The Road to El Mirador, Guatemala, Part 1

El Mirador sign
The sign at the entrance to El Mirador. What it should say is, “Abandon all hope you who enter here.”

If you don’t make a colossal screw up now and then, you’re not trying hard enough.

There are a lot of smart people who have said something to that effect. Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison come to mind. However, I’m going to discount their adages a bit because they were talking about mathematical scribblings on a black board or maybe burning the wrong filaments in a lab.

I’m talking about walking 120 kilometers through a tropical jungle kind of screw up. Not perhaps as big as Teddy Roosevelt’s The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journeydebacle, but it could have been.

Probably what was the worst thing about it is that Kris and I had at least three clear points when we could have said, “To hell with this,” and headed back to town for a cold one. But no. Even as evidence mounted that this was a real bad idea, we kept at it. Even a little time into the walk, when it was hot and sunny and dusty and we were parched…and still only about 100 meters into the walk, we looked at each other and said, “How stupid are we?”

The answer was, “Very.”

This is how we got into this.

We have a friend in the travel blogging world—who now owes me big time—who, when he heard we were coming to Guatemala, said, “I’ve always wanted to do the trek into El Mirador. Are you going to do that?”

I admit, at that time, I only had a very vague idea of what El Mirador was. Yeah, I’d heard of it. If you’ve spent any time looking at Mayan sites, you probably have, too. But, I went to the trouble to Google it, and ran into some stories that the only way you could get there was by wading neck deep through a swamp for a couple of days. There was no way I was doing that. Mel Gibson, we were told, had visited by helicopter. That didn’t seem all that reasonable, either.

So, I put it out of mind.

When we crossed into Guatemala from Belize, we hired a taxi driver to take us to Tikal, another Mayan site that has been carved out of the jungle and set up quite nicely as a tourist site—with three lodges actually within the grounds of the site. But—and we should have seen this coming—he made a stop at a little shack by the side of the road which arranges tours to various sites in Guatemala. Now we’ve been traveling long enough in various hard scrabble places that we’re very used to—and very capable of—saying, “No, thanks,” in about twenty languages.

But then I saw the poster on the wall. “You do tours to El Mirador?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “You start from a village called Carmelita, which is about 50 km from here. We’ll take you there in a van. From Carmelita, it’s a two day walk in. You spend a day at El Mirador. Then you walk for two days out. The mules carry all your stuff. All you need is a water bottle, sun screen, and bug repellent. And, there’s one leaving on Friday.” That was the day after we were checking out of the lodge at Tikal, so it fit us perfectly.

So, I looked at Kris, and she looked at me, and I could sort of see us both thinking something along the lines of, “We walked for 40 days and 800 kilometers on the Camino de Santiago about a year ago. Spain is hot. We’re not that out of shape yet. We can do this.” We kind of grunted at each other a little bit, shrugged and said, “Ok, why not.”

Decision point one: We hadn’t paid him yet. We didn’t have enough money on us to pay him and he didn’t take a credit card. We could have reconsidered right then.

Nope. We drove into town, withdrew huge piles of quetzales from every ATM we could find, and turned them over.

We made arrangements to be picked up at 5 a.m. on Friday at our hotel in Flores, after our three days in Tikal. As we were getting back into the car to head on to Tikal, he called out, “Oh, and toilet paper, too.”

Oh, shit.

Tomorrow: Decision points two and three, or, how we made the same mistake over and over, which I believe is the classic definition of insanity.

Here are links to all the chapters of The El Mirador Saga:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10

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