EL MIRADOR hike in the GUATEMALAN JUNGLE !!!
Discover this gem, and yourself... even with kids !
28 December 2011 – 1 January 2012
A firsthand account of a short, intense, five-day hike of yours truly (Patrick), his two kids (13 & 16) and a Dutch family of four (parents and two kids, 9 & 13) to the EL DANTE pyramid, the highest Mayan pyramid (over 70 meters or 240 ft).
Day 1: 28 December 2011
Flight from Guatemala City to Flores, arrival at 7:30 a.m.
In retrospect, our party of seven should not have gone for a lovely but time-consuming breakfast at Pollo Campero's and our minibus should have been stacked with food and supplies and ready to go at half seven. We only left at 10 a.m. for CARMELITA, a three-hour journey along a bumpy dirt-road. Luckily, the minibus only got stuck once in the mud, so we only got one free mud bath.
We had a quick lunch in Carmelita (ham and cheese sandwiches), loaded our donkeys with food, supplies and water (22 litres or 6 gallons per person) and tried to leave as soon as humanly possible. Easier said than done with kids moaning about the sandwiches, struggling to tie their shoelaces and getting on their parents' nerves. But we managed to set off one hour after arriving in Carmelita. In the pouring rain. As we all had forgotten our rain jackets, we had to make do with bin bags. It's 2:20 p.m., the sun sets at 5:30 p.m., we've got a six-hour hike in front of us and the Dutch clients didn't bring their flashlights...
By 5:30 p.m. It's starting to get dark. Nine-year-old Stef has already had an extra free mud bath, tripping. One hour later, his sister, Lise, followed suit. Before it gets really dark, we reach a campamento, where we get a cup of coffee or tea, as well as two flashlights. All the other tourists present are on the way back from their hike through the jungle.
After only ten minutes, we set off again, and by now it's really dark. It's raining and our shoes get sucked in the mud. We're struggling to press on and I see the despair on the faces of the others in the light of my flashlight. My daughter told me afterwards she was hoping to get bitten by a snake, so she would have needed to return to the civilized world in order to get treatment. Alas, there is no turning back and by 8:30 p.m. we reach El Tintal, where Ingrid and David have already prepared a lovely meal for our party. Ingrid is an experienced cook and she'll be making loads of tortillas during this hike, as well as beans, although the latter don't appear to be very popular.
The campsite is quite comfortable. There are basic toilets with toilet paper and we've got tents with mattresses and sleeping bags, the tents themselves sitting under a thatched roof. It's not as primitive as I had imagined it would be, I'm pleasantly surprised. In short, you arrive at the campsite, pick a tent, take off your shoes, enjoy a lovely meal, hit the sack and sleep like a log. Nighty night, hope the bedbugs don't bite.
Day 2: 29 December 2011
It's the early bird that catches the worm. We make an early start after enjoying hearty pancakes with honey for breakfast. At the campsite, you can already enjoy a cup of instant coffee at 5 a.m., as the cooks are already out and about at 4 a.m. A shower is something you cannot enjoy, as there isn't one. Just a quick wash of hands and face will have to make do, which is fine by the kids. We put on mosquito repellent cream, which will protect us against mosquitoes but unfortunately not against ants, as we'll discover later on.
The sun is out and will stay out for the remainder of our five-day hike. This isn't the rainy season, although there is always a chance of rain.
The trail isn't as muddy anymore and we make good progress. We're all in a better mood than yesterday, everyone is relaxed. But we soon realize this hike is much too strenuous for nine-year-old Stef. Luckily we paid for an extra donkey for emergencies like this one. Stef gets on its back and won't get off it for most of the following days. Our expedition is saved. Mental note: this hike is not suited for kids under ten.
As we press on, our guide tells about the sacbe, a sort of Mayan Champs-Elysées connecting their cities. He tells about the trees and the plants and the chicleros, people who climb trees to harvest latex from them (7 quetzals per pound). He tells about animal life in the jungle and treasure hunters, as we pass several small sites that have been looted.
It's quite a challenging walk but it's different from what I had expected. There are few animals and the trees are rather small. They're not giants you can't see the top of, laden with lianas and Tarzan swinging from tree to tree. I fear Tarzan would be in for a surprise meeting with the ground, were he to try and do that over here.
Lunch consists of an apple and tuna sandwiches. As the kids realize lunch is on a take it or leave it basis, they take it, half-heartedly.
After 8 hours of walking (Stef spent 75% of the time on the donkey's back) we reach the archaeological site LA MUERTE, or death. Suddenly, yours truly - 51 of age and not an athlete – feels his muscles and feetare sore, as well as other parts of his body. Heidi, the mother of Stef and Lise, isn't also feeling very well. Nevertheless, we start exploring the site. We enter the temples (there are two on this site) but I refrain from crawling on all fours to reach certain parts, afraid I won't be able to get up again. My kids press on and take over my role as translator. They translate into English for my Dutch clients what the guide says in Spanish. At last ! Their expensive training pays off !
It's then another half-hour walk to the El Mirador campamento but it seems to last an eternity. The pain is killing me and it takes me one hour to complete the final stretch of this day's hike. But once again, as we arrive, dinner is already waiting for us. After that, I go and pay for a shower at the local CONAP centre. We're all tired and we all go to bed at 8 p.m. and sleep till 6 a.m.
Day 3: 30 December 2011
A fairly quiet day exploring the archaeological site EL MIRADOR. Byron will be our eager and skilful guide for this visit. I have little knowledge about the early Classic Maya period and don't have high expectations but I will be pleasantly surprised. This will prove to be a magnificent site indeed.
The campsite is quite busy, with - astonishingly - lots of locals hiking to the site. As a result, it's very unlikely you'll be the only visitor.
In the morning, we visit the EL DANTE temple, which is high and more importantly dry, as the sun is out again. We climb the temple and get a surprise when we reach the top: fresh fruits, pineapple and papaya. Feasting our eyes on the vast forest stretching to the horizon, we indulge in nature's gifts.
Later, Ester, my daughter, will show me a photo of Elias, my son, ignoring all prohibitions and climbing the temple via its stone stairs and not via the wooden staircase, without me knowing this !
All over this site howler monkeys can be heard, rather small creatures that make an enormous racket. The place is infested with ants, which climb up your trousers. Luckily they bite before they reach the more delicate areas of our bodies. Not that it's fun to be bitten but it allows you to kill them in time. Okay, it can be fun when you see someone else jumping around to get rid of an ant in their trousers.
In the afternoon, we visited several structures closer to 'home' and at night, we watched the sunset on top of the Tiger - El Tigre – pyramid. There are no tigers in Guatemala but in Mexico, a jaguar is said to have been a tiger for quite some time. Suits me.
It was a lovely day with little hiking and much to see, too much to see it all. The kids are relaxed, they tell jokes... The linguistic barrier is gradually coming down.
Days 4 & 5: 31 December 2011 & 1 January 2012
In short, we're hiking back along the trail we followed on days 1 & 2. We recognize the skull of a donkey that died on the trail, the looted Mayan temples, the bags of latex on the Chicle trees, and even the ant tracks. Walking is quite relaxed and we chat among ourselves.
After lunch, Ester and Elias decide to 'walk along' with the cook, her help and their donkeys. They make a head start to get everything ready by the time the rest of us reach the campsite. Unfortunately for my kids, they won't be walking, they'll be running. For hours on end, they'll have to keep up with the relentless pace of the donkeys. And they do, without ever stopping. It helps that the trail has dried up by now, no more drudging in the mud.
Day 5 should be the easiest and shortest day of the hike but now we're following the same track as the donkeys. They bury their legs deep in the mud when walking, making their 'highway' an extremely funny thing to walk, a mix of water, holes and mud. It takes us three hours to complete the last seven kilometres. The water seeps into our shoes, our feet get wet... But in the distance Carmelita waits, and when we arrive around 1 p.m., we get a New Year present: a Mayan pastel, a big loaf of bread, made by Luis Lopez, our local guide in Flores.
Tip: have your dirty clothes washed in one of the laundrettes in Flores. Our clothes were squeaky-clean for only 60 quetzals.
This hike is not suitable for everyone. You have to be in good shape, both physically and mentally. We met three groups that were experiencing major difficulties. One group had to have extra donkeys brought in from Carmelita, as they were unwilling or unable to continue their journey.
This hike is not suitable for children under 10.
Even though the terrain is flat, there are several steep climbs (10 to 15 minutes). Even though you're hardly carrying any of your stuff yourself, this can be difficult for some people.
You only carry 1 litre of water when walking. At regular intervals, you'll be able to fill your bottle up. We were seven and had five people accompanying us: the cook, her help, the guide and two donkey drivers. They get an honest pay and they know what they are doing. They are experienced and leave nothing to chance.
How is that spam
Agree with EMH and doubt we'll see another post from Patrick, but we'll keep this one.
Who is online
Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest