So here it is, the end of a long, stinky day, and what’s the only thing my travel companions can think of? Beer.
We arrived in this little camp,
where we were greeted by this little lady,
who doesn’t know how old she is. Seriously, I don’t think she was being female or anything, she’s really just not clear about the year she was born. Her birth was never registered and she lost all of her paperwork. Also, she’s about as big as a button with the tiniest, squeakiest little voice you ever heard.
We were shown our little cabin, which had no windows and smelled seriously funky. The bathroom was shared, but close. I just wanted to take a shower, Pedro and Huppy however were on a mission.
They started to ask around the camp, “Do you have beer.” “Cerveza?” And they were told there was no beer in the camp and hadn’t been for three years or so. They said it had “caused problems.” But they said there might be some out in one of the stores on the road. But first, Pedro needed a phone and they told us there was one a bit up a dirt road that you had to pay for, but worked pretty well. That left me and Huppy to search for beer. We found a little place that sold sodas and asked “Tu tienes cerveza?” “No. No tengo.” “No cerveza aquí?” “No hay.” “Dónde puedo comprar cerveza?” “No sé. Tal vez por allí.” And she pointed down the road where Pedro had gone for the phone. We walked down towards where the phone was and since the phone was a ways away, we had plenty of people to ask. We asked teenagers. I mean, of course teenagers would know where to find beer, right? No. “Tu tiene cerveza?” We were beer zombies. There was no beer. “Tu tienes beer?” (That would be a funny t-shirt BTW. “Tu tienes beer?” So wrong, yet so right.)
We found Pedro and continued on the dirt road. Earlier, we had met three people walking down the same road. They were from a different tour group and they seemed to be out on a stroll, just looking around. They went on ahead and we kept asking around for beer. Each place would say something like “No sé. Tal vez 500 metros de esa manera.” Then the next place would say “No sé. Tal vez 300 metros de esa manera.” And then the next place would say. “Arriba. Tal vez 100 metros de esa man era.” And then it was just “Arriba.” and finally, when we were just about to give up, thinking they were all yanking our chains, we saw those same three people, sitting down and drinking cold beers in what looked like somebody’s private patio! Turns out, they had been looking for beer too!
I was too hot to drink beer, but Pedro and Huppy excitedly sat down and cold beers were brought out by a strange, older indigenous man wearing a white tunic. It was hilarious. There was also lagniappe!
In Mexico, alcohol is always served with food, and usually, the food is free. In most places, as soon as you sit down, a bowl of popcorn is brought out. Then, with each order, another little snack, like chips or olives or something. This jungle lagniappe was bananas and sliced limes with salt. I watched as the women would take a slice of lime, dunk it in the salt and then suck on it. Later, after the third round, the old man’s wife brought out some nasty yet tasty chip mix with cheese puffs in it. The beers were cold and cheap and the company was interesting. Turns out, the man with the two women, one of whom was his wife and the other her sister, worked for the tourist bureau in Oaxaca and they were all on vacation together. Also, he knew some English which was good for me. They had been looking for beer too and they found out that the entire community ‘dry’ and the only way to get beer is on the black market, which this place basically was, more or less.
They also told us that they had done some research on the place and heard about some Ecoturismo Certificado place and lo and behold, it was run by this very same beer man! What are the odds? Well, the odds are probably pretty good seeing as the whole community barely has 900 people in it. Anyway, everyone downed the last of their beer and we headed back for an early dinner, a shower and bed.
On our way back, we saw that group of kids and yelled “Did you ever find any beer?” and they said “We didn’t even think to look.” Told you. Sweetest 20-somethings everrrrrr.
Dinner was simple and vegetarian, which I appreciated. No beer though. There was some really loud music playing and it turns out there was a church just behind the dining hall. Funny thing: a lot of the folks in the community are Pentecostal. Poor Huppy, he just can’t get away from the Pentecostals. He did his PhD dissertation on them and now, every where he turns, he bumps into something that has to do with Pentecostalism.
The shower was cold yet refreshing. And this time, I downed one of Pedro’s magic blue pills. Ahhhh, sweet relief. I hit the zone and was down for the count. The next day, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed… ha, yeah. Right.
The day started with me having to decide if I should wear the dirty shirt from yesterday or the damp shirt from the day before. The dirty shirt from yesterday was just too dirty. So I put on the damp shirt and realized something I had completely forgotten; when you put something damp into a bag in jungle heat, that something will, sooner than later, smell.
I now know why homeless people smell the way they do because that’s exactly how I smelled. It’s not body oder, it’s something entirely different. It’s a sharp, acrid, rotten smell, more like a dead animal than not, only without the thick sweetness. Then I made stupid decision number 3,456; I decided to wear the shirt anyway thinking it would dry out and stop smelling, obviously forgetting jungle rule number one that clearly states “Nothing dries in the jungle.”
It’s like my brain totally stopped working. Jeebus.
We went to breakfast and were told that, for the day’s hike in the jungle, which I was NOT looking forward to, we could take the short route or the long route. I of course, closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and chanted “short route, short route, short route” while everyone talked amongst themselves and decided…. “LONG ROUTE!”
And that’s when my tantrum began. Really unseemly behavior on my part, I must say, but I had had enough. Too much heat, too much moving around in that heat, and now a hike? In the the depths of bugville? Smelling like a homeless person? Ever since my chiari kicked in, me and my body have had several disagreements, like “You want to go up that flight of stairs? Ha! I’m jut going to make you stumble over half of them! For no good reason!” or “You want heat? Let’s see how well you think when I let that heat fog your brain!” You know, fun stuff like that. So the thought of slogging through a rainforest, with critters and heat and pants I have to hold up and smelling my own stench really just pushed me over the edge. I was not going to be a trooper. No way, no how.
I had to have pissed off the guys, mostly Huppy. I’m sure Pedro just thought I was a handful.
We started on our hike, led by a gentle looking Mayan fella’ in a white tunic.
His Spanish was only so-so. He also spoke a variant of the Mayan language, there are like over 50 or so. But because his Spanish was only so-so, he used simple words that I could understand, more or less. I hung out at the very end of the tour so nobody would have to be subjected to my stank and I only cried for the first kilometer or so. My pants dragged and were getting muddier by the second.
After a while, the trudging became tolerable. The forest floor was wet and mucky and the bugs, cicada type things, were really loud. It was just like you imagine a jungle to be. Huppy and Pedro were happy as clams, near as I can figure. Huppy wasn’t speaking to me. I didn’t blame him.
Our guide explained that there were Mayan ruins throughout this jungle but the locals didn’t let them do research there because they tend to dig things up and wreck the area. Once the archaeologists show up, lands gets cleared, folks get kicked off their land, tourists are let in, roads are made, and nobody who actually lives there benefits in any way. The jungle has been decreasing in size so drastically, the culture of the Maya of Lacondón is seriously threatened. So no research allowed. He showed us on big ruin,
but I noticed tons of obvious Mayan debris along the trail in the form of rocks and pottery pieces. The trail also had lots of little slippery bridges and little slippery stones on the muddy paths.
Can you see how annoyed he is with me?
Anway, there was lots of stuff like that and lots of water everywhere. Here’s a better picture of our guide.
Doesn’t that tunic look comfortable? I would’ve killed to be wearing that instead of what I was wearing. At least it wouldn’t stick to me or drag in the mud. He grew up wearing that sort of thing and when he became a teenager, his folks started buying him jeans and Western style clothing. At about 18 or so he said the hell with that, I’m Mayan, I wear the tunic.
The Lacondón Maya are pretty damn awesome. They are the only Mayans to have never been conquered. Take THAT Conquistadors!
The trail seemed to go on and on. We’d stop and our guide would tell us about this or that plant, or how old a tree was. It seems some of the trees (I think they were calling them selva trees or maybe he was saying ceiba trees) that are considered particularly sacred trees by the Maya. They believe the huge trees have a direct connection from the underworld, through their world to the gods above. Our guide was telling us how his father used to climb one of the larger, older trees and mediate in it. He also told us his father is still alive but is mostly housebound and that he’s nearly 130 years old, making him the oldest person on Earth. I want to believe him.
As we were traipsing through this hot, buggy mess, stopping only for the occasional lecture and bug-spray session, Pedro said “I think the jungle is so calming and meditative.” And I was like “Are you crazy?! It’s insane in here!” One man’s trash, I suppose.
There was a stop to look in a bat cave. I passed on that.
Not sure what the attraction was to climbing into a slippery, dank cave that was riddled with guano, but hey, whatever floats your boat.
You might notice that ALL the images in this post have a time stamp. That’s because all the images are Pedro’s. Again, my lack of knowledge about what we needed and what we’d have access to told me to NOT bring the camera charger and if need be, we could buy batteries for it, thinking access to batteries would be easer than access to outlets. Needless to say, the reverse was true and Huppy carried around a dead camera for this part of the trek. He wasn’t thrilled.
Lots of water and finally, we came to our destination,
A swim in the water. Now, again, there was only the briefest of discussions about swimming and we all said no, we don’t need to swim. So we didn’t bring suits. Just about everyone else did though. Everyone was changing into their suits and hopping into the water. They all had the most relieved faces when they got in. It was sweltering and the water looked really nice, I mean really nice. Huppy and Pedro were sitting on a bench. I imagine they were annoyed with me, because I’m paranoid like that, and for some reason, I said to hell with this. So I took off my boots, emptied my pockets and waded out into the water. It wasn’t until that moment on that whole trek that I felt relieved. It was like the water washed away all my jungle angst. I also knew that if Huppy saw me getting in the water, he’d consider it. Sure enough, he took off his shoes and shirt, emptied his pockets and started doing his own wading.
Lucky for him, he’s a guy and he wears boxers and really, how much different are boxers from a bathing suit? Not that much really. He climbed way up into the falls. Of course, he had to hold onto to his boxers for dear life when tons of water was pouring over him. I half expected to see them floating down the river. Even our guide swam.
And that was the only moment where I was pissed the camera didn’t work. Our guide was standing in the water with his back to us. His body wasn’t muscular, but it was the classic shape of a soft indigenous man. The falls were in front of him, the light was just so and a couple of butterflies flitted about him. It was too perfect of an image. Looked like a scene out of a Walt Disney movie, but one of the old-school, artistic Walt Disney movies. Not the animated crap they put out today. Too bad the camera was dead. REALLY too bad.
We hung there for an hour or so and then it was back to camp to wait for our ride back to Palenque. I showered and changed into my last change of clothes: my pajama pants and a clean shirt. Honestly, the way some of the women dress here in Mexico, my pajama pants didn’t look too out of the norm.
Here’s another funny thing about that part of Mexico. The small indigenous communities are so independent that they even decide whether or not to adjust for daylight savings time. With the end result being that whenever someone tells you what time they’re going to do something, you have to take into consideration what their frame of reference is. Our guide told us the van would pick us up at 4:30 or 5pm, but we didn’t know if that was the tourist company’s time, which what we were all operating on, or if it was our guide’s time, which was an hour behind. ALL of us were scratching our heads on that one.
The van showed up on the tourist company’s 5pm, thankfully and, after some confusion as to who was in what van, we booked it back to Palenque city with only one stop by the military to check for illegals and/or drugs. This was the only stop on the whole trip where we had an issue. They ordered us all out of the van. We all climbed out and Pedro was standing next to one of the military guys. The military guy turns to Pedro and says “Are you a foreigner?” And Pedro says, in perfect accented Spanish “Yes, I’m from the United States.”
That was it. Foreigner indeed. With such perfect Spanish and a dirty shirt? He was definitely a suspicious character. I mean, c’mon.
That is one shifty dude, no?
The military guy orders Pedro to get his bag out of the back of the van and the rest of the military guys search the van. Fortunately, before Pedro got to his stuff, the rest of the military guys decided that yes, this was a bunch of tourists and to let us go on our merry way.
Our only remaining hurdle was to figure out if we were going to spend the night in Palenque and take an early morning collectivo or take an overnight bus. It was a five- to six-hour bus ride and as far as we knew, the next bus out wasn’t until 10pm which means we would’ve had to kill several hours waiting. Honestly, I did not want to spend another night without clean clothes, I was already reduced to wearing my pajamas and I couldn’t imagine going out to eat, in an honest-to-god restaurant, wearing what I was wearing. Fortunately, the gods smiled down upon us and when the van dropped us off at the bus station, a bus was 15 minutes away from leaving for San Cris. And a first class bus at that! It had a movie playing, and according to its driver, they had their own security to guard the bus on the night roads. (The movie was some dubbed John Travolta thing with Robin Williams. It was really bad with a lot of slapstick. It ended with Seth Green sobbing while cradled in a gorillas arms. I don’t even want to google what the movie could possibly be.)
We got home for around 1pm and a quick trip to our apartment and we were all in a coma. Well, THEY were in a coma. I took a hot shower.