes know nothing at all about the nature at our doorsteps, and meeting people like Geronimo makes me ashamed.
On the topic of spiders, I was pleased to find out that I can always tell their location by the light reflected in their eyes by my flashlight. Silje couldn´t see it, and I silently wondered if I was crazy until Geronimo confirmed my discovery. So HAH! I am on top of the spider menace, at least in the dark.
Damn, this is long...
Posted by kvabo on April 5, 2005 04:11 PM
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