Thursday, September 5, 2019

El Mirador Trek Part Four: The Big Day

On top of La Danta, El Mirador

El Mirador Trek Part Four is an installment of my continuing series documenting my recent trip to Guatemala to explore the Maya Biosphere Reserve and El Mirador Mayan Ruins with Teena Clipston and Mike's Expedtions Guatemala

To catch the full story from the start, please check out these previous posts:

When we last left you, we had arrived in El Mirador camp after two days of trekking in the jungle, feeling chingona and eating watermelon. We spent the rest of the evening resting, getting set up in the tent and enjoying a most delicious bucket bath. Cold water never felt so good. Abel cooked us up a fabulous dinner and we met 'The Dutch Boys plus a Kiwi". 

The Dutch Boys and the Kiwi
This group of handsome young men kept us in stitches all night with their stories and together we even created a whole new religion, all hail the Tea Cup! Three of the four informed us that they would not be sleeping in the tents as the fourth had an incredible snore. They chose to sleep in the hammocks on the other side of camp while we foolishly tried to sleep in the tent next to Rene the Snorer. You know that howler monkeys are the loudest animal on the planet? Rene sure gave them a run for their money. We should have heeded the warnings. 

Between the howler monkeys and Rene, there wasn't a lot of sleep and I got up before dawn in search of coffee. Our fabulous guide Miguel directed me to the hammocks and brought me a piping hot cup of joe, best all-inclusive service ever. I wrote in my journal, listened to the sounds of the jungle and watched the camp come alive. El Mirador is a working archaeological site with over 200 people making it home for about 90 days of the year. This was the last day for many and I watched them walking with their packs and final paychecks to start the long trek back to civilization. 

Morning Journal Time
Today was THE day, the reason for our trek and the impetus behind the whole adventure. Teena had been invited to interview the director of the archaeological site project, Dr. Richard Hansen and we had a meeting set for early morning. Of course, as is often the case, the best laid plans often go awry and we had our meeting pushed to a little bit later. And a little later. And a little later. We didn't get to the interview until after dark but that's ok, we had the whole day to explore and play in this magical place. 

Our first stop was the most famous structure of the site, La Danta pyramid. This is the tallest pyramid in the Maya world and the largest by volume, it is an imposing structure that makes one wonder HOW they managed to build such a thing without the use of horses or the wheel. Extraordinary. From the top you have a view of jungle, lots and lots and lots of jungle. To the north we could see the top of the pyramid at Calakmul in Mexico and to the north-east is the area known as "Las Tres Banderas", "The Three Flags" where the borders of Guatemala, Belize and Mexico meet. It was exhilarating, a feeling of standing where few would ever travel and being a part of history. The only reasonable reaction was to sing The Carpenters in full voice of course, "I'm on top of the world looking down on creation". My apologies to the songbirds of the jungle for my less than extraordinary singing voice. 

The rest of the day we explored and hiked and waited for word on the radio that the interview was a go. We practically ran to the Acropolis to see the frieze of "Popol Vuh" and we actually got a bit emotional (there may have been tears). It's a striking piece of art carved in ancient stone, according to Dr. Hansen it is the depiction of the hero twins Xbalanque and Hunahpuh carrying the head of their father as written in the ancient Mayan creation story. There is some dispute as to whether this is indeed what is represented here, there are papers stating alternative opinions but regardless, it is an incredible sight to see and its importance cannot be diminished.

The amazing archaeologist Lorena Gonzalez
I was poking around the Acropolis site and turned a corner to see a beautiful woman sitting with tools and ceramics. I struck up a conversation with her and discovered that she is an AMAZING woman! Lorena Gonzalez is a Guatemalan archaeologist working at El Mirador for the last five years and as it turns out, she was responsible for new findings and excavations in this particular area of the site. I can't share photos or even tell you what the discovery was as it hasn't been published yet, HOW COOL IS THAT? I am the holder of archaeological secrets! I really clicked with Lorena and am looking forward to interviewing her and sharing her story with the world!

We covered a lot of ground that day. The site is huge and everywhere you walk, you are pretty much standing on an ancient structure. The whole city area was "paved" with limestone which of course is what led to the downfall of the civilization, DEFORESTATION destroys (and here we are repeating history). We mostly walked but also had the good fortune of getting the occasional ride with the site's crew on the all-terrain vehicle which seemed to appear at opportune times. I didn't think anything of this....until later.

I feel good on top of El Tigre pyramid
It was late afternoon and I had just taken a wee nap in the hammock before having to meet the gang at the Popol Vuh (I just love saying "Meet you at the Popol Vuh"). The ATV magically appeared and I hopped on board and started chatting with the driver (who shall remain unnamed, just in case). He asked me a question and I thought I couldn't possibly have heard him correctly, did he really just ask me out? In the middle of the jungle? Why yes, he did. He wanted to take me out to a pyramid later that evening to show me the stars. "A pasear un rato juntos". I truly wasn't expecting this, I'm sure I reacted badly with my confused blushing face and I told him I was there to work and couldn't possibly. He said he would come find me later.

The lighter side of Dr. Richard Hansen in my glasses of love
We finally got to interview the man in charge himself, the well-known archaeologist Dr. Richard Hansen. This is really Teena's part of the story to tell and I can't wait to link to her articles to share all the details of this fascinating conversation. He invited us to dine with the archaeologists and we enjoyed a fine meal and great conversation before tiredly making our way back to our camp.

I chose to sleep in the hammocks this time, the tent was too hot and I loved the idea of sleeping in open air. The guy who had asked me out showed up at my hammock. Twice. We had a lovely conversation, he whispered sweet words and I sent him packing back to his own bed. Twice. I wasn't looking for romance (or casual hammock sex). It was all quite flattering and good for my ego and self-esteem, I've been single for almost six years so a little male attention was not entirely unwelcome. I finally got to sleep with those sweet words and the song of cicadas in my head and a contented smile on my face. A day full of adventure, history, drama, intrigue and even a little romance, vaya! 

Next up El Mirador Part Five: The Return to Civilization


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