As I was staggering in the heat toward El Mirador, I thought back to a couple of hours earlier when Maria had stopped us all about ten minutes into the walk. She had gathered us in a circle, asked us all to bow our heads, and then offered a rather long prayer to Jesus to protect us and guide us in our walk into the jungle.
“Jesus?” I thought at the time. “I have to rely on Jesus? I thought that’s what Maria and Eric were for.”
I should probably take this opportunity to introduce Eric, the man who saved my life. Well, not exactly, but it sure felt like it at the time.
Eric is Maria’s 22-year-old son and it was actually he who was our titular guide. (We also learned somewhere along the way that Alex the Eggman was Eric’s older brother. But, since Alex had married an American girl who had a good job in Flores, he didn’t actually have to do the hard work of guiding any more. Alex’s job, evidently, was playing reggae and buying eggs. I’ve often advised my own son that the key to life was to marry a rich woman, so I couldn’t exactly fault Alex for his choice.)
Eric had a perpetual sort of goofy smile on his face. Not that he was goofy, mind you. It’s just that he was good natured. Which was a really good deal for all of us, because his guiding equipment consisted mostly of a very big and very sharp machete which hung off the left side of his belt, and a very big and very sharp KA-Bar knife which hung on the right side. When I motioned at the knife once, his only comment was, “I’m Rambo.” And a big smile.
Thank you, Jesus.
This is just background. Now we pick up where we left off, still 20 kilometers from our scheduled stopping point. It’s over 100 degrees. There’s no shade. I’m carrying way too much crap. And I’ve dropped a few hundred meters behind the rest of the gang. I stopped, sat on a log, sucked some water out of my hydration tube, spit it into my hands and splashed it over my face and neck. It was warm water, by the way.
I wasn’t going to die anytime soon, but I was beginning to wonder if a massive stroke wouldn’t be better than being slowly parboiled in my own sweat and self pity.
Hell, I was even thinking of calling out to Jesus myself. Or at least to a Mayan feathered serpent god since it seemed to me that he might be closer at hand. But I’d be damned if I could remember the fluffy snake’s name. I was bent over, looking at the ground and praying for a little breeze from Aeolus, the wind god whose name I could remember from my Latin studies. I was working hard to remember some Latin incantation that I hoped he’d answer.
That’s when Eric showed up.
He’d walked up so quietly that I hadn’t heard him. So he had to stick his face right down next to me and ask, “Are you ok?”
Scared the shit out of me.
After recovering, and fanning myself for a few seconds with my hat–which is a poor excuse for a Roman god, btw–I said, “Well, you could talk me into tossing $7,000 worth of camera gear into the jungle.”
“Why don’t you let me carry it for a while?” he offered. “We’re only an hour from our rest point, and we can put it on the mules when we get there.”
Since he was already carrying a backpack full of our food for the day, and his own water, I said, “No, I can carry it.” I’m sort of stupid that way.
“No,” he smiled in a very nice way and touched his knife. “It will be faster if I carry it, and it’s only for an hour.” What he left unsaid was, “I’m young and fit and used to the heat–and you are the opposite of all those things.”
So, I let him carry my camera bag. I did bravely carry on with my own water though, since I didn’t want to have to stop him and beg for it every two minutes. I took the bladder out of the camera pack, dropped it into the wide thigh pocket of my hiking pants, hooked the bladder cord around my belt, and started walking alongside Eric.
Of course, I had to stop and figure out an adjustment after about ten steps, because the two liters of water was heavy, and the combination of the bladder pulling and my belly pushing was sending the waist band of my pants down around my knees, which makes it sort of hard to walk.
Did I mention yet that I really hated my shoes, too?
Here are links to all the chapters of The El Mirador Saga:
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