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Diego and Jose's tequila tour!

Jungle trekking. Anyone mention mud?

GUATEMALA | Thursday, 8 October 2009 | Views [907]

After tossing up where to go next Diego and Jose decide to tackle some new frontiers and head into Guatemala. What ensues is a very hairy boat ride up the river to cross into Guatemala, followed by a 3 hour bus ride to Flores/Santa Elena. Guatemalan immigration was not what was expected. Within 5 minutes the busload of passengers was processed and the immigration officials were laughing and joking with us. The main piece of advice was that we needed to learn how to "make love Spanish-style" so we can get a Guatemalan wife and learn the language. We thank them for the advice but think we'll settle for taking some lessons in San Pedro!

Having endured two lengthy bus rides in the previous two days the decision is made to hang out in El Remate for a day, then go to Tikal before venturing into Belize... so we expected to stay in the area for two days at the most.

True to form, our plans remained fluid and sure enough, 6 days later, we were still in El Remate. But did we have some stories to tell.

For about $US60 our crazy guide Veronico led Diego, Jose, Micheal (our Belgian connection) and Laura (our Italian jewellery maker) into the wilderness for 5 days/4 nights. We endured river crossings, hair raising rides in the back of crowded utes (with chickens as extra passengers) and collectivo journeys that certainly pushed the 1 tonne limits of the vehicles we travelled in... but we would look back on the experience with the fondest of memories!

We started out at 6am and journeyed towards Sayaxche rather bleary eyed. Four hours later, and after a quick bite, we piled into the back of a truck for the journey towards Ceibal. Unfortunately, the truck stopped short of our destination by about 6 kilometres, so we had a rather warm walk down the track to reach the ruins. But wasn't it worth it!

Few of the ruins here have been restored, but in parts you can still see the original structures as they have stood for hundreds of years. It's quite amazing to see what appears to be a jungle covered mound only to discover that it is the base of a large temple or residential complex that is still visible on the other side. It gives a new appreciation for the work involved in restoring some of the other sights visited on the trip so far.

But, perhaps the most rewarding part of the trip turns out to be staying in the workers quarters with the guys that are responsible for managing the site. After a brisk shower provided by a bucket of water, the skies decide to aid the task of washing by opening up for us. While the rain was nice, it also attracted hundreds of flying termites to any light in the area, so eating with a headlamp shining in your food brings with it the promise of extra protein. The solution was to grab the food and quickly head into the hut to eat...

...while innocently chowing down we spot movement out of the corner of our eyes... just on the edge of the illumination provided by the torches... and what should it be but the biggest tarantula ever seen. This thing is so big that you can see the water vibrating as it takes a step. Okay, maybe it isn't quite that big, but it would easily cover the palm of your hand with your fingers outstretched. It is just what we need to make us feel comfortable in our beds that night! (How many of these things have scrambled past just outside of the light????)

After the standard coffee and cigarette breakfast (thanks Laura) we head back out along the road for the trek back to Sayaxche so we can make our way towards the next site, Dos Pilas. The question now has to be asked. How many people can you fit into a minibus that has a normal carrying capacity of 15? That's correct, 25. I begin to think that these guys should be going for a Guiness world record or something....

The rain of the previous night has fallen here as well which makes the 45 minute walk in to camp an interesting one to say the least. But after a day of sweating it out the fresh water springs that greet us at Dos Pilas are a godsend. Combine that with the amazing stelae and you have a picture perfect site. Again, we sleep in the workers quarters but this time we get individual cabins that appear to offer some degree of privacy... until you wonder what that noise is that you can hear and you realise it is the person two cabins away from you breathing!

A night walk into the ruins offered a different view of the site... but just a heads up for anyone considering this... be aware that at night one part of jungle looks much like another. Finally, Laura's GPS kicked in and we made our way back to camp after making a few laps around the same track!

The morning brought reminders for the workers that they only had 5 days left until they went back to see their wives, and it also offered us the opportunity to check out some cave systems in the area. The first of the caves required an Indiana Jones-style descent down a vine to get to the entrance. Inside you could view bats and blind cat fish, as well as the albino crabs that inhabit the cave.

The next cave was much bigger, several hundred metres long, and had remnants of earlier occupation such as clay pots and other artefacts. While the stalactites and stalagmites here lacked the colours of other cave systems in the world they were still very impressive and diverse.

With a bonfire organised for the evening, the afternoon saw another visit to the springs before a trek into town for a quiet beer. Did I say a quiet beer? We very quickly became the entertainment for the local village children as they played "watch out for the gringo" and would see how close they could get before their nerves gave out and they had to run away. We had a lot of fun watching them scramble away to apparent safety before slowly sneaking their way back again. With a few beers under our belts it was time to head back to camp to be greeted by a delicious dinner prepared from the "marrow" of a palm tree. Those guys sure knew how to cook!

Our final full day at Dos Pilas (Happy birthday Andrea) had us take a leisurely stroll to an Arroyo with more impressive stelae. On arrival, as we relaxed in the hammocks, we were startled by a rather large sound of something hitting the ground. On investigation it turned out to be a head-sized avocado that had fallen from a nearby tree. This thing was as tasty as it was large, and a few of them went nicely with lunch later that day.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip occured on arrival back at camp when we found that the next crew of workers had arrived to take over the management duties. With so many people in camp it was only natural that we organised a football match. Why was this so special? The only place grand enough for such an occasion had to be the grand plaza of the Mayan ruins. While it would be a little much to compare our experience with those of the original ball courts at the site, the tree roots and rocks that littered the field made for an interesting game, especially given that a number of players went barefoot instead of playing in their hiking boots.  Micheal´s skills with the ball and Veronico´s unique tackling technique helped the visitors off to a great start.  Blood aside, the locals gained the upper hand after being down 3-1 and in fading light the game was abandoned with many laughs (and limps!). (The International´s put the loss down to the coach not coming through on the major strategy agreed upon before the match.)

The 4am start in the morning was only made better by the fact that the rain of the previous night had ceased and the track was a little less muddy than on the way in.  By midday we were back at El Remate, and after a great meal provided by Veronico and his family, we all headed back to the hostel (Sak Luk) and to showers and/or bed. 

While the sights we saw on the trek were amazing, the most memorable part of the journey was certainly the people we encountered along the way.  Money can't put a price on that experience!

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