Posts in this series
- Trek to El Mirador, Guatemala: Part 1, Day 1
- Trek to El Mirador, Guatemala: Part 2, Day 2
- Trek to El Mirador, Guatemala: Part 3, Day 3, 4 & 5
19 Feb 2008
Eladio rose before sunrise, started the fire, and began to cook before it was light. Being that he was working about ten feet from our hammocks, we didn’t sleep-in. After breakfast, while Eladio and his son loaded up the mules, Juan Carlos called us over to a guard building.
He comes over with a blue plastic sack and begins pulling these Pre-Classic ceramics out and placing then on a shelf. Although not exactly archival storage, the works are the only direct handiwork we’ve seen that did not involve stacked rocks. He tells us with great pride that the guards posted here and in other ruins have stopped the looting. Every small structure we’d seen had a looter’s trench gouged into it, the larger ones with multiple trenches. Seems like running out of booty might also be contributing to the looting slow-down. After the show, he carefully placed all the objects back into the sack.
At 08:00 the mules started out and we followed behind. The trail began similar to the previous day – mud. But soon we’re walking on the sacbe that connects Tintal with Mirador. No wonder the Maya burned down the jungle to make the plaster to pave these trails. Howler monkeys rumble in the distance like a far away thunderstorm. At 09:25 it’s 75F. Spider monkeys do not like us – up in the trees they violently shake the limbs, causing loose parts of the tree to fall. We see ruins frequently, the whole time we are walking. By 10:55 the character of the trail had changed. No longer was mud the concern. Seems like a new trail had recently been cut, small saplings 1-2″ wide and standing 3-4″ tall are everywhere. They create more of a tripping hazard – makes me long for mud. At 13:35 -it’s 83F.
After walking constantly for 6 and a half hours, with only a 25 minute lunch break, we reach La Muerta on the southern edge of the Mirador area. La Muerta is said to be a Maya prison, having large interior rooms. No writing survives, so I think that’s only a guess. Heather didn’t appreciate the bats coming and going while we were inside, so I continued inside alone with my headlamp. Some plaster was still on the walls and two bats observed me, but not much otherwise to tell. Sure, it could have been a jail. It could have also been a great many other things. The Maya are not known for their wonderful interior spaces – they’re more into exterior design.
Soon after we leave we encounter a large in-ground sculpture, most likely uncovered plaster, although it could have been stone. It has a roofed structure to protect it and an elevated platform to view it from. And this is where Juan Carlos’ value-add became apparent. Eladio is a guide in the sense that he knows where he’s going. If he knew anything about the ruins, he kept it to himself.
We reached camp at 15:30. Instead of being near the helicopter field, we were down in the area where the archaeologists had their meals. But no archaeologists remained, so we had the place to ourselves. The camp is a tangle of tarps and lines, with long benches in the main area and about a dozen tarp-lined tubs for holding rainwater, almost all dry. Eladio starts a fire and begins prep for dinner.
We find a tub with a good 6″ of water in it. It appears clean for the most part, some leaves at the bottom and an annoyed frog. But no visible things swimming in it. So yes, it’s shower time. You scoop up a big bucket of the water, take it to the (of course) tarp-lined shower stall, use the smaller bucket, and get to making the clean. And clean is nice after two days.
After a while we head up to the other part of camp, where the guys we met yesterday in Tintal are staying. Their guide is taking them to a temple and a pyramid, so we tag along. The other group is a nice group of men: 3 Germans (Claas, Bjorn, and York) and 2 US (Dan & Joe). We first go to Structure 34, a partially reconstructed temple with huge Maya glyphs of a Fiery Jaguar Paw on either side of the plastered stairs. It too has a large roof to protect the plaster from the rain. We then go to El Tigre. It has the three pyramids atop a large platform, like the first pyramid in Tintal. But unlike Tintal, once Mirador was abandoned at the end of the Pre-Classic period, no one ever resettled. Mirador has been empty for 2000 years. We climbed the largest pyramid for the sunset, spotting both Tintal and Nakbe on the horizon.
Then back to camp for dinner.
Eladio is one strange dude. Quite the loner type. He is a chicellero by trade and he definitely seems at-home here in the forest. He’s a man of no words in English and just a couple in Spanish. He rarely talk on the trail. Instead he’s often behind us smoking a joint. As a matter of fact, any time he’s not involved in a complex task, like cooking or loading mules, marijuana smoke drifts through the air. But he’s competent and pleasant enough.
I have no idea how folks do this hike in the rainy season. If all the mud that we have walked atop were the consistency of thick icing instead of the consistency of caramel, I would kill myself.
- Breakfast: fried plantains, chicken, beans, flour tortillas
- Lunch: beans, chicken, bread, marmalade
- Dinner: pasta, tomatoes, onions
- Hiking: 17 miles in 7 hours 30 minutes (from Tintal camp to Mirador camp)
19 Feb 2008
Today is the one day the mules get to rest. Although we will explore Mirador more, we return and sleep another night in this camp. So the morning was unhurried, breakfast at 08:00 and out exploring by 09:00.
The big destination today is La Danta, a pyramid complex a little over a mile to the east of El Tigre. En route we visit a temple to the southeast of Structure 34, recently excavated with large plaster masks. We continue along, following the sacbe the connects the east and west parts of Mirador.
La Danta impresses. The whole complex covers 44 acres (compared to El Tigre’s 14 acres), and the main pyramid tops out at 230 feet taller then the jungle around it. Counting the large platform, it might be the largest pyramid in the world, based on volume. Again, it’s difficult for photos to convey the scope of La Danta. As you walk through the plazas on the way to the pyramid, you can sense the scale of the city, the space between structures, and just how large a place it is. Through a camera, it’s trees, trees, and a pile of rocks. At the top we run into the other group, so we chat a while and linger.
On the way back we pass a couple of stellae, monuments the Maya carved from stone. One of them has the oldest Maya glyphs yet recorded.
We return to camp. Eladio takes a long time to prepare lunch, but it was worth it. Easily the best meal of the trip. We are the envy of the other group for food. They’re meals seems a litany of spaghetti and spam, sometimes fries, sometimes just warmed-over. We’ve had meat and fresh vegetables — better food than Tikal for sure.
After lunch Claas (from the other group) comes down to our camp to tell us that they’ve successfully bribed the guards and they will be going under Jaguar Paw Temple (Structure 34). The Maya often built new structures right on top of old ones. And archaeologists have recently found an older temple beneath Jaguar Paw Temple. The guards opened the locked door and hauled out the generator to light the interior. We donned hard-hats and went inside. The tunnel was cleared enough so that you could not only see the plaster facade of the older temple, but it was still red. An uncovered mask still had its original paint decorating it. Well worth the whiskey I gave the guard, it’s one of the highlights of the trek.
Afterwards, we climbed another pyramid complex, Los Monos (The Monkeys). And indeed, it’s kinda their neighborhood. Then back to camp for another shower.
Since we had been lead around Mirador by a guide of some sort or another, I wanted to do a brief bit of wandering by ourselves. I’d seen a section that we hadn’t visited and H and I set of to see what there was to see. The last thing one would want to do is get lost, but I have a pretty good sense of direction and (more importantly) a GPS, so I had an electronic breadcrumb trail back to camp.
We went past El Tigre to the El Leon pyramid and the North group. Being on our own was nice, and I climbed yet another pyramid — spotting the other folks on El Tigre. By sunset we were back in camp, where we had a light supper.
Tonight is the lunar eclipse and we viewed it from the Jaguar Paw Temple. As the eclipse progressed, the once bright white plaster of the temple dimmed with the darkening moon. The stars were stunning. Thoughts of Maya and blood and sacrifice as the moon itself turned a blood red.
Returning to camp, the guards had set up a generator, a bright light and a sheet at one end of the camp field, probably for catching bugs. I’ve seen a couple of guys roaming around with butterfly nets.
- Breakfast: meat(beef), rice, tomatoes, onions
- Lunch: vegetable soup (potatoes, carrots, squash), salad (cucumbers, tomatoes onion), fresh tortillas
- Dinner: beans, eggs, tortillas