El Mirador: into the jungle

Hi all!

In our previous blogpost we promised you an adventure… Well, an adventure is what we had :-)! During our time Mexico we visited some beautiful mayan cities and could not resist the chance to visit the biggest of them all: El Mirador. This huge city is to be found in the north of Guatemala, near the border with Mexico. With Tikal (the best-known mayan city  in Guatemala) getting 300.000 visitors each year, El Mirador only gets about 3000. Why the difference? The fact that you can only get there by helicopter or a 46 km hike through the jungle might be a clue. We chose to walk and thus signed on to spend 5 days in the jungle.

Day 1: our alarm sounds at 4 am. Ugh! We get up and get ready to take the 5 am bus to Carmelita, a 4,5 hour drive over a winding and bumpy road. This small town is at the very end of the road and consists of roughly 20 buildings. Here we had our breakfast, the mules were loaded with our bags and off we went! This first day we would walk about 21 km over muddy paths to get to Tintal, our sleeping spot for the night. Due to the occasional rainshower we unfortunately didn’t see too much wildlife today. Our party consisted of our guide, a cook, an ‘arriero’ (he takes care of the mules), 3 mules (one for the cook), a French-Dutch couple named Claire and Marcella and us.

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Day 2: awake very early again because we crashed quite early last night! Today’s walk will bring us 25 km further, to our camping spot in El Mirador. Too bad it rained again today… Although we did get lucky! Just when the campsite came into view it started raining like you only see in the rainforest… A short sprint and we were home safe :-). That evening we enjoyed the sunset from atop El Tigre, the second largest pyramid in El Mirador and conveniently located 5 min from the camp. We had a glorious view of the surrounding forest, all around us as far as we could see!

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The 'kitchen' in the El Mirador camp

Day 3: today we explored the city with our guide. First we visited La Danta, the largest Mayan pyramid in both height and volume. Climbing to the top is well worth the effort, as the view here is even better than from El Tigre! Don’t think this was a lazy day: just going around the city we covered about 19 km! The sunset was enjoyed from the top of La Danta, an experience we will never forget!

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Day 4: let’s get back to civilization! Today was a good walk, covering the 25 km back to Tintal in just over 5 hours non-stop walking (our guide was bragging about it). The walk was made easier with the interesting conversations we had with Claire and Marcella and the beautiful weather. In Tintal we had enough time to rest and get to the top of the pyramid there to enjoy yet another magnificent sunset. From there we could also see La Danta on the horizon and be amazed the distance we crossed that day.

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Day 5: we left early enough to be sure we got back to Carmelita in time for the bus back to Flores. Just like when we left, this stage of the hike was muddiest, making it tiring and dirty work. Even worse than the mud were the mosquitoes: if we dared to stand still even just for a second, we were attacked by hundreds of the tiny pests. We got back in time for us to freshen up, eat lunch and catch the bus. Exhausted, filthy and happy we got back to our hotel to take a long, long shower. On our trip we only had one shower (read: splashing a bucket of cold water over yourself) so you could probably smell us from far!

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This hike is not for people who like comfort, but for real adventurists. We saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys, snakes, a tarantula, frogs, a turtle and about a million mosquitoes. We were very lucky with our traveling companions and had some very fun and interesting discussions with them both. All in all: we had great fun and will never forget this great experience!

After one day of resting and washing our clothes (when traveling for a longer period of time you will learn this: washing day is the best day!) we took a colectivo taxi (shared with others) to Tikal. Here we got an afternoon ticket that would allow us back into the park the day after. This mayan city also lies in the jungle (spider and howler monkeys all around) but is easily accessible. If you ever get to this region, be sure to visit Tikal! It is beautiful and really gives you an idea of how the Mayans lived in those times.

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Right now (on 26 December) we are back in Flores and have made our plans for the next days. We will be heading back to Belgium on the 30th, landing on the 31st. Unexpected, even for us, as our original plan was to travel on for some time. And no, before you think so, we are not coming back with 3 instead of 2 ;-). We noticed that we do miss our homes, families and friends, so have made some new plans to enter 2016 at home! We also learned that planning your trip is easier done from home, so traveling for a couple of months at a time now attracts us more than traveling for longer periods of time.

This means that this will be our last blogpost until our next trip. We don’t know yet when and where this will be, but we love it here so much that we will probably come back to explore Central America some more. In the meantime you can follow the blog of our fellow adventurists Claire and Marcella: http://www.bestregardsfromfar.com. This blog is beautifully written and, with both of them avid photographers, has some amazing pictures! Check it out!

Adios amigos!
Michaël and Saskia

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