22 October 2017

Guatemala--Big Bikes on Badder Roads...

Tuk-tuks--not just for India. These are found everywhere in Central America, running people in town or even between towns in the mountains.

Following our amazing afternoon making chocolate, the skies continued to dump on us. While we were sleeping cozily in our hostel dorm, accompanied only by the dorms resident giant cockroach (he seemed harmless enough, but I chased him to the other side of the room anyway) the rain was no bother. Getting on the road later, it still wasn't an issue as we rode back towards Coban.

By the time we got back to the top of the dirt road that had taken us down to the river, things were in fact quite dry. I was leading and as we approached the turn off we had taken, I thought about the extremely sharp left turn we'd be making, across traffic, to head back. On the way down, it had been a very sharp right turn from a paved road to a dirt road heading immediately down hill, filled with loose rocks and ruts in the turn. I had made the choice to ride to the very large shoulder and turn off my ABS, before making a u-turn on the paved road and hitting the downhill loose stuff straight on. No problem, easy-peasy.

On the return trip, as I neared the top of our dirt road, I thought I would do the same in the opposite direction--ride straight up onto the shoulder, turn my ABS back on, then u-turn onto the paved road. As I crested the top of the road, however, I saw there was a large truck parked in the shoulder. I decided it was no biggie--there was very little traffic there, and I'd just make the turn.

As I got over the hump, onto the pavement, and well into the turn, I saw the one other piece of the equation I had forgotten. There were three potholes in the road. These aren't just little potholes, but giant motorcycle-eating potholes that probably drop bikes and riders all the way to China. At the last moment, I straightened my curve in order to ride the narrow 6" strip of road between two of them, realizing at the last moment I wouldn't have time or enough road to make the rest of the turn.

Since I had straightened up a bit, I figured I'd just stop, but as I did, my front wheel got far enough that it started to slide into the giant bike-eating gutter. My rear end slid around, and suddenly my bike was lying in the gutter, much to the horror of the men on the side of the road with the truck, and to Josh who was just getting up onto the pavement.

I was fine. We got the bike up, and other than bending the gear shifter (which we bent back), there was no damage. I just looked at Josh and said, "Leave it to me to not be able to figure out pavement..."

Moving on...

The start of 7W. As there are no road signs, I pulled up a mapping app to make sure we were going in the right direction.

Back through Coban we went, heading west. We knew we would be coming to a rough patch of road that day as we had seen a number of comments on iOverlander about 7W. As we got through town--after negotiating one-ways and all the turns one has to make to get through town since main roads don't just go through--the pavement ran out, and the dirt road began. We knew we had 27Km ahead of us of what had been labeled "terrible" road that you "shouldn't do."

We take everything with a grain of salt, as those reports are often made by people in bigger overland rigs, or Subarus with roof tents. Things tend to be a bit easier when you only have two wheels and you can bob and weave around holes, rocks, etc.

There was no bobbing and weaving.

The road was like Lacey Swiss cheese, only with more holes. Then, what was left of road was mud, because it was the raining season, and it had just rained for 24 hours straight. The only place there weren't holes, was where the road was a currently-running river, and we just rode the river path, or where a landslide covered the road.

And there were a lot of landslides. Most were easily negotiable (well, easily-enough), but one was huge. Half of the mountain side had come down, and was lying in a wet, muddy heap across the road. An enormous bulldozer was slowly moving sopping wet earth, and we sat and watched for a while. Unfortunately, one the side we stopped on, someone was also burning a huge pile of trash. It was a pretty bleak sight--mountainside gone, road gone, one lone piece of heavy machinery, and a pile on fire.

Josh couldn't take the stench of the fire anymore, and as the bulldozer moved to one side of the "road", he started down and across.

As he hit the really deep part, he said, "Oh, it's not that bad."

I said, "Really!?! Because you have both feet down as outriggers, and your rear end is fish tailing all over."

He repeatedly told me it wasn't bad, but I couldn't shake that image. I sat for a few more minutes as the bulldozer made another few passes, then gathered myself and headed down. Have I mentioned how much I hate mud? I really hate it. It's unpredictable and it makes your bike unpredictable, and throttling out of a bad situation can just wind you sideways when there is nothing solid for your tires to catch.

I did just fine. Through the first section.... But, I then reached the mound made by the bulldozer's blade constantly scraping, and I was running at an acute angle to it. As all the mud was the same color, it had been hard to spot earlier on, and as I approached it, I knew there was no way to go over it at a ninety-degree angle. I hit it instead at probably thirty degrees, and without enough speed. I went down on my left side in the slick, snotty mud.

Looking back at the landslide/fire, while covered (me and the bike) in mud.

I'm not gonna lie, I came up pretty pissed. I had been riding standing up, as that was the best way for me to control my 500+ lbs. of bike in the mud. I couldn't duck-walk my bike through like someone who had feet that touch the ground, I had to use better technique. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. Josh came running back to help me get my bike up for the second time that day, and we got to the other side of the mess.

A smooth section of 7W...

We continued on. The road was terrible, but nothing more like the intensity of that landslide. Eventually, we rounded a bend, and magically, pavement reappeared. We had come to the end of 27Km of Hell. A very cool bridge with a steel deck lie in front of us, and though steel-deck bridges can make motorcycle riders extremely uneasy, after that road, it felt smoooooooooth.

Yaaaaassssss...

A few miles beyond that, and we reached Restaurant Rancho Don Canche. We had read about the spot as being a great place to stay for the night, and as we stripped off helmets and gloves, Don Canche came out to greet us. He is immediately everyone's friend, and he welcomed us to his restaurant, and asked us to please stay with him for the night.

Our new friend, formerly of Denver! Sometimes our world is a small place!

We said we would love to, but lunch and a beer first. It was late in the day, and there were a number of men there who were all friends, having Friday afternoon beers. We were immediately everyone's friends, and as the majority of them left that night, Don Canche told us how excited he was we were there, as he had lived in Denver for a few years.

One of Don Canche's friends quickly became our friend as well!
We rode the bikes in at night, and camped next to them.

We sat up into the night, talking with him, and I made friends very quickly with his pit bull/boxer mix, Campion. Campion watched over the place, but was also a big, 80 lb. mush of a lovey dog. When the last of the customers were gone, we moved the tables and chairs, and Don Canch insisted we set the tent up in the restaurant, and bring our bikes in as well.

 
 
My good buddy who just wanted to be where I was.
Campion, just chillin' in the morning.

As I was lying down in the tent, Campion came over to me, trying desperately to figure out how to come inside. I assumed he would probably head into the house to be with Don Canche, but I guess he decided I was good people, and he would look out for us. In the morning, I saw that one side of the tent was leaning in a bit, and as I looked out, I saw Campion curled up, lying against the side of the tent. Josh confirmed he had been there the whole night, lying on the dry bag that had been left outside.

Hey lady, quit looking at that map and pet me!

Eventually, after breakfast, we said good-bye to our new friends, a motored on to Chichicastenango. We encountered more miserable, muddy, pothole strewn road, followed by paved twisties in the mountains, playing chicken with the chicken buses. We arrived Saturday afternoon, quickly found a hotel, and wandered the streets. Fireworks were going off regularly, and though we thought it might have been a festival day, it wasn't. It was just a Saturday. I had the best fried chicken of my life (seriously, no one does fried chicken as well as the Guatemalans, who knew) and we woke the next morning at 4:30, when the town was waking up and preparing for market day.

Riding away from Restaurante Rancho Don Canche--the beautiful view of the valley.
We were up on the third floor with a great view over the city. Late Sunday afternoon, a funeral procession led by a pick-up with the coffin in the back and enormous speakers, was followed by a group of more than fifty mourners walking behind. Our balcony high up was a great place to be able to observe a Guatemalan's life event.

Sundays and Thursdays are market day in ChiChi, and it is a feast for the senses. Also, you can get your shampoo, a chicken or a turkey (live), some chicken (fried), and a rug or some Crocs. The entire downtown of the city is jam-packed with people haggling over prices or socializing with friends and family. People come from all the neighboring areas for market day, and this was the first place we really saw a large number of tourists. They were easy to spot. The Germans, Dutch, and Americans towered over the relatively short population that are the Guatemalans. At 5' 3 1/2", I was a tall person there.

As we slowly wound our way through the crowded streets, people from every direction shouted prices at us, walked textiles up to me, and tried to make sales everywhere they could. There was a frenetic energy to the whole event that I fed on. The textiles there are stunningly beautiful, and Guatemalan women still do a large amount of hand embroidery. Women in ChiChi dress in more traditional clothing (with a slight modern twist) than there counterparts to the north, and my eyes tried to take it all in at every turn.

I was exhausted that night!

Interestingly, our hotel had a terrible little tv, but it had Sunday night football on. Josh enjoyed that while I wrote a bit. We got a good night's sleep, and because we had done some work on the bikes the afternoon before, we hit the road to Antigua feeling pretty great, riding twisties and dodging chicken buses the whole way....

 

16 October 2017

Untitled

After we passed through Coban and Charca, on the way to Lanquin, I said to Josh that I wasn't sure we should be pressing on. He asked me if I was concerned about the road and I said no (while not knowing whether I should laugh at that question, or be pissy that he asked it), I was concerned about the weather we were riding into.

We have been to and played at a number of places that were rivers forming pools, or the ocean, or rivers we could just get into while marveling at the beauty of the waterfalls. The reason to go to Lanquin, and then do the day trip to Semuc Champey, was another of these beautiful natural aquatic attractions. Part of the appeal of these has been the challenging roads to get to them, but part of the attraction has been the extreme heat of the day, and the inviting coolness of the water.

As I mentioned before, I really pushed to go to this location. So, as we pulled over to have the conversation about this, I said I was worried we would ride in, and come tomorrow, it would just rain. As we were on our way, we decided to continue on, and by the time we started dropping into the valley, the sun was out and it was hot.

"See," he said, "it'll be fine."

"See," I said, as we sat at breakfast the next day, watching the rain come down. The trip to Semuc Champey would not happen. After we had enough coffee to chase away the chill, the weather began to improve a bit. Around 11, we left to wander around town and find something to eat. Seriously, there is nothing better than street food.

Before we left, I asked at the office if we would be able to do the chocolate tour that day. They said we could, and we should return at one. The description said we would learn the traditional Mayan way of making chocolate from a local family, and it would take about an hour.

Juan Carlos showed up at the office, and together we walked about three minutes to his home, along with Noah, the hostel dog. He called to his wife that we were there, and we talked a little about where we were from, the different people who had been there earlier in the day (people from Holland and a group from Canada), and we wandered around the property a little. All conversation happened in Spanish, so I spent the day playing translator in a pretty big way.

After meeting all the animals, and talking about the different trees on the property while sampling sugar cane he skillfully carved up for us with his machete, we wandered back to the house and met his wife, Clara, and their ten month old son, Juan Elias.

Clara skillfully and painstakingly took us through the whole process of making chocolate, beginning with toasting the cacao beans. She then toasted the cinnamon, and we all spent time taking the husks (cascara) off the cacao beans. She dropped the beans and cinnamon into a mortar and pestle with a small amount of sugar, and broke everything up together.

 

 

From there, we moved to the grinder--brand new as of Monday, and that thing put a huge smile on her face--and took turns grinding it. Then, it was back inside where the whole lot was put into the traditional stone, and worked until it became creamy. Transforming the mixture from something that appeared to be dark dirt, to the creamy, shiny, soft chocolate texture was both fascinating and exhausting. We all took turns, and I can attest to the making of chocolate being hard work.

She divided it up and made little packets for us to take with us, then asked if we'd like to try it as a drink. After I said yes, she asked if we wanted to try it hot or cold, and in the sweltering heat of the day, I replied cold. Right here, it would be a really nice thing if I told you that I had consulted with Josh on any of those answers, but I didn't. I had the language skills, I had to carry more than two hours of conversation with a stranger in Spanish, so I was getting what I wanted as a reward.

He didn't complain.

Clara poured water into a pitcher, scooped a large serving-spoon full of chocolate into her hand, and over the next ten minutes or so (no lie, it took forever to do this part), she massaged the chocolate by hand into the water until it was dissolved. If you are a germ-o-phobe, this is NOT FOR YOU. I spared about two seconds of thought for the process, then just waited with ultra-heightened anticipation for the final product.

It.

Was.

Delicious.

Gah, it was so good. I took a few lady-like sips, then when I felt no one was watching, I chugged half of it.

At the end of the tour, we said our goodbyes, and Noah walked back to the hostel with us. Josh and I agreed it was the single best thing we had done on the trip. Spending some time learning history and craft of something we both enjoy, and doing it by having our own time with a local family was priceless.

No pools of water, no matter how beautiful, would have rivaled the time we spent that day with Juan Carlos, Clara, and their son Juan Elias. Despite my concerns about the rain, the "bad weather" I had been fearing turned into the best thing that could have happened.

My little packet of chocolate. It didn't last long, and I told Josh that if he didn't eat his soon, I would.

 

08 October 2017

Guatemala--Big Bikes and Bad Roads

Guatemala--we ride here!

We got on the road and left Tikal a little later than I thought we would, due to the fact we chose to have a full, leisurely breakfast in the hotel. We didn't have a ton of miles to cover that day, so we weren't too worried. We rode through stunning countryside in the morning, and stopped in the town of Las Pozas for lunch.

You'd be smiling like that if you had that plate of food in front of you, too.

I am pretty sure we stopped at what had to be the best restaurant in town. Now, when I say restaurant, I am referring to one of the tiny little shacks on the side of the road, with a few tables with plastic chairs and cheerful, colorful vinyl tablecloths, with a fire going in the grill right out front.

Mother and daughter--the mother was the one who put the plates of food into our hands, and after seeing me take a picture of Josh with his food, made us take these.
Though Mom isn't smiling huge in these photos, she was when she asked us to take them. She took a lot of pride in the food she made people, and was happy it was being appreciated.

Though Josh wanted what was on the grill--a giant pile of chicken, onions, grilled tomatoes, black beans, coleslaw, two roasted chiles, and rice going by the name of pollo asado--while I had the Mojarra Frito. Mojarra is a fish you can find all over Mexico and Guatemala in little places like this, lightly breaded and friend whole, typically served with rice, beans, tortillas, and some kind of veggies. My plate came with an insanely huge helping of cucumber and tomato salad with shredded cabbage on top.

After lunch, we needed to keep riding, though what we really wanted to do was nap!

But, we pressed on, and not much later, came to the end of the road. Technically, the road started back up again, but there was a huge River in between. Time to hop on a ferry! It made me recall my first-ever ferry crossing on a motorbike--in Dawson City, Yukon Territory--and how terrified I was as the ferry stopped in front of us, let off its load, and we were expected to roll on up and go across a river on a boat.

After I did it once and saw how easy it was, I did it two more times within an hour. Just like that crossing, this one was easy-peasy, though this one was packed, with two trucks full of Brahman cows right next to me. Staring at me. With their big, beautiful, cow eyes.

All the motos in one corner of the ferry. I asked the guys if I could take a pic, and the guy wearing the helmet got really excited. It was pretty cute.

Once we were off the ferry, we threaded our way through the town. Like most of the larger cities here, when we roll into town on the Main Street, it always becomes a one-way in the opposite direction of our desired direction, approximately one to two blocks before we know it has happened. I can always tell because the staring from the locals goes from being curious to terrified for our, and their, well-being.

One of the detours that took past the spot where they were rebuilding a new bridge.

We made it through and pressed on. We took several detours where bridges were no longer, and kept riding on, marveling at how poor the roads were. We were headed for the town of Lanquin, planning to spend a couple of nights there, while exploring nearby Semuc Champey. After reading a number of entries on iOverlander, we knew there was what was considered a tough way to get there (bad, rocky dirt road) and a more difficult, heinous sounding way to get there approaching from an even worse, gnarly, dirt and rock road.

Josh had looked over the options and decided on the easier of the two. As we got to the spot where the paved road was coming to an end, we stopped to use the facilities (aka find a bush) and turn off ABS. The road made an immediate turn to the right, and from the 25 feet or so that I could see, it climbed sharply with a lot of loose, medium sized rock. We walked a bit to see what the road looked like past where we could see, and though it looked pretty rough and steep, it didn't look terrible.

At that point, I chose to also air down my tires so I would be just bouncing off of every rock I hit, and we started up. It didn't take long for the road to get MUCH worse. Steep climbs and sharp curve, accompanied by rutted road with deep piles of rock.

And it started raining.

And Josh said we had 44Km of it to cover.

And we weren't far from it getting dark.

I said nope. Not gonna do it.

After some work, we got the bikes turned around and headed back down. I was a little concerned about Josh possibly being upset, since as he read it, that was the easy way to go, and I was the one who had insisted we go to these two places. But, on the way down, Josh said something about that having been hard, and he would have rated it an 8 on a scale of 1-10 for difficulty.

So, then add rain and encroaching darknes. We decided the road would have been a ton of fun on little bikes--like a looser version of Mosquito Pass in Colorado--but in those conditions on the big bikes, it was time to re-examine our options. When we got back to the bottom, where the pavement came back, I examined iOverlander and found some lodging back about 50Km or so--back over a bunch of what we rode, then down the road that was the other option to get to Lanquin.

We just needed a spot to stop for the night, and Eco Hospedaje in Chisec would do it. Eco Hospedaje was a cheerfully decorated building of two floors, with wooden rooms and shared bathrooms. After we paid and got things unloaded, Josh put a line up in the room to try and dry out our seemingly unending damp clothing. It wasn't raining, so the boots stayed outside, and the clothes hung everywhere.

That tin roof was LOUD when the rain poured down. Also, the whole room shuddered anytime a big truck passed by on the road right outside.

Then, it started raining.

Of. Course.

And when I say raining, what I really mean is there was so much rain, and so much thunder and lightning, that we couldn't even hear the huge trucks rumbling by on the road twenty-five feet away. We were on the top floor at the end, and the building had a tin roof. The monumental amount of rain which fell for the next hour, accompanied by the sharp cracks of thunder louder than gunshots made it so we couldn't even hear our neighbor snoring. And that's saying something.

After hours of ridding a motorbike, with the constant drone of the engine and the constant drone of my riding partner--just kidding...mostly--sitting with the massive amount of noise from Mother Nature was driving me slightly insane as I tried to write. Eventually, the nucleus of the storm seemed to pass. It rained until morning, but much more lightly.

It was then we realized our neighbor snored like you wouldn't believe. Where the walls would have met the ceiling in any normal building, our walls met rafters like the way a garage would be constructed. There was no ceiling, which meant sound from each of the four upstairs rooms carried back and forth. They all got to hear the constant clicking of my keyboard, and I got to hear a phone conversation, farting, and our neighbor sawing logs like a professional lumberjack.

On the left side of the valley you can see the road for quite a ways. Eventually, when you can't see it anymore is when it dropped down into the valley, and we headed for the river.
This dirt road to Lanquin was easy-peasy, and once the threat of rain passed, it was perfect riding weather.

Eventually I got to sleep, but not until after we researched roads to Lanquin again. Josh had misunderstood what he read, and we had, of course, started up what was actually considered the gnarly road. The next day, we would take much better roads to Coban, then a poor but somewhat paved road with stunning views, ending with only 20Km of what we consider decent dirt roads. There were still a number of warnings about that part of the road, but only because sections of it were very steep, narrow and had switchbacks. The rock was mostly embedded which made for a decent, if not teeth-rattling experience, and the tight turns and steepness are not really issues on the bikes.

By the time we dropped down to the river and Lanquin, the temps had risen and it was hot. A dip in the icy river was called for!

We arrived in Lanquin, spending the afternoon relaxing by the river, and meeting a young couple (Jay from Alberta and Christina from New Jersey) who were volunteering at El Retiro, the hostel where we stayed, who had just returned from the chocolate making tour. That night, we joined about 30 other people for a huge, beautiful buffet dinner, happy hour drinks, and swapping travel stories with a couple from Poland. They had traveled around the world for a year, gone home for a year, then told their grown children they were off again--this time for six months in Central and South America.

Thai Night dinner at El Retiro. They do not screw around when it comes to food. Also, you can eat as much as you want--it's a buffet. This place is big with backpackers.
Noah--the hostel dog. Such a love!

While we had been lounging by and in the river that afternoon, I ran up to the reception office and signed us up for the tour to Semuc Champey. Though it was a bit on the pricey side for how we've been traveling, it took care of all our transportation and park fees, then for just about $10US more, included a full tour including caves, rope swings, and pool hopping. Jay and Christina said it was a great tour and we would love it.

Sweet. Done.

Then, it started raining. It rained all night. Then, it rained all morning. I took out names off the tour list. We decided against going to Semuc Champey, but what we did that day wound up being so amazing, that I didn't even miss it.

Day two in Lanquin next...

 

05 October 2017

Yeah...Let's Take The "Interpretive Path"

He found his place in the Guatemalan world...at a pan dulce shop.

Once we FINALLY got into Guatemala officially, we headed straight for Tikal. That meant back to back Mayan ruins, but since we wanted to see them both, our route was the most logical. It would give us a chance to compare and contrast the cities, with little time in between to muffle our super judgy-judgement. We were, after all, quickly becoming experts.

We stopped at the entrance to the park and bought our tickets. A would-be guide briefly flashed us a map during the hard sell of a guided tour. We passed, but I liked the looks of the map, so we picked one up before we entered the ruins the next day.

We drove on through the jungle and the rain, the 17Km to the park entrance, and the Jaguar Inn, the place we would be staying for the next two nights. iOverlander had a boatload of good reviews on the place, including for tent campers. Now we have been there, I need to go back and see if any of those reviewers actually tent camped, or if they were all in overland rigs and just parking. For the most part, we really liked the Jaguar Inn, but I will say the space for the tents left a bit to be desired...

Never the less, while there, we had some really great experiences and met some new people. As soon as we rolled up, and American from Nevada came over to admire the bikes. He has a R1200GS, R1200RT, and a KTM1290. He also had a girlfriend with him from Crested Butte who rides a F650 Twin. We chatted with both of them for a while, and I remarked that at the slightly more than one month on the road point, that was the first whole conversation we had had with someone in English since crossing into Mexico.

Two other people we met, who we really liked, were two young people who worked at the Jaguar Inn. Yvon is a super sweet girl whose heart is in travel. She has started a Facebook page called GuaStreet, to make visits to places in her country and give people reviews on them. She is sweet and fun, and I encourage anyone to "like" her page, particularly if you think you might plan a trip here some day. The other person we met was a young man named Edwin. He had lived in Boston for a few years, and though he loves his country, he is looking forward to returning. We got to hear lots of stories from him, and talk about the United States with him. They were both sincerely kind and funny, and I feel very lucky for having met them.

After we got camp set up that afternoon, we headed to the patio for beers and some internet. The girl behind the counter handed us our beers and a piece of paper with the wi-if password on it, but said the Internet wasn't working very well that afternoon.

At dinner, we saw Edwin sit down at a computer and give it a whirl. Josh asked if the Internet was working and he shook his head.

Then he said, "Maybe Internet tomorrow."

I felt like I had heard that somewhere before...

It must be a Guatemala thing.

The sun rising over the Jaguar Temple. Considering how cloudy it was, we felt we didn't miss anything by skipping the "sunrise tour" which would have cost an additional 300Q.
The temple on the opposite side of the Gran Plaza from the Jaguar Temple.
Some of the still intact decoration on the above temple.

The next morning, we were up and at the entrance to the ruins at 6am. Although we saw a few other people that morning, we had the place to ourselves. It was pretty magical. After walking in and admiring the Gran Plaza in the low hanging, often drizzling clouds, we continued on deeper into the park and found ourselves at Temple IV. We didn't have a guide, so we didn't know what we were really looking at.

Coatis! Unlike the last ones we encountered in another city, these ones I am happy to say, we're not buttholes.
Look at that face!

Eventually we walked around the side of the temple, and saw a wooden staircase. These stone buildings have stood for more than 2000 years, and we had to climb a boat-load of steps on a rickety-ass, jungle rain-sodden set of wooden stairs (seriously, about a third of the way up, huffing and puffing, I mumbled, "This better effing be worth it..."). As it turned out, it was worth it. We had climbed probably about 50 meters, about the equivalent of sixteen floors. The view was spectacular, and we had it all to ourselves for forty-five minutes.

I'm only smiling this big because I made it to the top of Temple IV without dying.

We sat, high above the trees on the tallest Mayan temple in the world, and watched as the clouds lifted across the park. Then, they lifted from the jungle, miles away, and as we sat, I'm pretty sure we saw them lift from Belize. We could see for miles--it was breathtaking. A bit closer to us, we could look down on a canopy of trees inhabited by a family of spider monkeys. Eventually, another couple made the climb, and we left so they could have it all to themselves for a bit.

In each of these three pictures, you can see the clouds lift a little more, and a little more. You can also see that I can't take a decently straight picture to save my life.
Looking down on the jungle canopy is pretty spectacular. I can't really describe it, you should just go see it for yourself.
I really liked the Coatis. They were less impressed with me.
Sometimes, trees don't even need dirt to grow--they just cling to the stones of some ancient ruins.

About five hours after we entered the park that morning, we walked out to find lunch and rest our weary legs. We had walked miles. We had not seen even half of the ruins, but we needed a break, some lunch, and a few moments with the map to determine what we wanted to return for later that afternoon. I had constantly been on the lookout for Grupo G, because although it hadn't been labeled on the map, I had seen signs for it. We also hadn't seen Templo VI, so we determined we would head back in for those two sites. Luckily, they were in the same general area, so we would have plenty of time in that two hours to leisurely get to them, explore, and get out of the park.

We got back into the ruins and headed for the area where I had last seen signs for Grupo G. We turned and not long after, also saw signs for Templo VI. Yes! We were going the right way--we were 950 meters from the templo. Another 300 meters or so in, the path split. I knew if we stayed on that direct path, we would get to the templo, and could find Grupo G from there. But, there was a sign, with an arrow, pointing down a much narrower path saying "Interpretive Path".

Josh was all for it. The sign claimed it took about 25 minutes to walk, and though I had no idea where it would end, we probably would be nearer to our destination.

So, I agreed.

We walked on for a while, and came across the first sign.

"Oh, great. The signs are all in Spanish."

Almost every other sign in the park was written in both English and Spanish, and though I could read these fairly well enough, the thought of having to translate every sign on the path at the end of the day made my brain hurt.

We kept on.

A couple more signs further in, and one was written in both English and Spanish. Yay! It talked about the tree and its specific use in the Mayan world. When I looked up for the tree, I realized the sign had been put in front of no fewer than eight different trees, and there was no photo or even line drawing of said tree on the sign. I had no idea which tree they were referring to. Epic failure, Tikal!

(At this point, I need to say that I wonder who does the translating for these signs. My Spanish is not great, but even I know "alimony" is NOT a translation for "alimentos")

Anyway, we kept on.

That was pretty much the pattern. Some signs would be only in Spanish, some would be in English and Spanish, and everyone of them would be placed in front of 4-8 different species of trees. So, I might read a sign about a tree which holds a good reserve of drinking water, and thinking I'm dying of thirst, might actually die from toxic sap because I drank from the wrong tree.

He doesn't look that big, but he was the size of my hand.

Eventually, the trail got narrower. Then, the spider webs got lower. I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill, everyday North American spiders. I'm talking about big-as-your-face spiders. Or maybe eat-your-face spiders. Josh casually pointed out they were just as afraid of me as I was of them, and I can well guarantee you that I didn't give a shit.

So, here I was, every time we passed one of these ludicrous signs, saying in a high-pitched sarcastic voice, "Oh, I know, let's take the 'interpretive trail'" and walking around flapping my arms over my head like a lunatic, trying to hit the spider webs with my hands rather than my face. Then, things got interesting.

There was a fork in the trail, with a sign clearly labeling which way to go to follow the trail. But, in my crazed jungle brain, I could just imagine someone running in, unscrewing the sign, and flipping it over to send someone on a wild goose chase. And as it turned out, we walked on for another couple hundred meters, and the trail disappeared.

A tree had split, falling across a long section of the trail. A massive tree. It wasn't that we couldn't get there from here. It was that I knew how many enormous, face-eating spiders there could be. And no, I still didn't care that they were probably more afraid of me than I was of them.

This is the reason people carry machetes here, and I am seriously thinking of buying one. We ducked under and climbed over a about twenty trail feet of down tree, and I was certain a spider was waiting for me at every turn. Or a snake. There could have been a snake, because you know, the most dangerous snake in Central America lives in the jungles. Yaaaaayyyyy....

Inside that doorway lived bats. I went in and said "Hey."

Spoiler alert: We made it out just fine. And eventually, we even made it to Grupo G and Templo VI. Although I had loved the view from Temple IV so much earlier in the day, Grupo G was my favorite set of ruins. They contained 29 living spaces, giving great insight into the everyday Mayan's life. Temples, palaces, and Gran Plazas did not pertain much to most Mayans' lives, but this building did. Also, it had a cool tunnel, and is one of the sleeping quarters that was still pretty well intact with a roof and all its sides, there was now a small cluster of bats sleeping on the ceiling. That made my day.

Just an FYI: I am approximately and inch and a half taller than the average Mayan was. Think about that when you see me walking down some of their stairs...

We managed to barely make it out of the park by 6pm. By that time, it was dark, bats were flying around, starting their evenings of eating all the flying insects I hate so much, and I was ready for a shower and some dinner.

Of course, the excitement wouldn't end there. Nor would the surprises of the eight-legged variety. There were no spiders in the showers (unlike the night before), but as Josh went to step away from the tent, he took half a step, jumped back, and may or may not have yelled like a little girl.

In all fairness, he had every right too. A tarantula in the 5" range skittered out from beneath his foot. I mean, it kind of looked like a kitten, really. It was black-ish brown and all fuzzy. It just had twice the required number of legs, and a thousand times the "ick" factor. I know my father used to catch them when he was an elementary school teacher, and take them in for the kids, but that's just not my thing.

The tarantula and I went out separate ways, and the next morning I motored out of Tikal really happy I hadn't seen another.