Tikal is where the Mayan ruins are located. The Mayan ruins are located in the middle of the jungle. I wasn't quite sure what this meant. I thought i knew what it means. The Mayan ruins are in the jungle. Yes, that sentence makes sense to me. I understand it. Jungle, I know what that is. Except not really, i don't. When I was there, surrounded by unfamiliar wildness of fauna and flora, I realized I had a hard time accepting or believing i was actually in the WILD. This isn't man-made? What? I mean, I've been in the woods and the mountains and i guess that's wild, but deer or even moose just don't seem that wild to me. I don't know why. I guess this was different because the jungle was a whole new kind of wild. I felt like we were in Jurassic Park. I wasn't sure what I was in for, but it was going to be an adventure, (and I love an adventure). Just me, Sean, and of course, Luis.
Let me tell you about Luis. Luis was our guide who Anastasio found for us, and was a man of Maya descent, who grew up in a village and knows everything there is to know about Tikal, and more. The first glimpse I caught of Luis was when we were at the meeting place where our driver Antasasio took us. Sean and I sat in the car while Anastasio got out and talked to Luis. Anastasio returned to the car, laughing, he and Sean exchanged some Spanish words and I looked up to see Luis flying like the wind on his bicycle, pedaling as fast as he could. I asked what was up, and Sean told me that Luis had told Anatasio that he'd forgotten his belt and without it, his pants would fall, so he had to run home to get it.
I'm not sure I have a single picture of Luis's face, and maybe it's better that way. He was a mystical creature, from the get-go. He was like this wild jungle man. And a shaman. He was so odd and talked about mystical things as if they were fact and as if they were obviously so to us, as well. He talked a lot about astrology and how he lived off the earth. He was a GEM.
Here's a picture:
I'm also not sure I can convey to you how hilarious/crazy Luis was. I swear to you, he was half the reason why the trip was so awesome. As we were hiking, he found a turkey feather and stuck it in his hat. (in pic) He would be taking us along and we'd step inside an entryway of a ruin and he would stop mid-sentence, close his eyes, cup his ears and then extend his hands out to each side and hum a low, deep hum. Sean and I would just stare at each other, wide-eyed and highly amused. Much of the the hike was Luis guiding us with Sean in the middle and me on the end. Several times, Luis would say something and Sean would turn around and give me this look:
And I would be quietly laughing to myself while keeping an eagle eye out for venomous snakes and weird predators.
Luis said/did many many wonderful things that were interesting, crazy, and always entertaining. I tried to record as many Luis-isms as I could and will intersperse them throughout the post. And now we begin our journey into the jungle.
Before we started the hike, Luis pointed out some wildlife. First, an alligator in the water there. Oh hello.
This giant mound is an army ant home. Army ants, roughly the size of my arm, will bite you. ANd not only will they bite you, but they will stay there, biting you. Sean stopped short once, rolled up his pants, and had to yank off an ant that has his jaws buried in his knee. Wow. These things were killer and we spent 90% of the hike looking down at our feet.
p.s. Those larger holes are tarantula homes. Neat.
I was beginning to wonder where in heck I had put myself. I love the outdoors but this was absolutely uncharted territory. I was hearing completely alien sounds, was surrounded be creatures that were wild and totally new to me, and it was all kind of surprising and a bit to take in. Here's a video clip:
Though there were weird sounds, i don't think my tiny camera picked up the howler monkeys. Their howls were terrifying. Never in my life have i heard such a sound.
Let us go for a walk in the jungle. (I have a lot of video footage and i am putting it in! I wanted to give you the best experience I could. I'm sorry if this is painfully boring. It'll be over soon.)
Actually you may be able to hear the howler monkeys in that one. That constant low whistle in the distance that you think is the wind? It's not the wind. It was nowhere near windy.
In mid-sentence, Luis stops in his tracks, starts sniffing and cups his ears, drawing his hands out to either side. He then points out and says abruptly: "Wildcat, 50 yards north, coming this way." We stare. He says, "It's like being downwind from a lion's cage." We still stare. Luis says, "you know, it smells like urine and rotting bone marrow." And then he immediately picks up where he left off and we continue on. You know, rotting bone marrow. Oh right, THAT smell. ha.
We packed ourselves with water but of course, the jungle being the jungle, it was just ridiculously hot and humid. We were covered with vines and trees and so weren't in the sun, but it was hot, very humid, and we tried to be careful. And then we decided to climb Mt. Everest:
The view was insane.
Funny thing. Either i am beyond out of shape, so far out of shape that I've completely separated myself and am hundreds of yards away from shape, or being in a hot humid climate does a number on your body. After descending the mountain, my legs cramped like i've never felt. They started clenching involuntarily and i almost fell over. It was funny and weird, and they hurt. But not wanting to make Luis wait, we resisted resting, and moved on.
Luis was talking about Mayan history. Suddenly he stops short, (seriously--short. I almost ran into him), cups his hands around his ears and, again, brings them slowly out to the side. He then points out and says, "Toucan. But far away." And we proceed.
Some crazy cool ruins.
Do you see the face behind the steps?
Here is where Luis would do some spontaneous loud clapping to check the acoustics of the ruins. He would do this periodically and suddenly, with no warning as he was telling you the history of the Mayan people.
We were hiking along and came to a clearing. Without pausing, Luis pointed at a hiker who had paused to sit and rest on a tree stump, and he said, "you don't want to sit there. Snakes." And we kept right on walking.
We asked Luis to take our picture in front of the giant Mayan temple. Luis was more than glad to do this for us and ended up first, hunching over a bit to take our pic. Then second, he crouched down. He decided this wasn't good enough and so he went completely belly-down on the ground. ha ha ha. I wish i had a picture of him taking our picture.
I did manage to catch a bit of footage of Luis telling us about something. Why there aren't written records of the Mayan people? I'm not sure. I tried to be discreet. But, you can get a good idea of how he would stop in his tracks, turn and tell us something, and then about-face & move on. Love it.
Luis had a book where, using your birthdate, you can calculate and look up what your Mayan sign is and what it means. When he calculated mine, he saw I was the jaguar and he literally gasped and took a step back. He had this serious and totally solemn look on his face. I tried really, really hard not to be amused by all of this. Aside from that, jaguar? COOL.
As Luis was telling us a story, I looked to the side and saw some palm branches falling. That's weird, I thought. Why would leaves and twigs just suddenly drop like that? I looked up high and lo and behold, MONKEYS!!! Not howler monkeys but spider monkeys, which are sort of creepy, but we were psyched. Some video:
Here are some still shots.
Monkeys are cool.
In addition to other ruins, there were 5, i think? great big temples. We climbed to the top of 2. The first one is where we almost died part 1, and the 2nd one was where we almost died part 2. The views are spectacular. I love how you can see the other temples in the treetops.
"I know what all of the herbs and plants here do. You can use anything for medicine. Using just the plants that grow here, I can cure ANY disease or illness. ANY. Well, except for pancreatic cancer."
I saw this crazy spider as we were descending temple #4. Coooool. And creepy. But cool. It was about the size of the palm of my hand.
Some more ruins
This is a throne.
The hike was spent listening to Luis' fantastical tales, climbing super steep temples, taking crazy pictures, smelling the jungle smells, hearing the jungle sounds, seeing the glorious sights, and sweating our absolute weight's worth. I am not kidding you. It's the kind of sweat where you've long stopped trying to wipe it off. You just let it go and sometimes you may have a drip hanging off your nose. Oh well. We drank water throughout our hike but with no rest and the conditions being what they were, after the 4 hours, I was feeling it. I told Sean, "Ok, i think i'm ready." And that could have been translated to mean "I think I might curl up among the knotted tree roots--snakes be damned--and die, if that's ok. I've lived a good life. And I mean, what a way to go, after having seen and experienced all of this." Sean knew what i meant so he told Luis we were about ready to be done and so Luis directed us back to the entrance.
I thought this picture was nice and jungley.
The knotted tree roots that could have been a nice death bed:
As we walked along, my body moving by habit alone, Luis continued his story-telling and explanations for things to Sean as I willed my body to just keep moving. And here is my favorite Luis quote of all. A dialogue:
Luis: "They say all Native Americans come from Asia. But guess what, all of the people here have either O positive or O negative blood."
Sean: "And why is that?"
Luis: "Because we all came from Atlantis."
(Jen silently laughing)
Sean: "Oh... and where is Atlantis"
Luis: "In the Caribbean Sea, of course."
By this time I am just completely delirious and 100% ill. I start laughing at how sick I feel, that I'm in the jungle, that I saw such amazing sights and that we had Luis as our guide, and we find our way to this hut of a restaurant and sit at a table. I down 2 tall bottles of water in 7 1/2 seconds and of course any sight of food disgusts me even though i have zero energy and my stomach has started to eat itself. (gross) I am in awe of how totally exhausted I am and sick to my stomach I feel. Sean and I just look at each other. It was all so surreal. We laugh.
Anastasio is there to take us back. As Sean is paying Luis for his priceless tour guiding, I told him we were so lucky to have him as our guide and I'm just going to sit down right here on this rock. Before I can pass out, we open the van doors and i jump in. There was another couple in there going the same direction and they were a lot of fun and we shared our stories and had some good laughs. I said some weird things and in my stupor said, "Mm, nevermind. Heat stroke! It's the heat stroke talking." Feeling the AC on my face is a huge relief and we drive back to our hotel, Del Patio (in case you forgot).
About 20 minutes before we arrive, I tell Sean, "Wow, I'm not feeling so good. Wow, I'm.. feeling feverish?" We get to Del Patio, we pay Anasasio and bid him farewell, I stumble up to our room, wash my feet, and collapse onto the bed, in a full fit of fever and icy chills. I climbed under the bed covers and shivered endlessly and poor Sean refrained from turning on the AC because i was so cold even though it was a thousand degrees in there. All I did for hours was lie there and shiver. Perhaps i should not have had covers on my body since i was boiling hot underneath but you know how it is. I did manage to consume 3 more bottles of water. Sean managed to snap a picture of me. Nice.
The rest of the day was spent like this. Napping, television, a lizard on the wall. Oh, did i not mention that? I have a blip:
Usually when you look up in your room and see something tiny crawling along the wall where it meets the ceiling, it is a bug. But no. Ours is a tiiiiny lizard. He was so small. I wanted to catch him and keep him for a pet.
He could not have been longer than an inch. Tiny cute lizard. I think he helped me stay alive. I was so confused as to why I was feeling this way. A fever? I was like, "Sean, DO i have heat stroke?? What is going on?" I knew heat stroke is worse than heat exhaustion but my camp certification days had only taught me: if your face is red (exhaustion), raise the head. If your face is pale (stroke), raise the tail." This was useless to me now! What were the other symptoms? My face had been pale in the car, but i had cooled down, I thought. I became very nervous, especially since we were due to fly out to Guatemala City in the morning. I can't fly like this!! I stayed in bed all day and hoped and prayed i would live through the night. Sean ordered a TON of room service and we had a feast. I ate a salad and inhaled some fruit (Fruit...oh blessed fruit. I ate it at every opportunity on this trip) and of course, water.
Here's something interesting. I wrote this as a separate blog post about a month ago and saved as a draft. I read it again after I got back from our trip. Oh Jen. Such foreshadowing:
I get lazy when it comes to drinking enough water. I don't do it. And even when I feel a bit dehydrated and pour myself some, I'm still lazy, too lazy to pour a full glass, and i pour myself about 1/2 cup at a time and come back and do it again several more times. I get bored waiting for the glass to fill up and bored when i have to drink the whole thing at one time.
Having just typed this, I am now feeling really lame when I think about people who live in countries with crappy water or not enough water. I think I will go drink a full glass.
Oh Jen, indeed. Speaking of crappy water, this brings us to the last part of our trip, which I will tell you about soon and that will bring this saga to a close and we can all move on with our lives.
p.s. I survived the night and felt enormously better the next day. 3 cheers for water and sleep.