The Road to El Mirador, Part Nine

reaching base of big pyramid el mirador
The base of the big pyramid at El Mirador. Late morning of day three, only four or five hours after I tried to get there at dawn.

This is part nine of the El Mirador Odyssey. There are links to the other chapters at the bottom of this post, if you want to back up and start at the beginning or somewhere in the middle.

Kris and I got up early the next morning, mostly courtesy of a wild turkey who was squawking his way back and forth across the clearing. They really do make a sound that could be called a “gobble,” by the way.

We’d been promised a dawn hike to the big pyramid so we could get some of the best photos, but that of course wasn’t happening, again due to the effects of various nightcaps, I presumed.

So, I grabbed my camera and tripod and hiked off into the jungle by myself in the direction that Eric had indicated to me the night before. I walked along barely cleared paths, past various dump sites of archeological detritus such as broken tools, wheelbarrows, and empty sacks of concrete. I continued on this path for a while as the sun climbed, ruining any possibility of a shot of the pyramid framed in the light of the rosy fingered dawn. I kept going as long as I felt comfortable that I could find my way back–about 45 minutes–and until I was sure that I’d somehow missed the right trail.

So, I turned around and made it back to camp about the time the others were waking up. Maria was brewing some jungle tea which she offered to me. “Where have you been?” she asked.

I pointed down the hill where Eric had indicated to me lay the great pyramid and said, “I walked down there looking for the pyramid so I could get a picture at dawn, but I couldn’t find it,” I said.

“That’s because it’s over there,” she said, pointing off at a 90 degree angle to the path I’d taken. I looked over at Eric, who was rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he pulled on his shirt. “Didn’t you tell me it was that way last night?” I asked him.

“Yeah, but I guess I wasn’t really paying attention last night. But, we’ll all go as soon as we’ve eaten.”

Oh well, what’s an hour and a half fruitless hike in the jungle when you’re having fun?

The temple did indeed turn out to be in the other direction, and we all hiked off after breakfast. At least I’d had the distance right. It took us 45 minutes to get there. And another several to climb the the wooden stairway built up its side. This stairway and some roughly cleared paths were the only conveniences for us tourists that had been provided anywhere on the El Mirador site.

And, of course, they aren’t really tourist conveniences. They are constructs built by the diggers for their own use to move themselves and their equipment to the disparate sites where they are working. Because, if it hasn’t been clear from the beginning, this isn’t a tour like the ones you take at Chichén Itzá or even Tikal. El Mirador is not a tourist site. It’s an archeological dig in progress that reluctantly tolerates people like us who walk in for two days and then beat it out of there, essentially leaving little trace they were there.

There are very few didactics and precious few signposts. The tour relies on people like Eric, who turned out to be an excellent guide full of knowledge about the site, the work, and most interesting, the Mayan mythical figures depicted.

So we climbed the pyramid, and wandered around a few other dig sites where we were able to see, at some distance, remarkable carvings that had been uncovered. Unfortunately, like I said, at a distance, because, since there was no curation or guard in place, wooden barricades had been erected around pretty much everything you’d have liked to get a good look at. The closest we could get to looking at pristine thousand-year-old carvings depicting the Mayan creation myths was about 10 meters, and since they were down in pit that had been shaded by more of the ubiquitous black plastic tarp, it was a dim look at that.

So, my advice is if you want a good look at what El Mirador has to offer, call Richard Hansen and ask him for a job. Otherwise you’re not getting close to much of it.

This revelation engendered some discussion at lunch when we got back to camp. Carlos the Argentine opined that the people running this place were really stupid not to build a museum somewhere on the grounds to display all the cool stuff they were undoubtedly unearthing.

Well, since I hadn’t been in an argument other than with my feet for a couple of days, I casually said, “Who the fuck would be stupid enough to walk through the jungle 56 kilometers each way to see some broken pots?”

“Other than us?” I continued.

But I didn’t say that last part out loud.

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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