When someone suggested hiking El Mirador without a guided tour I sprung up like a spring chicken. I hadn’t heard of anyone going guideless. El Mirador is an archeological site in the middle of the jungle in Guatemala, just a rough 30 kilometers from the Mexico border.
To get there is another story. Not something you can do by jumping off the bus and landing at the entrance, there’s no road for vehicles. It’s a 2 day 63 kilometer hike in and then, 63 kilometer return. A hike through the jungle. With the elements of heat, humidity, rain and animals. Here’s my story.
After a few days of planning, lining up food, scrounging for supplies, we lock our stuff in the hostel locker, leave a note with emergency contacts behind incase we don’t return (we had no idea what to expect) and set off to the bus station. First task, get bus from Flores to Carmelita. Small, small pueblo 3-4 hours north of Flores by bus. Wish it was easy enough to go and ask one person about a bus but since it was Sunday the entire terminal had no idea.
Lesson number 1: do not trust the Guatemalan instinct. They throw us every curve ball and we’re ready to leave or take a taxi for 500Q, thinking no bus today and come back tomorrow. My hiking friend takes off to check the other market bus terminal while I watch the bags. Twenty minutes into the wait and the money man from the Camelita bus comes running in screaming ‘Carmela Carmela, Carmelita.’ I jump. HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN? Taking the risk of finding my friend in the other market, I drag the bags on the bus, explain the situation to the bus in fast, broken Spanish and we take off. As soon as we set a tire close to the market, money man and I take off running in search for my friend. I leave the bags behind. Thinking ‘man, if I loose both my friend and the bags, I’m going to be in BIG trouble!’ I sprint every road that leads up to the market, describing to people what my friend looks like, seems like everyone has had their eyes close today. Manage to loose the money man while running. I’m out of breath and back by buses. Miraculously the bus driver finds me. With my friend. YESSSS! We’ve made the bus, lost the money man, but are on the bus. The entire bus has waited for us, is laughing at the fact that I’m dripping with sweat and out of breath. But we’re on the bus today and not a day behind. Why can’t things ever be easy?
The first day of hiking is 25 km to archeological site El Tintal. They have water you can trade for. So we didn’t need to bring ALL of our water. AHHHHHh The hike with 14 liters on my back is tough. We break often. Using a GPS and maps for fun to mark progress, we slowly drag ourselves into camp. Then explore the temples and ‘sitio’ there. These Mayan sites are from 150 A.D. Crazy to be walking in the middle of the jungle and all the sudden see a half way uncovered temple 55 meters high.
The second day we’re off to take down the rest of the kilometers. The jungle is dry. But filled with life. We see parakeets. Hear toucans. Watch spider monkey in the trees above. And among other things, have groups of guided tours passing us along with their 10 mules carrying their water/packs.
My feet begin to blister. My soles are bruised. My hips are bruised from my packs weight. My knees hate me. My ankles are beginning to roll. Sweat is streaming from our faces. We roll into the Mirador site 7 hours after we started. The first set of temples we come to actually have an opening, we go inside! The temple of the dead. Bats. Scary spider/scorpion creates await inside. But its worth it.
The highlights of El Mirador are the two main temples opposite each other. El Tigre and the Danta. The Danta is another 2 km away from camp, from the summit (70 m off the ground) we watch toucanets and howler monkeys do their thing. Stunned by the structure we stand upon and the view above the jungle. The Mayan’s are quite the workers/architects. Both temples are daunting in size.
At El Mirador we find out we can get water from the workers. Again, another reminder why we didn’t need to haul all water in. I’m in so much pain I barely talk or use an emotion. Tired and beaten down, we’re heading back to El Tintal again tomorrow. Most groups spend an entire day at El Mirador. As much as I’d like that, my friend needs to get back. So we do it all again tomorrow. I wasn’t excited about leaving this site. Another day would’ve been great to explore the Maya city but it’s not happening.
To top off all the battles I’m fighting in my head from pain, it begins to rain the night we’re at El Mirador. If you’ve ever camped in the rain you understand why this isn’t a good thing. Although we left our bags under a tarped/roof area mine still managed to be completely soaked. Water ran out of it like a slow stream as I picked it up in the morning. Perrrrrfect. Already bruised and blistered. Now everything I own is soaked. We dry our clothes off with fire from other tourists. And set off back.
Again monkeys. Many orchids. Plants we’ve never seen/dreamt of. And mud. A whole pile of it! Awesome, 63 kms in mud! At one point fatigue set in, I rolled an ankle and fell. Only to be 20 minutes from the El Tintal camp.
Through all of the encounters, we made it! On our own. Without 10 mules carrying our stuff. Without paying $190/person for a tour. We ate noodles for dinners (yes I can eat noodles now) granola for breakfast and cookies for lunch. We watch the sunrise and set from the top of Mayan temples. Saw spider monkeys hang from their tails. Heard howler monkeys sing their destructive song. Appreciated mysterious jungle sounds. Sat in old ‘gum’ camps that worker left behind. Crossed tree branch bridges. Duct taped our feet. Traded for water. I drank18.5 liters of water. Walked 126 kilometers(78.3 miles) in 4 days. And have the sense of accomplishment that ‘we did this.’
I’m paying today. Still in bed. Unable to move my legs. But thinking I’d rather be me than another man I saw on the way back. He’d been riding a mule and walking. All he wanted was ‘a glass of vodka and a handful of Advil.’