This is part seven of the El Mirador Odyssey. There are links to parts one through six at the bottom of this post, if you want to back up and start at the beginning.
I was perhaps being a little dramatic when I ended the last episode of the Saga of El Mirador with “Next Episode: Bees!” as if we we’re going to be attacked by Killer Central American Bees.
Since the clearing at Tintal where we were camping was the only place for miles around with any water, the bees had come there, just as we had, to get a drink. It was nice that the two guys who were manning the Tintal clearing hauled the water on mules from an hour and a half away. The bees thought so too, although they weren't paying for it like we were.
The water purification process used in the Guatemalan hinterlands is a system of five gallon (or thereabouts) buckets stacked one on top of another. You pour water into the top one, and it passes through a filter of some sort–very slowly–into another bucket. You pour that bucket’s contents into yet another top bucket that drips the water through a different filter. Repeat one more time and you have drinking water. It’s warm and tastes terrible, but you can drink it.
Of course, the bees don’t need to wait for the filtration. They just congregate by the hundreds around every dripping bucket and hover, dive in, sit on the edge and sip, or whatever strikes their fancy. What that means, though, for us, is that 1) there are a million bees all over the camp; and 2) if you want a drink of water, you have to nicely ask the bees to move over so you can access the spigot on the bottom of the final bucket.
Now, I like bees as much as the next guy, but maybe not in such volume and proximity. I soon learned that even if you were kindly afforded access to the bees’ water source, if you took a glass of water away from the buckets over to some shade to drink it, you were bound to have some company soon who wanted to share.
It wasn’t so bad, though, although it was a little disconcerting to realize that if for some reason the bees got pissed off, you were probably going to be really sorry. But, in the end, only Maria got stung once, which she just shrugged off after using Eric’s razor sharp Rambo knife to scrap the stinger out of the back of her hand.
While the other intrepid hikers walked off into the jungle to visit the Tintal ruins, Maria and I sat around the cook stove because the smoke from the wood fire kept the bees at a respectful distance. As the elder statesmen of the group, we traded folk wisdom over some jungle tea that she made from leaves she’d harvested along the path. I talked to her a bit about my theories of story telling (the more bullshit the better) and she responded with a couple of questions:
“Do you know why I drink this tea?”, she asked.
“No, I don’t,” I answered, expecting some sort of ancient Mayan wisdom.
“Because I’m thirsty.”
Well, that was disappointing.
A minute later, she moved the eggs she’d just cooked from the table back to the fire. She asked, “Do you know why I’m doing this?”
Again, expecting profundity, I got instead, “To keep them warm.”
I immediately asked her, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” but I don’t think they have that joke in Guatemala.
Kris and I had another close encounter with the bees a bit later, when we learned that the guys who were manning the clearing would sell us a bucket of water for a shower for 20 quetzales–about $3. And, because Kris and I could take the bucket shower together, we’d get a two for one.
So, we went over to the plastic covered stick enclosure. The guy brought us a bucket and a little bowl to dip the water and splash it over ourselves, and we undressed and began to rinse and soap up. For the first time in the hike, I’m glad the water was “room temperature,” that is, about 35 degrees C (100 F) just like the air around us.
Very soon, though, we were joined by about 50 bees who had decided that, hey, water was water, and they could use a dip as well. We all agreed to ignore each other and I poured water over Kris and she did the same to me, and the bees didn’t mind being splashed so much that they got angry about it and we all came out clean and refreshed.
And, in our case, ready for bed. It was only about 8 p.m. and still light, but we were exhausted and full of Maria’s dinner and sugary tea. So Kris and I limped off to our tent to get ready for a sweaty night on very hard ground.
It turns out, though, that the mules hadn’t only been carrying water. The “youngsters” in the group: the two Basques, the Guatemalan, the Bolivian, and Eric dug into a pack and came up with a couple of bottles of Guatemalan grain alcohol. And since the Basques had also brought along an ample supply of what smelled like really good marijuana, their party was only getting started.
They pretty much kept us awake until one of so, until the booze ran out, and our hopes of an early start in the cool of the morning were shattered.
Although Kris and I got up with the loud birds at five, the rest didn’t roll out until about eight. We had an early breakfast with Maria, and all sort of shook our heads at the children.
Here are links to all the chapters of The El Mirador Saga:
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