Saturday, March 8, 2008

Awesome, Part III: The Jungleing

OK, I'm back for our third and final round in which our protaganist conquers the jungle of Guatemala. They never saw me coming! Which is amazing considering how much time I spent crashing around in the undergrowth.

After spending the night at a hotel in El Remate, Lou picked us up and we went over to his house to pack the truck. He and Mario had tied the canoes and kayak on the night before. We drove for a couple of hours on a gravel road that was pretty bad, but they tell me it could have been worse. We'd be going along alright but would periodically come to a few yards of road bed that hadn't really survived the rainy season. Could have used a load or two of gravel. And some big rocks. And geosynthetics! It's a good thing Lou's truck has good clearance and four wheel drive. It reminded me a little of riding through the pasture with my dad, checking cows. At one point we got out to re-secure the canoes:

We made it to Paso Caballos, a small village on the San Pedro river where we started our paddle. The village, like the others we'd gone through, had lots of chickens, pigs, dogs, and horses that roamed around without restraint. None of them looked particularly well fed, and some of the horses looked positively suicidal.

We had an audience of local children as we unloaded the truck. Some men drove up who were taking a motorboat to the place we were going. They offered to transport some of our stuff for us:

That was nice, because it was necessary to carry all our water with us, so our cargo included two big water-cooler-sized plastics bottles. Mario rode with them, so it was just four in the canoes. The canoeing was lovely:

Dennis and Chantal went for a swim, and Dennis displayed his ability to propel himself out of the water like a dolphin:

Awesome. We saw some really cool plants:

There were lots of these sorts of tree parasites -- including orchids, but it wasn't the season for them to be blooming, unfortch. Eventually, we came to spot where we heard water rushing, though the water in the river was undisturbed. We landed to investigate and found this delightful spring with the water rushing out of a rock ledge:

We all went for a swim. After a bit more river paddling, we came across Mario fishing from a borrowed dugout canoe:

We'd made it to our campsite -- the Las Guacamayas Biological Field Station. It was far more luxurious than what I'd pictured. There were bathrooms with showers and screened buildings. Even the dock was covered:

After setting up the tents and familiarizing ourselves with the place, Lou dug out the bottle of rum and the fruit drinks he'd packed, and we climbed up to the bluff behind the station. There's a lookout tower built on it, from which we had a lovely place to view the sunset:

The howler monkeys were doing their thing, and the rum drinks were very tasty. Chantal even got cell phone reception. The wind started to kick up just as we were leaving, and before we could get back to camp, it was raining like crazy. We hadn't even put all the rain flies on yet! Chantal says, "Well, it is a rainforest." Indeed. After messing around unsatisfactorily with the rain flies, we threw up our hands and just picked up the tents and carried them into the nearest building. It was dry and screened in. And there they remained for the rest of our stay.

We did our cooking (if by "we" I mean Lou and Chantal) in the staff kitchen. A few men were working at the station while we were there. The kitchen had four tables on which you could build fires to cook over. The nice thing about roofs made of palm leaves is that you don't have to have a chimney; the smoke just escapes wherever, though it makes the building's interior rather blackened.

Lou kept us very well fed with a shrimp and tomato sauce over pasta the first night and a beef teryaki stir fry the next. He even packed in eggs for breakfast (only two broke) and a veritable bakery's worth of homemade breads -- wheat, banana, carrot. So friggin' good!

We made sandwiches for our lunch the next day and set out again -- an hour of canoeing and then two or three hours of hiking to get to El Peru, another Mayan site. Not much has been excavated there, so we only saw a few things. But the closer we got to the site, the more often we'd walk over some incongruous hill in the road -- probably ruins that have not been uncovered. So tantalizing! We passed through a military camp that protects both the ruins and the jungle (any unprotected jungle is mostly cut down and carted off). All these young men in fatigues with semi-automatic rifles. It ain't Itasca.

It was a long, hot walk, but so lovely. Lou and Mario pointed out all the birds, and on the way back, we got very near to a family of howler monkeys -- Mom, Dad, and baby. Awesome squared! The jungle seemed to even desensitize me to the existence of bats, to which we got close up on the water, in this little bower:

My camera battery died on the road to El Peru, but who needs it. After our long day in the jungle, we had a hearty meal and enjoyed a clear, gorgeous view of the lunar eclipse. The station staff were listening to a soccer game on the radio; the play by play was being given in that excitable-Spanish-speaking-soccer-announcer way. We pretended that he was announcing the eclipse; the level of action is comparable, I'd say.

We canoed back out the next day and I, for one, was very sunburned and bug-bitten. I wouldn't have it any other way. We made it back to El Remate by about 4:00 and after a quick goodbye to Mario and Lou, we immediately got in a van and headed for San Ignacio in Belize. We spent the night there at the Midas Resort -- my cabin was round!! So adorable.

In the morning, we were picked up and taken to this bucolic spot:

We tubed on the beautiful clear blue river through two large caves. It was a relaxing enchantment after our strenuous trip into the woods. Afterwards, our guide Juan Carlos drove us on to Corozal, Belize, and the Hotel Mirador. The next day we caught a bus back to Playa del Carmen and the adventure was over. So sad to say goodbye.

I recommend it highly!


Boomer said...

That is so gorgeous. What an experience it must have been. I can't help a bit of envy.

Night Editor said...

Some classic lines in here: "It ain't Itasca." "The cool thing about a roof made of palm leaves." Ain't it great to get away?