Pyramids and Peyote, an adventure ride in the Jungle. Part 2. â€“ Peten, Guatemala.
Adventure to Mirador: Part two. Haven’t read part one?
Day two: April 25th 2013, somewhere in the Jungle, Peten, Guatemala.
Morning monkeys. So many monkeys. I suppose the same monkeys we were apparently killing with our motorbikes.Â These ones escaped us. Sleeping with the fly off the tent allowed us to wake up to watch a whole gang of monkeys flying through the trees above us. It was great. We didn’t even need to get out of the tent.
Back on the road, we found that we had camped only about 2km from Tintal. The “midway” camp for the hikers, Tintal also comes complete with some smaller ruins. Importantly, they had water and were willing to share.
In return for the much needed water (which takes a 4 hour round trip via mule to collect) I offered to share some of our macaroni and cheese brunch with the Guardas. They happily accepted a change from beans and tortillas. To accommodate, I used three boxes of macaroni instead of two, an action that infuriated Erik. I felt we had plenty to share and things would work out just fine. He didn’t share my ideas on the matter, feeling that our limited food supplies may not last the trip now. I would soon learn why he had these concerns, as Erik needs to eat every three hours or so. At 6’6″, he’s no small boy, and when he gets hungry, others become aware of this fact. I, on the other hand, have been blessed with the hunger equivalent of a camel; often going all day without eating and thinking nothing of it. Besides, it was only Macaroni and cheese. Agreed to disagree.
Post meal, discussion began with one of the “guardas”, aka park rangers. Lionel the guarda was taking issue was us riding our motorbikes any further, since this was quite against the rules. Remembering names…
“Ah, but Lionel, we talked to Ricardo over on Los Pescaditos road. You know, at the military checkpoint? Right, him. He told us that we needed special permission from “Inguat”, but we’d have to return to Flores to get it.
Lionel noded. This was all true.
” To save us that hassle, Ricardo climbed 100 feet up into the tree to call his chief. So Ricardo talked to his chief about us you see, while he was hanging high up in a tree, and the chief said for us to come this way.”
Lionel changed his tone, since the chief was aware of our existence. I might have omitted the part where the chief had said “no”. Back on the road we go.
When I say road, I mean path, as it had narrowed some by this point.
The path was nicer in someways, in that there were no ruts, but the riding was tough and slow at times.
There occasional fallen tree to overcome, hang-up to get unstuck from and the occasional drop of Jugs to the ground. Regardless of how fast I got her up, I would lose a bit of gas, and then have to crank the starter for a bit to un-flood the motor. After a few such instances in a row on a technical section, my battery died. The terrain and the need to turn the engine over a couple times made bump starting difficult to say the least. A tow start became the only option.
Linked together with a ratchet strap, Erik towed me down the twisting, stump and root covered trail until I could bounce enough to get traction and finally, after the strap coming loose the first try, getting Jugs fired up. Awesome! Then I couldn’t stall. Stalling was not an option. 10 minutes up the trail, high-centered on a log, I stalled.
Those 10 minutes had luckily been enough to charge the battery a touch, and the bike fired right back up. Erik was now concerned with my bikes capability to continue, given the history of the clutch sticking and now the battery. I had no concerns, as in either scenario I could fix the issue. I was however becoming more mindful of how much gas we had left, given our slow travel speed and how much gas I had washed my tank bag with. At that point I started to think we might get into El Mirador, but we may never get back out again. All of these concerns were moot a few minutes later.
In all honesty, it still was “passable”. But the time, and water-using effort, it would take to “pass” such objects would shadow us in doubt.
“We can get past this. We CAN get past the next one. But: if we find many more like this down the trail and have to abandon the bikes there, then we have to come BACK over these obstacles on the way out.”
The decision was made to “hide” the bikes in the woods, then hike. If it proved passable down the trail, we would come back and get the bikes in the morning and stubbornly complete our ride to El Mirador. Then we could ride OUT the road past Ricardo and his military friends. We would sure show them!
“Scouting the trail” took 6 hours, and 20km of walking. In those 20km, we encountered 20+ “impassable objects”. Nothing is impassable of course, but these all would have required some prep-work. Not having abandoned the hope of riding to Mirador, initially we were even doing that prep-work; building ramps out of logs and moving others out of the road.
Eventually we quit doing the prep work to save daylight, but took note of where we’d need to do some work in the morning when we hiked back for the bikes… Eventually we quit doing that too. We resigned ourselves that we were not going to ride to El Mirador. The hike in was frustratingly easy. Mostly flat, with kilometers at a time of prime riding trails. Every now and then though, some giant mangled section of fallen trees would remind us why we were walking.
Our stopping to examine obstacles, combined with a longer lunch/tick removal break left us arriving to El mirador just as darkness was setting in. Or so we thought.
The misleading sign was a little deflating. It’s like when you REALLY have to go to the bathroom: after waddling for what feels like forever, you finally make it to the bathroom door and you find it to be locked. So close, yet so far… Our dreams of climbing “La Danta” that night for sunset were squashed.
When we did make it to camp, they ever so kindly had three fires lit to guide us home.
Except there was nobody to be found. Tents everywhere, we assume for archaeologists, but not one occupied. A large kitchen and dining area with space for over 100 people, empty. At dinner time. Like a scene out of a horror film, the whole place was deserted. More importantly, the kitchen was void of water too. Once again we found ourselves dry.
I had recently drunk my last drops, leaving me feeling a touch thirsty. Unlike at Tintal, there weren’t large water containers all in a stack. I found some water in a 5 gallon pail and drunk back half a liter. On second inspection, the water was a little funky looking, and I remembered that I had water purifying tablets in my bag. I put the tablets in a second liter of the murky water. Once ripe, I drank all the “purified” water. I figured it would all mix in my belly and purify the first bit of water too. Purification tablets works like that right?
Erik figured there must be another camp somewhere, since we knew a group of tourists had left Tintal before us, and we hadn’t passed them or seen them yet. More exploring in the dark led us to find this was indeed the case.
We decided we would omit the fact that we were on motorbikes, to prevent possible theft, but also since we were breaking a number of rules simply having them in the national park, and didn’t want to cause ourselves unneeded trouble. It was some surprise then, when one of the British tourists we encountered piped up “hey you guys are the ones on motorbikes right?”. Ummmmm. Were we wearing gear? Anything motorcycle related in our possession? No. The chap had met us in Flores two days before. So much for that plan. Captain identification was handy though, pointing us over to where the Guarda station was, noting that they had non-murky water there.
At the Guarda station, Erik and I waltzed in and sat down. Striking up conversation in our average spanish, the at first standoffish Guardas quickly lightened when they heard we had no guide and had come in on our own. They gave us coffee, and fed us some tasty corn tortillas with butter. They even challenged us to a game of basketball in the morning. We shared our cheese with them while they continued force feeding us, saying they wanted us to “get really heavy” to give them an advantage in the game.
While we were eating, one of the Guarda’s asked where our tent was. Pointing it out to them, they picked it up and asked where we’d like to sleep. Seriously? Seriously. I offered to come give instructions, but they insisted that we sit and gain weight while they figured out how to build our tent. 5 minutes later, our tent was set up for us.
Not having to worry about water or food rations anymore (they offered to continue fattening us up), and having missed sunset on La Danta, Erik and I decided to stay the whole next day to explore the area.
Retiring early to get a restful nights sleep didn’t quite work out as planned. Apparently my attractiveness to ticks remains strong. Very strong.
With no tweezers available, I used the scissors in my leatherman to pinch the little jerks and pull them out. Then crushed them. Then noticed that the ticks come in a variety of sizes, with little tiny ones mixed in too. By the end of the tick session I was getting pretty good at it. 40+ ticks. Two and a half hours of tick removal later, I was finally able to go to sleep in my tent that the Guardas had set up for us.
Day 3: April 26, 2013 El Mirador, Peten, Guatemala
I tick checked myself over again before breakfast and, once all clear, joined the Guardas and Erik for breakfast. Beans, sardines in tomato sauce and tortillas. And lots of it. Too much really, but with only a little left we split it in two and ate half each. Except Erik didn’t eat his half. Not wanting to be impolite and waste food, I stuffed down the last stack of beans and tortilla to finish it off. I was full. Very full.
Erik felt a little uncomfortable taking their food, and wanted to offer the guys some cash to compensate. I was in agreement, though I would have offered it before we left, not in the middle of our stay. Regardless, we offered 100 Quetzals and Guarda Josue (Ho-sway) accepted.
Today was the day to explore El Mirador, and Guarda Josue offered to tour us around. It was also the day to eat some cactus.
Back while I was in Mexico, a friend offered me some peyote. Peyote is a cactus that has some mind opening effects, used by Mexican natives for hundreds of years in ceremonies. I was told to take it when somewhere special. I figured visiting the largest pyramid in the world after a difficult journey out was a sufficient degree of special.
Mixing the green pulverized plant with water, we drank it back. It tasted TERRIBLE. Feeling like a blimp already from breakfast, the flavour wasn’t helping me get it down. Regardless, we both managed to drink it all and began waddling around El Mirador, following Josue to explore the other pyramids and structures that exist there. Only 10 percent of Mirador has been unearthed, so much of the large pyramids simply look like large, tree-covered mounds.
It was a beautiful day, though warming up fast. After almost an hour of walking around, the combination of the heat, the exercise, the large quantity of breakfast in my belly and, perhaps most importantly, the cactus slurry sloshing around on top, eventually took its toll.
I immediately felt better. Though the cactus was already having it’s effect. I immediately pondered how this might effect the rest of the day.
Our tour ended soon after. I was now calling Erik “Ernesto” constantly, and Ernesto now felt like a cactus and was moving slowly. We relieved Josue of his tour guide duties. Both Ernesto and I felt a strong desire to lay in hammocks.
I felt incredibly pleasant the rest of the day. Ernesto, not having vomited up any of his cactus, was notably more affected by it.
Aside from taking photos of a turkey for hours, the rest of the afternoon was spent talking and exploring without a hitch. Oh, except for the hitch.
I distinctly remember thinking on the way in how screwed we would be if it rained. The dried mud on the trail was difficult enough. WET mud would be unfathomable to navigate, never mind the wet roots and trees covered in it. This rain… this was a bad thing.
One of the guides had told us not to worry, “it doesn’t start to really rain until May”. Being the 26th of April, this was little consolation to us. The rain absolutely poured on us for over an hour before the sky started to clear. The only good that came from the storm was that it washed some of the haze out of the sky.Â Sunset at the El Dante pyramid would be good that night. Our ride tomorrow… well we didn’t want to think about.
The hike to El Dante was about 30 minutes from camp… It took us around 45.
When we finally did arrive at “La Danta”, it was pretty impressive. And steep. Climbing up the front face pyramid is strictly forbidden since someone fell doing so years ago.
There are stairs built up around back, but climbing up the front face was far more enjoyable. Once up top… well worth the trip.
The difficulties getting here, getting to the top of La Danta, really made it that little bit more special. As the sun set, sipping some whiskey, looking over the jungle with my new motorbike amigo Ernesto… this was one of those moments.
Guarda Josue motioned that we should get going. Walking in the jungle at night is dangerous… and of course also against the rules.
But soon “walking in the jungle at night” we did, and it allowed us to see our favorite green-eye glow bugs. Tonight they were downright spectacular for some reason. Almost worth the trip in Guatemala just to see these guys. I present to you “Jungle Glowbug at night, with Philip Davidson”:
Josue also pointed out a tarantula home. Neat stuff!
Josue was walking with a mildly irritating American girl, and the two of them were far faster than Ernesto was capable of. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except my headlamp was broken, and Ernesto’s batteries were fading fast. It gets dark quickly in the jungle. Josue and the American would keep taking off again with their lights. We walked most of the way back slowly, using our feet to read the braille of the jungle floor.
Dinner was served upon our arrival back to camp, again frijoles (beans) and tortillas, with some rice. Like the walk home, dinner wasn’t trouble free; Ernesto was having trouble with his Frijoles.
“Los frijoles bailar” Ernesto explained to myself and our hosts. The beans are dancing. I looked at my beans; no dancing.
“I can’t eat them when they’re dancing like that”.
Ernesto picked out the dancing beans and threw them over his shoulder, then went back to eating dinner.
We never did play a game of basketball with the Guardas.
Day 4: April 27th, 2013. The return from El Mirador, Peten, Guatemala
We got a very early start, but made time for breakfast.
After yesterdays rains, we had no idea what lie ahead for us. Regardless, we wanted as much time as possible to deal with it. After breakfast, we said goodbyes and thank yous, filled our waters, packed quickly and set out at a brisk pace. Regardless of the condition it’s in, we had a long road ahead.
Our attempts at hiding the motorbikes had failed. A couple hours into the hike out we met a tour group hiking in. “Are you the crazy Canadian bikers?! We saw your bikes, don’t worry, we didn’t steal anything, just lifted the cover to take a look and see the plates”. They were excited and seemed friendly enough. Still, when I took a glance at their mules I couldn’t help but look for the outline of motorcycle parts.
After taking 6 hours to hike in, we made it back to the bikes in a little over 4 hours. The main difference being that we hadn’t been stopping to re-arrange logs. We were riding back out the way we rode in.
The path was not mud. This we were incredibly thankful for. The ride out we found ourselves riding over obstacles better and generally faster than our way in. Practice makes perfect. The 6km jaunt back to Tintal was quite quick.
After a quick lunch stop to say hello again to Guarda Lionel and refill our waters, we set back out on the road. (P.s. He very much enjoyed the macaroni and cheese we left him.)
I was following behind Ernesto, and for the most part I was right on his tail. We were making good time. Even when a bike got hung up on a log or otherwise, we were efficient at getting them unstuck and back rolling. In doing so, I noticed how light my tank felt, and knew gas would be tight. Fortunately I had a spare 5L gas can that was still dangling off the back of an ammo can, despite the beating it took on the way in.
We stopped for a quick break and to let the bikes cool down after some difficult bits.
We set forth once more, Ernesto out front, me right behind and both making good time yet again. Up over a rise, and around a corner, then a short 5 meter diversion in the trees around a fallen log. I didn’t make it. ‘Jugs’ sputtered and ran out of gas before I got back to the trail. Flipped to reserve, but the bike wouldn’t start up. I tried cranking it over a few more times, but not wanting to have a repeat tow job, I gave it a rest to save the battery. Was my reserve switch not working? Either way, on reserve I wouldn’t have enough gas to get back to Carmelita. I unlocked the gas can, put the lock on top of my bike and pulled the can out of the disheveled cage. The gas can got caught on something, and the force of the snag resulted in my bike tumbling over onto its side. Darn it. Picked the bike back up and poured half the gas can in. After putting the gas can back in it’s cage, I stood up into a branch; soundly connecting my skull to the rough bark. Darn it! And now where did that lock go? Darn it! And what the heck is going on, I’ve been dealing with this for the last 10 minutes, where the heck is Ernesto?! DARN IT! I walked up the trail a ways to see if I could see him. Right after the diversion, the trail became quite smooth and nice for a ways. Maybe he had gotten up ahead a bit and knowing we were short on gas didn’t want to ride back?
The missing lock had launched off the bike into the leaves on the ground that were conveniently the same golden colour. Given that the lock was all that was actually holding the gas can on the bike, I needed that lock. 10 more minutes of searching on my hands and knees and much swearing later I found the lock not 5 feet from the bike. Darn it! And where the hell is Ernesto, seriously? I could have my leg caught under the bike for all he knows! Darn it all!
After about 20 minutes of being stranded, I finally got my bike started again and started to make up ground on Ernesto. The trail was indeed nicer in this section, so perhaps he did just get way ahead. But 20 minutes?! You’d think he’d notice I wasn’t behind him. Wait, what if he thinks I passed him somehow and is he is trying to catch me? Geez he could be ages ahead.
I rode for 4Km thinking angry thoughts about how Ernesto could possibly have left me behind before it suddenly dawned on me that maybe I had left HIM behind. It was nearly impossible. I was following him, and almost always within sight. But maybe in that moment where he turned the corner something happened and I somehow passed him, then ran out of gas moments later. No. Not possible. I was right behind him. But maybe? I don’t know. If I did somehow pass him, then run out of gas and dick around for 20 minutes, and now I’m 4km up the road…
He could have HIS leg stuck under HIS bike. I suddenly had a sensation of panic. What if I’m the asshole who just left HIM behind? I had to go back to check.
I stopped and wrote a note in case Ernesto was up ahead and came back. At least he could save a bit of gas. Then my kickstand sank in the clay and the bike fell over.
Without Ernesto there to help lift the bike while I got the kickstand up, I was left digging a hole in the compacted clay-based dirt. This is insanity. I’m not sure where my friend is, I’ve gone from thinking he’s a total ass to realizing maybe I’m the asshole and he’s stuck in some thorns, and now I’m trying to dig a hole in the toughest dirt on earth. DARN IT!
Finally able to get the kickstand up, I threw any extra weight I could into a pile and put the note on top. I really, really, really hoped I would come back to find Ernesto reading that note.
About a kilometer backtracking down the road, I found Ernesto riding towards me.
“How do you feel about yourself right now?” he asked.
The answer didn’t matter. For the last hour or so every angry thought I had towards Ernesto for abandoning me should have been pointed at myself. Those thoughts were certainly justly pointed towards me from his side. I apologized and explained what had happened from my end. Ernesto seemed surprised to hear about me running out of gas and being stuck myself, but he just wanted to ride: “Let’s just go”.
We stopped briefly to pick up my stuff and repack my bike. The previously triumphant mood from making good time after an epic trip had turned palpably sour. Not much more was said. It was a somber ride. I had left him abandoned stuck on the trail after all.
Once in Carmelita, we parked the bikes and asked around for much needed gasoline. Even with all that happened, we still made it out in ok time. We could still make it back to El Remate in daylight. Some kids eventually sourced some gas for us at a much inflated price. At that very moment, I noticed my jacket was gone. Darn it!
After initially thinking someone had stolen it, I realized that it could have fallen off after I repacked the bike mid trail. I had been hurrying, perhaps I didn’t strap it down very well? A very brief discussion followed. Ernesto would carry on after he got gas, possibly meeting down the road. I would go back for the jacket. It was getting late, and we had a long dirt road ride still ahead of us.
I found my Jacket 3km back up the trail. I rocketed there in a third of the time it had taken us to ride it before. I was racing the sun, and did not want to be stuck on the dirt road at night. I was already tired enough as it was, and had lost my glasses I wear for night riding along the trail days before.
The gas boys told me that Ernesto had left about 15 minutes ago. Off I went, rocketing down the gravel road and under the Carmelita barricade for a fourth and final time.
Not rocketing for long though, as I soon ran out of gas. This time I switched to reserve while still rolling and even still the motor quit. That’s a problem. I poured the rest of the gas from the gas can in, carefully keeping track of the lock this time. That gas got me to our beer stop from our first day, where I was able to buy their last Gallon for 50Q (6.25$US). Previous roadside inquiries all led me to this one and only gas vendor, haggling was not tolerated well.
Before leaving, I asked if they had seen another motorbike like mine pass through. They had, about 20 minutes prior. Good. I knew Ernesto was still ahead. I continued to check that he was still in front of me with anyone I passed standing beside the road. I even stopped at other barricades to ask them. Turns out all the other barricade men weren’t charging after all, just security/traffic control. And they had all seen Ernesto pass by. Good. There was still a bit of daylight, and I was getting closer to pavement.
It wouldn’t be an adventure if it didn’t have one final twist. And on that final twist, I was going too fast. I hit the dirt going about 40km/h, after skidding out a bit then going high side off the bike. I was injury free, but concerned about losing gas from my leaky gas cap. I ran to jugs and got it upright quickly. So quickly that it fell right over on the other side. Darn it!!
I was exhausted, going too fast and making mistakes. I used my foot to bend my pannier frame back into a shape that would hold the boxes out, and continued home. I thankfully made it to pavement before sunset, and I arrived alive at home an hour and a half later, well after dark. I walked in to find Ernesto showing off his ball rash to the girls. Things were going to be ok.
How did I leave Ernesto behind?
We’ve discussed this several times since our Journey to El Mirador. What we’ve pieced together:
Ernesto went over the rise, turned the corner and chose one of a few path options. On the path he chose, he got hung up on a log. I immediately passed him on a different nearby path. Any of these diverting paths all very soon after meet up with each other. I didn’t even notice the other paths. Ernesto watched me go by, even honked his horn. I didn’t see or hear him. Seconds later I ran out of gas.
While I was dealing with my gasoline issues, Ernesto was trying to free his bike himself. He figured I had seen him and would come back to lend him a hand. He continued trying to free himself for a good while. When he realized he would not be able to get unstuck on his own, he started to walk up the trail to find me for some help. By this time, I had solved my issues and taken off, thinking I was still chasing him down the trail.
He walked about 1.5km up the trail, on an ankle that was injured after getting hung up on a root. When I wasn’t anywhere to be found, he walked back, muttering profanities in my direction I’m sure. Ernesto used a small tree to pry his bike off the log, tearing apart his stock plastic skid plate in the process. Now freed, he continued up the trail behind me. Eventually he met me on my way back to look for him.
We are still friends, and that is the only reason why: when we met up again I was going back to look for him. There was no one else who would have come by to help had he been seriously injured. Fortunately, we’ll have the chance to go for another adventure in the future. Just have to let that jungle ball rash heal up first.