On our way by local bus via the Pan-American Highway we eventually sighted the capital of Guatemala, Guatemala City, where we gladly settled down for several days in order to share precious moments at the famous pyramids of Tikal amongst other experiences soon to come. It was long ago that we spent some time of lazy distraction in such a big city. We were quite impressed by the colossal amount of colored billboards spread out all over the town revealing a touch of multi -nationality. We chose a youth-hostel called La Mesa.
By coincidence we ran into a local family that politely invited us to dinner at their house. Raise hell, one of the relatives we got to know there, turned out to be a former Miss Guatemala. We cherished the invitation via carefully listening to their opinion about the current political situation in the country and the daily struggle of life.
Whilst hitting the hay we already pondered about potential preventive measures that would be necessary for our trip to the jungle of Tikal, north of the capital. Being familiar with the impact of Malaria pills that ought to avoid any infectious transmission of diseases we strolled down the street looking for a pharmacy.
In spite of precise explanations, at least from our point of view, the owner didn’t catch anything. Nevertheless, we did not want to give in beforehand and therefore purchased some pills which were supposed to provide for mandatory antibodies in case of emergency. We felt content and relieved and left for Panuchos on January 3, 1988.
Due to millions of tourists scattered all over we quite disliked the village desperately missing the local Indian tribes. In terms of strategic planning, however, we weren’t too far away from a real hotspot, called Lago Atitlan, which happened to become my most favorite resort from now on.
It was a wonderfully located valley, surrounded by 3 volcanoes which are still partly active these days. The perfect setting was created by a lake that encompassed those volcanoes. It doesn’t have to be neglected that we had been luckily rewarded with a terrific sunset every evening even adoring a small cloud remaining on top of the volcano that made for a rather romantic picture. This time, our campground was a tiny hotel characterized by an abundance of exotic flowers even ranging to the top of our veranda. For breakfast I discovered the best cereal ever, but to be alert was still the prerequisite of daily life, since gun fire filled our ears once in a while.
On the 5th of January, 1988 we fancied a boat trip over the lake to San Pedro and San Antonio, two lovely villages close to the volcano area. These villages were both supposed to be real resort places to enjoy calm and peaceful moments.
Most of all, we liked the vast majority of children populating those sites. I guess it is due to an extremely high fertility rate but also rooted in an inherent lovely attitude towards kids in particular, that generated such a wonderful outcome. Best practice was one girl called Constitucion, what we treasured very much because of the etymology. Although this excursion lasted only 2 hours, I was not able to erase that day from my memory: On our way back to the boat, we came across numerous local Indian women doing their washing at the lake in a diligent manner.
Then something occurred to me that nobody could have ever foreseen in any respect. Duncan and I slightly changed our route on foot by following the stony shore.
All of a sudden, my feet recognized sort of muddy ground which was not exactly differentiable from the surrounding. Since we were a bit in a hurry, I just ignored that aspect unconsciously but could not avoid being slowly drowned in the mud.
At first glance, I had no idea whatsoever how to (re)act upon this rather unexpected occasion especially because my feet even more disappeared. Whilst realizing the seriousness of the situation now, I simply surrendered at least mentally and thought about my earthy end, when out of nothing the surface was within reach again. Some kind of higher force had mercifully saved my life and soul, thus keeping this adventure as the most thrilling moment in my mind. The fact that several children happily watched my struggle with nature made this event even more absurd and bizarre.
After changing my trousers we celebrated this kind of resurrection in a vegetarian restaurant, called ‘La Paz’, which was a perfect fit to my recent experience. Getting back to our hotel we were already excited about our intended departure to Tikal next day, but I felt very bad and sick again, still suffering from Turista which is obviously very common in those countries.
Considering my state of health, I had many doubts in realistically believing in the trip. Longing for some distraction, Duncan persuaded me to hop on a bus taking us to the suburbs, where the original and ancient capital of Guatemala is located.
People still look upon it as their secret capital, though it had predominantly been destroyed by the earthquake years ago, too. However, the old city maintained much of its former charming glamour. Recalling the process of contemplation with regard to the proper means of transportation for this jungle journey, it was fairly clear that we favored the bus (14 hours one way) instead of the plane (45 minutes but too expensive). According to our present financial situation it was solely impossible to go for the flight. We had been told to pick up the tickets at a sleazy bus-station somewhere in the middle of nowhere: as a matter of fact there did not exist any kind of ticket booth and we had been strangely observed as gringos once more. Since we also managed to deal with this task, Duncan and I followed up collusion and eventually decided to start off early in the morning for the jungle despite some collywobbles.
Considering my health it was sure risky to travel like this. During the ride there was no way to catch some sleep, because the vehicle was incredibly packed and sufficient space for my knees didn’t exist at all. Beggars can’t be choosers – there was no reason to complain.
At the beginning, the roads were bearable but the longer the trip lasted they got worse and worse. Driving through almost muddy soil did not mean real pleasure for the participants but constant attention instead. Of course we were allowed to appreciate a few stopovers in small villages, where we could brush our teeth with probably contaminated water and fancy a bite. That should basically do it as a survival kit.
Upon approaching the entrance of the Tikal jungle, our bus had suddenly been prevented from continuing. What happened? Everyone was asked to get off the bus and then sort of ghost busters appeared to clean up everything inside. Obviously, the bus needed to be examined for certain insects or scarce but dangerous bugs; since nobody really solved the overall confusion, this explanation tended to be the only theory so far.
Confidently but ‘not actually taken to the cleaners’ we kept on traversing wonderful highlands and astoundingly green forests until our driver got in real trouble with a hill ahead of us. He had to undertake several attempts to overcome that natural barrier but nearly caused the entire bus falling down the abyss on the left side. I experienced this tricky and tough situation being surprisingly calm and cool. Maybe this was due to the mud story, just some days ago making my mind think positively with respect to this kind of critical moment.
Anyway this had been the 2nd closest reunion with God – thank God that’s over again. Looking forward to finishing this journey very soon we happily and safely arrived at Flores, close to the Lago Peten which is about 15 minutes from Tikal. Being totally exhausted we did not intend to waste any time for anything else but settling down in a small hotel. There we took a nap beneath mosquito nets fixed upon the ceiling in order to keep away this filthy nerve killing species from sucking our precious veins.
On Friday the 8th of January 1988 at 6 am, we had to get up for the long expected ride to the ruins of Tikal. Indeed we were fairly lucky to show up there pretty early before the herds of tourists invaded this beautiful site. We did start our individual tour at the Plaza de Major, then strutted for about 10 minutes through the lush forest when we – all of a sudden – came across an apparent natural wonder, it happened to be still a bit foggy but nevertheless here we go: two giant pyramids emerged from nowhere and mightily stood in front us: La Piramide del Sol and la Piramide de la Luna proudly facing each other.
These pyramids were supposed to symbolize the world and its astrology. Overall, 5 pyramids had been scattered within this jungle area. The remaining ones are called: Templo de las Inscripciones, Templo del Jaguar and el Templo de la Serpiente, quite powerful names. You are probably familiar with the world’s famous pyramids in Mexico near Cancun, but as a matter of fact, we’d been very grateful to treasure these holy sites still being a well-known jewelry amongst the Mayan culture.
We were mostly impressed by the gorgeous view on top of the sacred pyramids: we selected Piramide del Sol which we bravely ascended on our own. It was rather steep to climb up to the peak, utilizing a strong chain put aside the steps. Once we reached the summit, a guide accidentally explained to us the history of those temples and the extension of the Mayan empire at that time. From the historical point of view we deeply relished these precious and invaluable moments and inhaled that holy spot the whole nine yards. Since we were geographically and spiritually blessed the continuation of our journey needed to be brainstormed anyhow. Actually Belize was on our agenda but therefore Duncan had to acquire a Visa again, which seemed to be too much of a hassle right now. So, how to get back to Guatemala City?
On behalf of my physical state of habit, there was only one way how to decide: We both agreed upon a return via plane, which shouldn’t arouse any more biological hassle and take only 45 minutes this time. Spending the last day in Flores, Peten we had to sort out every Quetzal and/or each dollar which was left in our pocket in order to realize this aerial journey. The first price we encountered reckoned up to $30 per person, an amount we simply couldn’t afford at the moment.
How to get rid of this precarious financial dilemma? Since we ran into a German/Mexican couple at the ruins of Tikal, whose address we gladly jotted down, there was no chance to reject their offer. So we did and promised to balance our account once we were back in the capital, feeling fairly content about this resolution. It is not easy to stay cool telling you this: next morning we had been mercifully taken out of our complacency; something unbelievable had occurred: the price for the flight had curiously doubled overnight, immediately deteriorating my health situation again. Now we were not able to make it possible anymore, unless an ingenious and witty thought tackled our mind sooner or later. Probably in the jungle far away from civilization, anything can happen to anyone at anytime. We desperately tried to find a different airline with a cheaper price, but obviously there had been a general price increase in this area, which seemed to be a miracle.
I was so determined to split this pop sickle stand ASAP but my mind literally went nuts when being reminded of the second best solution of yet choosing the bus ending up in an atrocious nightmare. I mentally resisted believing in this option due to my physical weakness. Taking a powder by any chance wouldn’t have been a wise decision, so we hung on in for a while. Since everything works out anyhow, all of a sudden an airline offered a special fare for 96 Quetzal one way.