BootsnAll Travel Network

El Mirador: Trip Report

Journal entry Sunday, March 19th:

Surreal.  Barreling down a dusty, bumpy and windy logging road to the small co-op community of Carmelita.  It is pitch black except for the high beam, then low beam, of the Toyota pick up I am riding.  In the back I cling to the back of the tail, my legs scrunched by the packs, food and legs of Markus, Kirk, Adoniz, Julio, and four others we have picked up along the way, including one infant that the mother cradles in her free arm.  We fly through the night, the wind in my hair and the ocassional logging truck passing the other direction, whipping a huge dust cloud in our face, our eyes, and our air we breathe.  The ceiling above is pierced with thousands of shining twinkles of the heavens.  It takes us almost 3 hours along that road, from the setting sun to the chill of the night.  This is the way to do it.  Just surreal.  Is this a dream?  Am I actually doing this?  I’m in the middle of nowhere and no one really knows where I am.  I hope I make it back to the hotel with the pool, the ice cream, and a clean, hot shower.




I met Markus my second week in Xela, and we got to talking about our plans of traveling after our schooling was over.  He had mentioned a hike that he read about to El Mirador, a hard to reach land of Mayan ruins just below the Mexican border.  That planted the seed.  A few weeks later, I was online to read more about this jungle trek to El Mirador.  My Lonely Planet guidebook had a little blurb about it, but I needed more info.  And what I found I wrote down, and the next day handed it to Markus for him to look into.  That was all it took.  We knew that at some point, we would hike El Mirador.

A local touring outfit offered a trip to El Mirador with free transportation included.  Not a bad deal, everything was all planned out.  But the dates were fast approaching, and the tour did not allow for any time to do any extra touring up to Flores and Tikal, the site of major Mayan ruins.  We bypassed that offer.  More weeks pass, I finish my studies and decide to go on hikes around the area.  I plan on doing a 6 day trek, when Markus informs me that he is going to El Mirador with Kirk, and that I should join them next week.

Next week?  In mid-March?  I was actually thinking of ending my trip with El Mirador, in May.  But he had already made the arrangements.  And I did not know it at the time, but March is the ideal time to hike it, because it is still the dry season when the conditions are ideal and there aren’t as many mosquitoes to fight with.  It was on.


Friday, March 17th.

I meet up with Kirk and Markus at school at 1pm, 3pm bus ride to Guatemala City.  Kirk and I find a comedor and order two hamburgers.  Instead, we get chicken patties.  The bus ride is long.  2 screaming, wailing babies.  Heavy traffic.  Slow going, especially getting stuck behind big rig trucks, clamoring up the steep mountain roads.  In the middle of my seat, there is some piece of metal that jabs into the small of my back, just above my ass.  And my chair won’t recline fully back and lock into position, it keeps wanting to spring forward into the sitting position.  It is hot.  Humid.  Can I get some air?  Kirk doesn’t look so good.  He informs us that the food in the comedor is not sitting well in his stomach.  As a matter of fact, he says his system has processed it.  He wanted to wait until we got into the city and bus station, but he needs to go now.  He disappears towards the back, where the bathroom waits.  He returns a minute later.  “It is locked,” he says matter of factly.  “There’s a lock on it.”  No lie.  There was actually a padlock on the bathroom.  Kirk would have to wait this one out.  Markus is hungry.  The bus is packed, people standing in the aisle.  It sure is hot.  And dark.  The sun sets.  My personal seat light above me doesn’t work.  It is now 4 hours on this bus.  We want off. 

At 7:20 our bus pulls into the final stop….a gas station?  Yep, the big yellow sign of Shell.  Everyone deboards, our bags below are tossed out to the ground.  At least the gas station has a bathroom.  Kirk is one of the first off, and he tells us to grab his bag.  We get our stuff, walk over to the food market, and we see Kirk standing there helpless.  Seems that just as he was heading to the only bathroom, some guy (not even on the bus, just some random customer) decides that he wants to use the bathroom.  So Kirk has to wait.  And he’s not happy.

Markus is hungry, and orders a sandwich from the deli.  Similar to a Subway set up.  I feel like I won’t find any other quality food, so I order as well.  After Kirk finally gets to use the bathroom, he orders a sandwich to go.  We have to get to the Lineas Dorias bus line, and our map in the guidebook shows that we are only a few blocks away.  But this seems to be a very seedy and sketchy side of town.  We decide to take the cab.

We arrive to the station, and buy tickets for the 9pm departure.  It is supposed to be an overnight luxury ride.  It is, kind of.  The seats are comfy, we have seat pockets in front of us.  A TV monitor is in front, and soon is playing “The Legend of Zorro” (English with Spanish subtitles).  Blankets are distributed.  And we even get a meal!  I choose a Pepsi, Kirk and Marcus get the bottled water.  I open up my stryrofoam box and find…. a small roll cut in the middle, filled with a sad looking hamburger patty with ketchup.  And there is a small bag of chips and a napkin.  I decide to eat it sooner than later, just in case the meat decides to go bad in the middle of the night.  It isn’t even warm.

I watch the flick, Markus and Kirk go to sleep.  It is near 11:30 when I try to get some rest.  But I can’t.  Not happening.  At 3am, we stop for a Fruit Inspection?  What?  Yeah, you heard right.  Still don’t know what that is about.  I try to resume any type of rest that resembles sleep.  And at 5:30am, we pull into Santa Elena.  If we want to go to Flores, we have to get a free shuttle.  But we don’t…our guide is supposed to be waiting for us at the bus station.

We get off the bus, collect our bags.  Even at 5:30 in the morning, there is a flurry of activity.  The locals know when these buses full of tourists comes.  Immediately we are greeted with people offering rides, hotels and tours to Tikal, El Mirador, and other sights.  Markus is the best at Spanish, and our de facto leader, since he made all the arrangements.  Kirk and I are really just along for the ride.

Markus has a cell phone.  And manages to call the guide.  We wait around the station, and finally around 6am we meet our guide.  Adoniz.  His wife Brenda is with him.  Their eldest son drives the pick up.  Introductions all around, then Markus explains what we want.  We’d like to leave our bags with them, take a bus to Tikal, explore the Mayan ruins for the morning, and come back in the afternoon back to Santa Elena, where they can pick us up and we make our way to Carmelita.  All is good.  We pile into the pick up, and they take us to the shuttle bus.  Some guy tells us that fare is 80Q per person, round trip.  We fork over 240Q.  Later I find out that the real price is only 50Q per person.  Ripped off.

We take the shuttle, arrive around 8am to Tikal.  Have breakfast at a local comedor.  Never mind the hair in my pancakes, or the smashed, dead bug inside the honey bottle (they don’t have syrup, only honey), or the dead bug that flows out of the squeeze bottle in a droplet of honey onto my plate.  We are here to have fun, explore, and enjoy the ruins.  We spend the day touring Tikal.  Pics of Tikal will be in a future post.

Return on the shuttle bus back to Santa Elena.  We need money to pay the guides.  Flores seems more developed, so we ask to get dropped off there.  But no ATM.  We are hungry, so decide to splurge on the best restaurant there, La Luna (no relation to Xela´s Cafe La Luna). 



Steaks for Kirk and Markus, I get the cheaper burger and fries.



Afterwards, we make the obligatory Sarita stop for ice cream.  This is the first time in my life that I order a double scoop.  And thus begins my addiction for doublescoop ice creams.



We find a spot by the lake and try to lick and eat our ice cream quickly, as the hot sun melts the flavors onto our cone and onto our hands.


After our late lunch and dessert, we walk across the bridge and to Santa Elena, where we wait over an hour for our ride.  They take us to the ATMs, where we withdraw enough funds to cover the entire trip, and prepay all at once.  Then it is off to Carmelita…or so we think.

No, first we make a stop so Brenda can buy eggs.  Which takes 20 minutes.  We bake in the back of the pick up.  How could buying eggs take so long?  She finally returns, and we are on our way….but wait!  We make a stop so that the son can pick up a….truck tire?  A used truck tire for the pick up?  Yes, and he loads it until the back with us.  Now we can get on our way!  Think again.  We stop for gas.  And while they are filling, there is a little comotion, then concern.  Seems like there is a tank leak.  We are leaking gas.  Kirk is not cool with this.  But after further discovery, it seems like it is only a tube that has been severed…apparently gas theft is a problem, and someone stole gas a few nights before and damaged an intake tube.  Kirk assured us that it was not a major problem, and we were on our way.

The last 24 hours from Xela to the gas station didn’t seem to bode well for this little trip.  All the little things on the bus.  Getting ripped off.  The funny breakfast meal with the extras I didn’t ask for.  The waiting for the guides.  The extra stops.  Who were these guides, anyway?  What web site or link did I give Markus?  Markus made all the arrangements, and Kirk and I were just going with his judgement.  I don’t know about Markus, but Kirk and I had little seeds of doubt about how this whole experience would turn out.

The afternoon light is slowly fading away.  From the gas station, we truck it over to San Andreas, where our guides live and where we pick up all our gear and add Julio, the guy who takes care of the mules.



Kirk and Markus, riding in the back of the pick up to San Andreas, when we actually had room to spread out and stretch out our legs.



Packing up the pick up.  Eventually we would squeeze a total of 9 people back here, with all of our gear and all.  Adoniz is on the left, Julio on the right, securing our load with ropes.




Guard station to the National Park and forest.  Unfortunately, logging in some capacity is allowed by the government, so during our excursion to Carmelita, four or five of these trucks carrying those beautiful hardwood beahemoths would pass us in the opposite direction. 


We finally leave from San Andreas at around 6pm, and it is a short stop before we get to the gate.  We wait here for 15 minutes, don’t know why.  But whatever issues they have, it is resolved and we are on our way.  An hour and change later, it is completely dark as we pass by Cruises dos Agua, the very last pueblo with electricity.  Further on, we make a short 5 minute stop at San Miguel, a small village powered by generators.  We are stopped by the side of the road, right next to an evangelical church.  Through the open doors you can see the small congregation swaying back and forth, and then you hear the worst singing in the world belting out hymns that are way off tune and really quite embarrassing.  It is an amusing diversion before we climb back on the pick up truck, and continue on into the night.

Finally, 9pm we pull into Carmelita.  Again, no electricty.  We have our headlamps, and make our way into a small 2 room home.  It is the home of Adoniz’s uncle.  They quickly set up hammocks for us to sleep in, and prepare a simple and common meal of black beans, eggs, and tortillas to fill our stomachs before we go to bed.  At least we had some pineapple to go with the meal!



The home was completely dark except for our flashlights and headlamp.  I took this picture in the dark, and my flash flooded the room with light.



My hammock for the night.



The second room in the home, a small kitchen and table for eating.  Notice that container full of black beans.  There is the freshly cut pineapple, and in the background is the wood fired plancha used for grilling and cooking fresh tortillas.  The candle and my camera flash lights the small room.


We retire to our hammocks around 10:30.  We are tired and get pretty good sleep, ready for the adventures that we will soon begin early the next morning…




One response to “El Mirador: Trip Report”

  1. Mike says:

    In Chichen Itza, my ex and I ate at a buffet. She checked it out while I negotiated with some locals on some “artifacts” outside. She told me it was $5 and we ate. While eating, some English speaking tourists came in and the manager was showing the buffet to them and then responded that it was $8. Now it was the middle of the day, so we didn’t slip into the dinner hour. They talked amongst themselves and then left. If he had offered $5 or $6, maybe they would have stayed.

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