December 25, 2013

christmas in belize AND guatemala

christmas morning was warm and clear and without a ton of traditional pomp but there were still a few gifts to open. i took myself down to the meadow for some meditation and yoga and found myself distracted by the beautiful flora and birds flying around.  i saw several toucans here which were spectacular and even a large [seven foot large] iguana. i pack up slowly and i am sad to leave but we must get across the Guatemala border today and being Christmas i'm not sure if there will be delays. 

i say goodbye to Vicki and thank her for the experiences.  this resort was designed to use resources sustainably, was well staffed and managed. again since we paid the high season rate it seemed overpriced but at regular rates this is a must stay for anyone visiting the ATM Caves.  I chose Pooks Hill because of the proximity to the cave – they typically have the earliest tour but it was the staff that made it a memorable place. 

it's the jungle and there are bugs of all kinds around.  from here on out i cover myself morning and night with bug juice. i used a deet free citronella spray which worked great for me and it started the daily ritual i remember so well from visiting the tropics.... the check to see what new bug bites you have and discuss in detail what could have been the source and all the potential deadly repercussions.  this is an important ritual and can not be avoided in the tropics.

it takes about 1.5 hours to get to the border although it's only about 20 miles away. The border crossing is a tad bit more complicated because we are taking over a rental car [very few rental agencies allow this and it requires additional paperwork] but we make it through quickly because there are no lines and head for Tikal. 

the first 15 miles of road in Guatemala is excellent, painted lines, shoulders, fresh asphalt and i'm jubilant.  then the road transitions abruptly to dirt.  another abrupt transition is language.  in Belize, english, in Guatemala, spanish.

on the Belize side of the border i wanted to visit Xunantunich but it was closed because the water level was too high for the hand cranked ferry across the river.  it was highly recommended to me and i was disappointed to miss it.  it's not the rainy season but there's been enough rain that some roads remain impassable.

Yaxha was the next significant ruin site on my list so when we hit the turn off i pull in. at the checkpoint the men tell me, as best i can understand, that the road is quite bad because of the rains.  this comes as no surprise to me since i'd been driving through potholes, mud, rocks, clay and other crap over the last two days.   i back out to leave but am reluctant to miss out on another site and i flag down a tourist van leaving to ask them about the road conditions. they say there will be no problem with our SUV so that's all the assurance i need. i wave as we pass the guys warning us of carreteras muy malo.  its 11 kilometers to the site and i figure i'll turn around if the road gets really hairy. i'm used to driving off road so i don't worry too much except the roads are quite rocky and the possibility of a flat tire is high. i haven't changed a tire in 20 years so i'm hoping that doesn't happen.   

eventually the road deteriorates and i pull over to assess a hill mired in the muddy clay.  i'm sure i can make it down but not confident i can make it back up the hill.  we are 3 km out and i really want to go.  i park on the side of the road and step into my boots to hike in.  i'm hoping someone will come through and give us a lift but the only other van we see is some guys who get out assess the situation and turn around and leave.

what follows is a peak life experience for me and proof that getting off the well worn path and putting up with a little bit of discomfort will be rewarded exponentially. it's uphill for 3 km. the original Yaxha site covers 92 square miles.  because of the carreteras muy malo there is no one there.  we wander around in the stillness which is erie and make our way to the tallest pyramid.  as we climb the pyramid i feel the spirit of the people who have been there before and for the effort i am rewarded with the most magnificent view above the canopy of the entire Yaxha complex.  

i sit in amazement imagining what it must have been like to build and live in such a place. then we break out the snacks and cocktails and watch the sun setting across the clear sky and water that surrounds us.  from the silence of the jungle comes a harsh, guttural sound. we debate it's origin but whatever it is, it sounds fierce and i don't want to come across it on our way out.  we laze around the top of the pyramid enjoying the solitude and watching the monkeys in the trees.

a while later a single visitor shows up and we leave her to enjoy the magnificent view.  as we wander out she catches up and we ask how she came in.  she came via taxi so we talk her taxi driver into giving us a ride back to the car [going rate for stranded girls = $1US per KM].

as we stand in the clearing surrounded by pyramids in the dusk the howler monkeys start to call to each other. we stand in the center of multiple groups who are highly vocal and dancing in the trees. for 10 minutes we  witness an amazing jungle ritual of which i have nothing to compare to.  it was loud and fierce and the monkeys were hyperactive.  afterwards we learned the monkeys were calling to each other to gather for the night.  

fast forward to the mega hill covered in wet clay mud,  the taxi doesn't make it up the hill but i can see our car from where we are stuck.  i thank the taxi driver and hike quickly up the hill. it's starting to get dark and i do a rapid risk assessment in my mind about two women on a dark, remote road in Guatemala stuck in the mud or with a flat tire and decide that could end very badly.   boots caked in clay i jump into the SUV, gingerly turn it around, then leave as quickly as possible.  it's another hour plus of driving in the dark to Tikal where we will stay for the next two nights.

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