Saturday, August 31, 2019

El Mirador Trek Guatemala: Part Three

A continuing series on my expedition to the depths of the Guatemala jungle to visit El Mirador with Teena Clipston and Mike's Expeditions Guatemala, please see the first installments here:

Part One: Trek to El Mirador
Part Two: Learning How to Walk Again

My journal. That could say "unreal" or "surreal", both are appropriate. 

We arrived in Tintal after a long, hot, HOT HOT HOT day of travel, we'd been on the go for twelve hours, six of those walking. Obviously the first thing we do is climb to the top of a pyramid. I was recovering from my first bout of heat exhaustion but there was no way I was going to miss this chance! Suck it up buttercup, I climbed (very very slowly) to the top, recorded the above video and promptly vomited red Gatorade on to the ancient structure. My sacrifice to the gods of the temple. Our plan to eat a snack and watch the sunset from the top of the pyramid was foiled when a sly fox stole our sandwiches. We forgive you Swiper.

Abel cooked us up a delicious meal in the rustic kitchen, we got set up in our tent and we crashed out hard after a snake and bug check. I heard my first howler monkey at about 3 am, the roar/bark/growl woke me up and I was DELIGHTED. The "chicharras" were so loud it was difficult to go back to sleep, but I managed a couple more hours of rest before we got up with the sun and the smell of the breakfast fire for another day of jungle trekking.

Stuck a feather in my cap and called it an existential moment

This was a really good day. A marvelous day, a magnificent wonderful and tremendous day! We had learned our lessons from the first jaunt of jungle walking and we found our groove. We vibed with the jungle and found ITS pace, not rushed, not hurried, just....grooving. I was breathing deep, the untainted oxygen filling my lungs and purifying my soul. I noticed that I was walking differently, chest held high, shoulders back and I couldn't wipe the smile off of my face. My steps were more confident and I found myself striding through the jungle feeling like royalty,

Suddenly, there was an entire novel in my head. A whole story laid out for me that I could feel in my skin just bursting to get out! I've never had an experience quite like this, a creative rush of joy. I was walking ahead of the group, threw my arms wide and turned my face to the sky and said out loud "I am a queen!" In that moment I WAS a Mayan virgin stolen from her village to be brought to the snake king of El Mirador for marriage. Or is she to be sacrificed? You'll have to read the book.

La Muerta - Death

Trek to the death! Well, we trekked to "La Muerta", the first group of structures of El Mirador! We'd been walking for about five hours, me writing a novel in my head while listening to Alux music and out of the jungle she appears! We were energized and excited, the videos are mostly us saying "HOLY SHIT" over and over again. There are two structures here, we entered one dating from 350 BC that used to be a mausoleum below and a residence above. The other structure was built about 150 years later, during the height of Tikal's civilization. Holy shit.

Chingona con Sandia

With renewed vim and vigor, we strutted (seriously strutted like John Travolta Saturday Night Fever in the Jungle) the last 45 minutes to the camp at El Mirador. We made it! High fives all around, watermelon slices for everyone and a well-deserved rest in a hammock. The sense of pride and accomplishment I felt is something I never want to forget. I must remember this moment. In this moment, I am a bad-ass, hardcore, chingona, I can do anything woman. With a big ass feather in my cap.

Next up: El Mirador, La Danta and....a date?

Friday, August 23, 2019

Trek to El Mirador Part Two: Learning to Walk

I am back from “La Caminata”, my trek to the depths of the Guatemalan jungle to explore the ancient Maya ruins of El Mirador. We walked more than 100 kms in the heat of summer, climbed endless pyramids and somewhere along the way, I discovered my own strengths and the power I hold over my own happiness. The jungle is my Emerald City of the Wizard of Oz, the trek to El Mirador was my search for courage, knowledge and love. This was not my goal, not the expected result, but a wonderful side effect of an adventurous and difficult journey.

*In case you missed it: Trek to El Mirador part one

Trek to El Mirador Part Two: Learning How to Walk Again

When I last left you, I was riding in a beat-up pick-up being driven by Gabriel, smiling and singing “Vuela Vuela” to myself like a crazy person. A content crazy person. We’re on our way to the last village before the jungle walk starts, Carmelita. Teena is in the back of the truck with our guides Miguel and Abel, Abel is carrying a birthday cake for a little girl in the village, quite a feat on these bumpy roads! Abel is the quiet hero in a few of our jungle tales.

Carmelita kitchen
Two neck-wrenching dirt road hours later, we arrive in Carmelita, thank Gabriel and give ourselves a good stretch as we head to breakfast. We pass colourful weather-beaten huts and skinny dogs and we are drawn by the delicious smell of the burning lena and FOOD. We’ve been traveling for about 5 hours by now and we are starving! Breakfast was delicious, all the food on this trip was amazing! Fresh air, wood fires and an appetite turn even scrambled eggs into a divine creation.

After successfully navigating the obstacle course of chickens and dogs to use the outhouse, we washed up with rain water and went to find our horses. First a little stop to feed puppies. Teena asks me to take her picture with cute pup, cute pup bites Teena’s finger and draws blood. Bad puppy! We get Teena cleaned up and bandaged and it is time to rock, rabies or not.

Bad puppy!
We’ve been up since 4 am, our van broke down so we’re running late and we don’t hit the trail until about 10:30 am, really behind schedule. We are excited though and happily trot along like the heat is nothing. Midday sun and inexperienced jungle walkers full of adrenaline. You want heat stroke? Cuz that’s how you get heat stroke. I started to feel a little tired and I pushed. And I drank water and pushed more. I didn’t want to say anything as I didn’t want to slow us down! Finally after a big hill I said “Yo, I need a rest” and Miguel said we would stop at the next good shady spot. I pushed on for a few more minutes then I just couldn’t, I said “This is a good spot” and fell/sat down. (On our return trip Abel officially named the hill “Colina Mata Kelly”, so that is cool. I think.)

My ears were ringing, my heart racing and my vision was fading in and out. Dumb girl! I was mortified, totally embarrassed and trying not to puke to make it worse. Miguel and Abel got me some Gatorade and cookies and Abel even used a fallen palm leaf to fan me like a princess. My heart-rate returned to normal and we talked about learning to walk the pace of the jungle. To slow down, to listen to our bodies and la selva. We don’t have to get there fast, we just have to get there.

Vibing with the jungle ommmmm

I mounted the horse so we could keep moving, closed my eyes and just inhaled and exhaled slowly. I started to listen to the jungle sounds, feel the movements of the horse and the pull of the trail and just relaxed. I heard a flute in the distance behind me and thought there must be hikers nearby. I heard it again but closer and off to the left, strange. My eyes are open and scanning the thick jungle but all I see is green. The next time I hear it like a whisper in my right ear and I ask the group if anyone else hears music. Nope. Just me. Must be hallucinating. Heat stroke you know. Miguel tells me there is an alux dedicated to making music and for the rest of the trip I hear his melodies. And it makes me smile still to think of it.

The next time Teena needed a break (before melting down, smart girl), I got off the horse to walk with a new feeling. Listening and vibing with the jungle, I changed the way I walked, not forcing my pace on the place, relaxing my muscles and taking smaller, slower steps, letting the trail tell me where to step w,ith confidence, without hurry or fear. Fear, anxiety and excitement all feel the same in the gut, I decided to let excitement take over and from that moment the walk was a million times easier. No stress about keeping up or fear of falling down, just excited to keep moving forward.
Hearing alux music

We arrived at our camp much later that afternoon. It was the hardest day, really hard. Physically, mentally, emotionally tough. We were exhausted, we had pushed through some killer heat and tough hills and trails but we had made it. I thought I would want to just crash out for the next few hours but the jungle gave us a boost and the camp gave us a breather so we set off to explore and climb a pyramid! The jungle energy is a magical thing!

End part two.

El Tintal in our next episode

Coming up, El Tintal: Jungle Camp on the El Mirador Trek Guatemala.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Trek to El Mirador Guatemala: Part One

I am back from “La Caminata”, my trek to the depths of the Guatemalan jungle to explore the ancient Maya ruins of El Mirador. We walked more than 100 kms in the heat of summer, climbed endless pyramids and somewhere along the way, I discovered my own strengths and the power I hold over my own happiness. The jungle is my Emerald City of the Wizard of Oz, the trek to El Mirador was my search for courage, knowledge and love. This was not my goal, not the expected result, but a wonderful side effect of an adventurous and difficult journey.

I’ve realized there are a multitude of layers to this story and sharing in a linear, step by step way just isn’t easy. I’ve sat with my best friends attempting to relate my Guatemala experience and I get lost in the web of the tale. I try to tell the story from beginning to end, dates, times and places and I end up on a roll about the insects and animals we saw or the food we ate or the inside jokes we shared with the Dutch boys and I forget where I am in the story. Please be patient with me as I attempt to give some semblance of order to a wild and wonderful adventure.

Do NOT Be Distracted by Wild Turkeys

How did I end up in the jungle of Guatemala drinking rain water and wiping my tushie with leaves? A Facebook post of course. Teena Clipston, a fellow Canuck living in Playa del Carmen was looking for a travel partner/photographer to capture the trip and I jumped at the chance. Traveling with a “stranger” was far easier than expected, we had a great click and worked well together. I learned a lot from Teena and I hope it was mutual, we are different in many ways but the balance totally worked for me and I can say we are now great friends after surviving this trip!

Chicken Bus From Belize to Guatemala

Our journey began on a bus. Oh man did we spend a lot of time on the bus. We left Playa del Carmen shortly before midnight on the “red eye” to Belize City and arrived at the border before the crack of dawn. By 7:30 am we were on a “chicken bus” leaving Belize City headed to the Guatemala border. The driver was getting behind schedule so he tried to make up time by RACING DOWN THE HIGHWAY. We heard a long HOOOOOONK HONK HONK and a CRUNCH and felt the bus slamming into a car (nobody hurt!). We evacuated the bus in the middle of nowhere to the stench of burned rubber and asphalt and the heat of a blazing sun and joked about the possibility of getting a taxi in the surrounding fields. TADA, the universe provided us a taxi out of the ether and for $25 USD we were on our way again. 

Everyone please evacuate the bus

We crossed the border easily (border crossings in Belize and Guatemala are a whole other post) and found our Guatemala tour guide Miguel waiting for us. Teena had met him on previous trips to Guatemala so there was a level of comfort immediately. We sweaty hugged, got in his car and continued driving to the island of Flores. We checked into Hotel Sabana at 3:00, making it about 15 hours in transit by bus, taxi and car, my body was aching. We got a good rest, spent the next day interviewing organizations concerned with the conservation of the Maya biosphere reserve and enjoying the sights of Flores.

We're on a boat! In Florea, Guatemala

The day of the caminata arrived and we were up at 4 am to start ahead of the heat of the sun. We knew we had about a three or four hour drive ahead and then we would start walking. We were NERVOUS, excitement and the fear of the unknown, the anticipation was quite a rush.

Yep, she's broken

We did not anticipate the road conditions that led to a broken suspension on our van, but once again the Universal Ride Fairies blessed us with Gabriel and his beat-up pick-up to lug us the last couple of hours to the town of Carmelita. The radio barely worked but the song “Vuela Vuela” played softly as I watched the countryside go by, inhaled the aroma of the jungle and smiled contentedly and sang  to myself. 

¡Vuela, vuela!
VerĂ¡s que todo es posible (vuela, vuela)
¡Vuela! (Vuela)
Despierta tu mente

Fly fly!
You’ll see that everything is possible (fly fly)
Fly fly!
Wake up your mind

Vuela vuela

End part one

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