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Eire's Travel log

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Life is not measured by the breaths you take but by the moments that take your breath away.

Log entries 1 - 10 of 17 Page: 1 2

Jun 28, 2010 02:00 PM El Mirador – Day 6 – Sigh! Our last day

El Mirador – Day 6 – Sigh! Our last day I wake at 4:30am – just enough time to hop into my dirty, disgusting shirt and shorts for one last time and catch my pyramid sunrise. I truly enjoy the noisy solitude of walking through the ruins. I can imagine what once was when this was a city as impressive as any that modern time could create. Larger than Tikal, it would have housed around 70,000-100,000 people. Mayan cities are urban planning at their best. There is a wonderful balance and symmetry to all of them. Buildings are well spaced with wide boulevards. Plazas and courtyards provided open space. Families lived in u shaped compounds with kitchen gardens. Reservoirs would have filled every rock quarry for the collection of water so necessary to life. Mayans were wonderful hydrologists, building enough grade into every plaza and causeway to drain to a reservoir. Not a drop of water was wasted.

I wish I could have seen them in their glory, ornately stuccoed and brightly painted red and blue, but even now I can envision the Palace to my left and the temple on my right. I head up Henequin. From the top only rain forest is visible; rain forest and green covered mounds that rise sharply up indicating the pyramids of other cities. Although we’ve only seen four, there are 26 cities discovered so far in the El Mirador Basin. At one time, this view would have been of tall pyramids and temples as far as the eye could see. The only green back then would have been ornamental trees and crop land. I am greeted with another pink cloud tinted sunrise but I’m not disappointed. A cloudless sunrise would mean walking in full sun – no thanks!

We have fresh tortillas, beans, scrambled eggs and fried bananas for breakfast, as it has been each of the last five days. We pack our mats and sleeping bags for the last time. I never actually slept in the bag – only on top of it. Our Muleteer pops everything into its respective burlap bag and stitches it closed. The five gallon water jugs, all five of them, are empty as we fill our camelbaks one last time. As much as I am looking forward to clean clothes and a soft bed, I would not be disappointed to extend this a day or two.

Today’s hike, 21 km reprise of Day 1 in reverse. The first part is along the outskirts of El Tintal, walking through residential ruins. The rest is fairly flat and uneventful, except for that lovely snake section. No, I am not referring to a windy bit of trail. I am referring to the delightfully poisonous Bothrops Asper, the beautifully striped and equally poisonous Coral Snake and their other brethren that hang along one stretch of the trail. No matter – the howler monkeys are, well, howling, as if to say good bye and they keep us company for what seems like an hour or so. As always, we can hear animals around us but aside from a turkey sighting (maybe my friend from the clearing!) and a white tailed deer, we don’t see anything. As always, our concentration is on the few feet ahead of us. We come across a group of four trekkers on their way to El Tintal. They are venturing in without a guide and no mules – only backpacks. They have only the water they are carrying for the next five days. Suicide, really! There are no streams or ponds on the trail. We’ve only seen the one spring which was very low and not drinkable and Bernie tells me there are not any others. The vigilantes will apparently sell rain water if they have enough but it’s apparently not cheap. I think back to some of the on-line blogs about the horrors on this trail and realize this is where they come from. We’ve paid a bit of a premium to be well equipped but it has paid off.

As we hit the three hour mark, we can hear a plane coming into Carmelita’s airstrip. Another half hour and we can hear the saw mill. 15 more minutes and we see huts and farm animals. We are back. Bernie takes us to Andrea’s Tienda for a cold soda. We have two each while we wait for the mules to come in with our gear. Rodrigo, the guide that Julia and Bob used, rushes up to me and gives me a big hug. In the distance I see Bob walking towards us. The last chicken bus of the day is preparing to leave but Julia and Bob will be riding back to Flores with us. Bernie is off to get our Land Rover while Rodrigo, who comes up to perhaps my nose and has all of maybe 10 teeth in his mouth, asks me to join him for a beer. More accurately, he is dragging me down the street by my arm to the cantina and George, my faithful son, is laughing his head off as he watches. I take one look at the place and realize that I do not speak enough Spanish to get myself out this mess if I go inside. I politely shake Rodrigo off and head back to Andrea’s. We load up the gear and climb in when I realize that Rodrigo is also along for the ride. He has scored air conditioning in a private vehicle – no wonder he was so happy!

We pass the chicken bus about a half hour later – it is packed. Julia has now persuaded Bob that he needs to shower before he attempts to catch a flight back to Guatemala City. This is a wise choice since I’ve only seen Bob in the one set of clothes the entire trip. We have left the windows open knowing full well how badly the six of us must smell. Rodrigo gets out in a small village about an hour outside of Flores. Bernie takes us back to his inn on the shores of Lake Flores for a quick beer and then takes Julia and Bob back to the town of Flores by boat.

I have promised George the hot first bath. I am really not giving up anything – I have stayed here before. I pop into my swimsuit and head down to the dock to dive in. The water is warm and the lake is kind. It is the perfect end to a long trek. If I wait another hour, maybe I can catch sunset on the water.

Jun 24, 2010 02:00 PM El Mirador – Day 5 – Voy a ir detrás de el machete, por favor

El Mirador – Day 5 – Voy a ir detrás de el machete, por favor We wake, pack up camp, and as we eat breakfast, I realize that Mariano has spent the last 10 minutes sharpening his machete. Now, I’ve already been told that this is a little used trail. I’ve also been told a charming tale by Bernie in which he got a pair of clients lost for 8 hours and had to spend the Muleteer – the very same Muleteer that is with us – up a tree to figure out where they were. Hummmmm.

We head out for what is to be a 6 hour or so hike. It doesn’t take long before the machete comes out. A discernable trail is actually there but branches and low growth whip at the legs. In a number of places trees have fallen, and, in forest this dense, one falling tree collects others on its way down. Bernie attempts to limbo under one and ends up on all fours. Mariano waves me and George over to a break in the growth so we can go around the fallen tree. I laugh and tell him “Voy a ir detrás de el machete, por favor” (I will go behind the machete, please). Mariano roars and plunges forward putting the machete to good use. We hit a couple more of those nasty bajos and it feels like the full heat of the day is upon us. Unfortunately, there are no chicalero camps on the little used trail and, therefore, no place to take a break comfortably. On the flip side, the thought that we are literally out of the jungle tomorrow afternoon keeps us going.

After 3 ½ hours we hit a portion of the trail that I recall from Day 2. Yippee! We’ve hit it right at the first chicalero camp – actually the last camp going this direction, which means 2 or so hours to go. This trail is well groomed with only a couple of brief ups and downs and no more bajos! I can do this! The blisters are calling out loud and clear but I am channeling my inner Zena. George is in some pain and downs another dose of ibuprofen. He had been using his MP3 player, loaded with comedy routines, to distract him. It actually has been pretty effective. By 1pm, we are back at El Tintal. 6 hours. Not bad!

I like the idea that I know this place – it is comforting. The hammock goes up and George crashes. I rest a while and then head off to hike around the ruins. This is my last opportunity after all. I hike through the center of Tintal and up to the Mono de Leon complex. It has been the most heavily looted with 935 looters holes at last count. I crawl into a couple, singing as I go just in case a spare snake or scorpion has decided to hang around. I’ve stuck with “Feelings….ohhhhhh…..feelings” throughout the trek.

I realize that it is past 4pm and sun will be setting before too long. I head back to the Henequin pyramid to catch sunset. Reaching it by 4:30 I climb halfway up to the accompaniment of a family of curious spider monkeys. Parking myself on the stairs halfway up, I pull out the camera and try to focus on the swiftly moving primates to no avail. Suddenly it strikes me – I have plenty of pictures of monkeys. I could just sit here and enjoy this. How many people ever, in an entire lifetime, get to just sit on a stair, eye level with the canopy of a pristine rain forest. I have no appointments. No one needs me. I realize how blessed I am.

If I had to pick a single day of this trek as a favorite, it would be Day 3 when we toured the ruins of El Mirador, saw my swimmer and climbed La Danta for the first time. If asked to pick a single moment, it would be this one. I make the kissing noises and more monkeys come out. I watch three red collared toucans fly overhead. A small flock of petit green parrots lands in a tree. I can hear howlers in the distance. I sit like this for an hour, just grinning and having monkey conversations. I head the rest of the way up and watch more birds from the top. From this vantage point I can make out nests. One of my monkeys swings on over to a neighboring tree just below the pyramid summit as if to keep me company. I take a couple of shots of the pinkish clouds and head down. I have had my last sunset on a Pyramid. It was grand!

Jun 14, 2010 02:00 PM El Mirador – Day 4 – Oh, okay, now I get it!

El Mirador – Day 4 – Oh, okay, now I get it! I wake at 3:45am and drag on a pair of long pants and a long sleeve shirt – it’s not cold by any means but this is an opportunity to wear CLEAN CLOTHES. There is no way I’m wearing these once the day starts heating up but I can have clean clothes for a couple of hours and that is good stuff! I pop on the now dreaded head lamp and wait for Julia. 4:15 – no Julia. I decide to go for it anyway. I don’t want to break my “Pyramid at Sunrise or Sunset” streak and I won’t have the opportunity this evening. Besides El Tigre is only 15-20 minutes off and I still have a bit of Sheena of the Jungle glow about me; I feel safe.

I head out. El Mirador needs better signage – I’ll send that e-mail when I get back. I hike down the trail when I hear overhead the whoop whoop flapping sound that I asked Bernie about last night at dinner. “Vampire Bats” was his answer. Great! I am hiking in the dark (and the rainforest is extra dark by the way) to the accompaniment of vampire bats. And bugs. Bugs drawn to the head lamp. I find the lone sign to El Tigre and then the placard showing the design – I’m in the right place. I keep walking expecting to come up to the staircase any minute but it evades me. Keep walking. At this point I start memorizing lefts and rights and repeating them in my head. I see a sign for the North Acropolis – I remember this from yesterday and follow it. About 10 minutes later I realize that I am lost. I see a stelae I admired the day before. I keep going. I reach the break in the causeway and I realize that I am better than halfway down the 4km trek to La Danta and I know that’s a straight shot. Well, what’s better than sunrise on the world’s largest pyramid? And that one has great stairs to boot! I’m making good time – I can get up there by 5am! Rule #2 – It’s all good.

The sunrise is a cloud covered pink tinted delight. This is so worth the effort. Now my only issue is getting back. I decide that I am best off following my lefts and rights rather than trying to finding the more direct but unmarked route. The bats have gone to bed and the spider monkeys have awoken. I have wonderful company as I watch them troupe overhead. By 6:15 I am back in camp. I am no longer Sheena of the Jungle – I am invincible. I am Zena, Warrior Princess!

We pack up camp, eat breakfast while the mules are being loaded and head out for the 20 km hike to Nakbe. Today we have our first real Bajos. Bajos are exposed areas of muddy swamp, deeply rutted and uneven. Our luck has held out and they are dry but packed hard. In the full sun, they are brutal – I hadn’t realized how much the canopy cools the air. This is not fun. We make Nakbe in 3 ½ hours and poor George is so beat that he agrees to go up Temple I but will then go to the Vigilante huts and lay down on a covered bench. I follow Bernie and Mariano up and down a half dozen structures – here is the largest mask yet discovered, but sadly covered up and closed off. We find a Pil-awahul , a word literally meaning blood hole, a manmade 2,000 year old water hole which Mariano had excavated 20 years ago. Moving the rocks that cover the hole, Bernie descends down on a rope. I am offered the opportunity but pass. Back to the Vigilante quarters where we find a baby coatimundi. Full sized coatimundi are about the same size as a medium sized dog with a long snoot that make them appear half anteater with a very long tail. This one fits in my hands. Adorable!

A quick break and a trip to the Sanitorio – in the same fashion as the others but this one has a blue lace door – I took pictures of the classed up version! We are now off to our chicalero camp which I am told is a quick 20 minute walk. I tell Bernie “That’s a good thing because 20 minutes is about all I have left in me.” He laughs. About 30 minutes later we are still hiking. I ask and Bernie informs me that he was wrong – we have at least another 40 minutes to go. 40 minutes and a couple more of those nasty bajos. My blisters now have blisters and every step is another opportunity to inventory them. Suddenly it dawns on me why all those trail blogs are so negative. I get it! They weren’t written after day 1 or day 2 or day 3. They were written after days 4, 5, and 6. I mean, the one woman who claims to run marathons weekly and says this is the hardest thing she has ever attempted is going a little too far, but I get it. I am so spent that I am fighting back tears. I am tempted to just sit straight down on the trail and refuse to move any further. And poor George realizes the point I’ve reached. Where I have been encouraging him up until now, our roles suddenly reverse. Mariano has picked up on it to and is walking beside me. We have formed a nice friendship, carried on in broken Spanish, and he tells me that I am “muy fuerte” (very strong) and “joven para su años” (young for your years).

We make camp and Mariano takes over the unpacking of the mules. He quickly unearths the hammock and has it mounted on a pair of trees in record speed. There is a spring nearby and he sends the Muleteer off with instructions. In the meantime, Mariano is doing something with a bucket. I am too tired to care until I realize that he has a spigot now mounted to the bottom of the bucket and is screwing in a shower head. Next the machete comes out and he is whacking a couple of long branches down, mounting them in the ground and wrapping them in a tarp to create a small enclosure around the base of a tree. Next the bucket is pulled up the tree at just the right height. It is…..a shower! And Mariano tells me that I can use the whole bucket just for me! This is heaven. It sucks that I will have to put back on my dirty clothes afterwards. But still, it is a SHOWER! Julia and Bob have arrived and are setting up camp and Julia is green with envy. Bernie tells her she can go next. Ladies first!

Over dinner Bernie discusses choices for tomorrow’s hike. We can hike for 8 – 10 hours to Ramonal and finish the next day with a 2 hour hike, or we can return to El Tintal in about 6 hours and hike 4 hours the next day. After my little breakdown today, I understand his concern. Neither me or my feet are going to make it through an 8 hour hike. George isn’t either. We opt for El Tintal on a shortcut trail. Bob and Julia are going the other way so we make arrangements for them to meet us in Carmelita if they miss the Chicken Bus back to Flores. We have room in our Land Rover to take them back, plus we have air conditioning! 8pm and I am off the bed – sleep should come easy!

Jun 13, 2010 02:00 PM El Mirador – Day 3 – Standing on the World’s largest pyramid

El Mirador – Day 3 – Standing on the World’s largest pyramid El Mirador is the oldest known Mayan city. It predates Christ by 1,200 years. It is also the largest Mayan city discovered thus far. Even in tattered ruins, Mirador is impressive beyond any ability to describe it.

Today is our “easy” day. I intend to see every inch possible but there are no strict timelines. I will explore to my heart’s content. Ruins are my favorite drug! Plus we don’t have to take down camp and pack it up. Yippee!

Bernie, Mariano, George and I start off. Bernie and Mariano met working on an archeological dig so they are discussing all the various conclusions and possibilities at each structure – how many times it was re-built (a very Mayan trait!), what it was, how it was used, etc. The discussions are in Spanish but I can follow bits and pieces. Some of the restored plaster work has been protected by steel work structures with corrugated plastic covers. Others are simply covered in sheet plastic held up by sticks and branches. Pyramids are unexcavated except for the triadic temples that top each platform. We walk through residential districts, then on to Structure 34, my friend from yesterday. I take more pictures and realize the best vantage point is up one of the steel towers. I hop up and climb about two stories high before I realize that I am indeed crazy. Great shot though!

Next up is the treat I have been waiting for – the swimmer of the reservoir! These stucco friezes, dated to 300 BC, tell the story of the creation of life. They are a reenactment of the Popol Vul, the Mayan book that lays out the course of the Moon, Venus, Mars and life in general for three millenium. I have always been amazed at the quality of movement in Mayan art. From its earliest forms, the figures have always depicted visible motion. My swimmer is everything I hoped he would be in person! The structure is gated and there isn’t a sole around to accept my bribe of Johnny Walker Red and Trident Gum. I crawl under plastic tarps to get a better picture. Wow! Just wow!

We are off again, through the North Acropolis, an intentional hodgepodge of palace complexes and temples that conjures up images of pages and servants walking amongst lords in jaguar skins and plumed headdresses. Then up the impressive El Tigre pyramid. No, there are no tigers in Guatemala – the structure was named in 1926 when El Mirador was rediscovered. At 55 meters in height (180 feet), it is more than impressive. I hike the small temple to the right, placing me eye level with a family of spider monkeys in the canopy. I have attracted the attention of a “poser” monkey – he literally poses like a model, letting me take picture after picture. I swear he is smiling! Then off to the top! 360 views of the green below – it is hard to remember that this was once all but completely paved over for nearly as far as the eye could see. Paved in white and paint in bright red and vibrant blue. It is hot, really hot, but I really don’t care. I don’t think my grin can get any wider!

We take in the Leon complex and Los Monos, another tall pyramid, before returning to the campsite for a late lunch and, get this, a shower! Okay, it’s not really a shower I discover. It is half a bucket of water that I can wash with. I literally bend over and plunge my whole head into the bucket so I can conserve as much water as possible. Maybe, just maybe, I can rinse some of the grim off my clothes if I am careful. I’ll put them back on wet – I don’t care. The shampoo isn’t sudsing at all – I am just that dirty.

My one desire is to sleep on top of La Danta, the world’s largest pyramid by volume. Bernie tells me “You won’t want to do it. You really won’t” and agrees to take us up for sunset and return with me after dinner if I don’t change my mind. We make the long walk (4km) down the causeway to the pyramid, accompanied by spider monkeys. Here the stairs are actually stairs as opposed to the retaining boards and stakes that form the climb up the others. Up one platform and then a 2nd and a 3rd until we reach the top platform. Each one had its own triadic complex – two temples, one on each side, and a main staircase up to the next level with the earth-sky altar in the center. On up to the top – George goes first so I can take his picture from below. And then I mount the final stairs! Okay, I get what Bernie was saying. The top is SMALL! Maybe 8 feet wide and 12 feet long. And the sides are steep. Remember, this thing is 75 meters (230 feet) high. And it’s not a flat surface on top either. If you rolled in any direction, you’d be toast, or jaguar chow. He is right – I’m not sleeping on this. We watch sunset, as much as one can watch sunset in a rainforest. It’s really more like watching light effects on clouds. You don’t really see much of the sun, but it is still wonderful!

Back to camp and dinner. This is a good spot to mention Julia and Bob. Julia and Bob are the only other people on the trail as far as we know. We’ve not seen anyone else the entire trip. Where we, just George and I, have two guides, a muleteer and 5 mules, Julia and Bob have Rodrigo dragging one very sorry mule. To top it off, Bob has never been out of the USA and is not having a good time. He has already checked to see if there is a way to be helicoptered out here and if possible, wants to be on the next plane out of the country. Julia, on the other hand, is having a wonderful time….so long as she can get some distance from Bob. She does this by hopping over to our campsite to chat whenever possible. They started out as friends and former co-workers but that ship has sailed. Julia and I agree to hike El Tigre at 4am to see sunrise in the morning. Bob and George agree that they will sleep in. See, even my craziness has found fellowship!

Jun 12, 2010 02:00 PM El Mirador – Day 2 – The Cockroach, the Mule and the Turkey

El Mirador – Day 2 – The Cockroach, the Mule and the Turkey The sunrises early here - my goal is to see sunset or sunrise each day from the top of a pyramid. I've missed the opportunity this morning by waking at 5:15am. The sun is already up. While Bernie is making breakfast and our Jungle Guide, Mariano, is making fresh torillas, we are rolling up our pads and sleeping bags and hopping into fresh, clean clothes for the last time. Enjoy!

Today's hike is 32km long - 6 hours, we hope. By the time we start out, it is 7:30 and already getting hot. Realize that when it rains, an hour later you can see, I mean really SEE, steam rising from the jungle. There are a couple of mild ups and downs but nothing like what I was prepared for. Nearly every on-line blog about this trek is filled with negative - scratch that - scary tales of woes on this trail. I don't understand; aside from the length and the heat, it's not all that tough. Maybe we got lucky - we are at the beginning of the rainy season and the trails aren't muddy yet. As it heats up, we find the need to take a break about every two hours. Conveniently, there are chicalero camps about every 1/4 of the trail on today's hike, meaning there is a clearing with log chairs. Otherwise, the breaks would be tough - too much jungle.

I should mention the monkeys. Mostly spider monkeys, but howlers wake us at 4am and sing us to sleep in the evening. They are naturally curious and a blast to watch! We also have more snakes. A lovely green and blue snake, frog snakes, more coral snakes.

We finally, at about 1pm, reach the outskirts of El Mirador itself. The first ruin is a pair of small temples built much later - around 900 AD - and believed to have housed the Priests that cared for the sacred bundles that were housed in La Dante, still many km away. There is a doorway deep into the structure to the right and Bernie says I can go in, but "be loud" to scare away any snakes or creatures. George suggests I sing because that will scare away anything. Headlamp in place, I start singing "Feelings...oohhhhh....feelings." It became a theme. The halls and rooms inside are teeny tiny and I have to crawl but this is sooooo cool!

It seems like forever before we reach the campsite itself, and again I am praying for rain. It's hot! Much like yesterday, this is not a campground. I had expected more since this is a large archeological project, but no such luck. We set up at the base of a Mayan residential site on a large clearing. The mules graze in the clearing, joined by a beautiful wild turkey. The sanitorios on the other end of the clearing and up a little embankment are identical to those at Tintal. It is a standard feature.

After resting for a while, I wander off and discover Structure 34 Garre de Jaguar all by myself - I feel like Indiana Jones. The stucco frescoes on the front are in the process of being restored but I can make out the huge claws, ear plugs and other details. I am enthralled.

Later we climb the close by El Tigre pyramid - I have my sunset for today! Much like Tintal, these are unexcavated pyramids and 360 degree views of mounds of green in the otherwise flat rainforest. I can see the roof of La Danta, the world's largest pyramid, in the distance. That is part of tomorrow's adventure.

After dinner we settle to sleep at 8pm - 6 hours of hiking plus my own climbing around have resulted in a happy fatigue.

At 3:30am my body has declared a coupe and requires a trip to the Sanitario. I don the heap lamp and head out across the clearing which has been abandoned by all but one mule. Think about lights and bugs for a moment. Really think about it. Midway across the clearing I am attacked smack between the eyes by a 2 inch cockroach. I suppress a scream which comes out as a strange kind of yip and start swinging my arms wildly. The startled mule starts braying loudly. "Que Bueno" I mutter to myself. As if on cue, the turkey, which had perched itself in a nearby tree, loses its grip and cascades through the branches to the ground, landing with a thud. It recovers and runs squawking into the forest, but the mule is now literally bucking and kicking up crap. Bernie calls out. I answer "Todos esta bien." I hear a soft laughter from the Viglante hut.

This is where Rules #1 & 2 come in (refer to El Mirador Day1). Rule #1, Get over it. There is absolutely nothing I can do.

I reflect for a moment. If you think about it, I am now Sheena of the Jungle. Every animal within a 1 km radius now knows that I can scare the crap out of a mule and stun a turkey out of a tree. Nothing is going to come near me now! Rule #2, It's all good.

Jun 11, 2010 02:00 PM El Mirador – Day 1 of 6 - 139km Hike to a Mayan Wonder

El Mirador – Day 1 of 6 - 139km Hike to a Mayan Wonder We woke up at 3:45 this morning in St. Elena, Guatemala to make the 40 mile/3 hour drive to Carmelita, the chicalero village that is the starting point for the 108km round trip 6 day trek thorugh the oldest known ruins of the Maya.
To describe Carmelita is to describe "Brenda's", the restaurant at which we are having breakfast. You can't really call it a "hole in the wall" or a "dive". It doesn't meet those standards. It is a hut with a dirt floor. As we sit down, a puppy chases a chicken through to the courtyard. The "stove" is a platform with a wood burning grill built of adobe and a griddle. This is where we developed THE RULES:
Rule #1: "Get over it." Doesn't matter what "It" is, there is probably little to nothing you can do about "It" so move on.
Rule #2: "It's all good." This is our time - me and my 26 year old son George, and no matter what happens, it's all good.
Put to use, it works like this: Brenda's has a dirt floor and no possible refrigeration or sanitation. Rule #1, Get over it. There are chickens running between our feet. The eggs are fresh! Rule #2, It's all good!
We have a jungle guide, a muleteer with horse and 4 mules and Bernie, a former archeologist whom we have used before on treks. We bring with us 5 gallons of water for each day, plus food and a very limited supply of clothing. For the next 6 days, we will alternate between two sets of shorts and 2 short sleeve shirts.
The first day's hike lasts 4.5 hours - 21 km. An hour in, we meet our first coral snake. Lovely. I hear animals moving in the rainforest. I hear them because you can't possibly see them. All of my concentration is on the trail itself. Roots, rocks, ruts and a host of other obstacles make it impossible to look any further ahead than 5 feet in front of you. Bernie tries to reassure me. "No need to worry unless you hear them moving with you. Only dangerous if you are being tracked. Otherwise is nothing." Great!

I would be okay except for the heat. It is 32-34 but the humidity is 90%+ and I am praying for rain. We reach the outskirts of El Tintal, a city larger than the famed Tikal. Looters holes, sadly, riddle every structure within site. By 12:30 we have made camp - a chicalero station once used by the collectors of gum sap (chickle) from the local trees. It begins to rain and I find myself dancing and whirling in the fat drops, happy for the break in the heat. This quickly changes as the clouds burst and the Viglante' crew (guards at the ruins) rush to set up water collection. Rain is the only source of water out here and plastic tarps that cover the open camping areas are arranged so that all the water running off them is captured.
I'm off to use the "Sanitario". Not squeamish - never have been - these are still a new experience. Six branches arranged in a 6 x 8 ft rectangle, draped in sheets of black plastic with a make shift roof and a plastic door. Inside a wooden bench with a toilet seat loosely attached and a bucket of lime, complete with scoop. When you have finished, you toss a scoop of lime into the pit below. Fun!
Now we are off to the center of Tintal. More looter's holes - they are in every structure. I brought along airplane size bottles of Johnny Walker red to bribe the guards with so I could go into some of the "Tombs" but there is no need. No one cares to stop me and there is really nothing to see - they've been stripped clean of anything but broken pieces of pottery. 2,000 - 2,500 year old pottery at that. We hike up Templo Henequin, Tintal's tallest structure, and look out across unbroken rainforest. The mounds in the distance are La Danta and El Tigre of El Mirador, our destination for tomorrow. Back down, we walk through the site, crossing what was once a moat and into the palace and acropolis. The ruins are unexcavated, as are most within the El Mirador basin. It requires imagination but is still magnificent. The vastness is awe inspiring.
Back to the top of Henequin for sunset and then down to camp for a quick dinner and SLEEP!

Aug 12, 2008 02:00 PM Yosemite - preparing for Half Dome

Yosemite - preparing for Half Dome In three days I will be on top of Half Dome! One of my favorite all time hikes, in the company of some of my favorite people! Babes in the Woods - all female back packing! 19 of us are going, including my daughter who feels healthy enough to make the trip! I have packs stretched out on the living room floor, bought extra water filter cartridges during lunch, the sleeping bags and pads have been pulled. I will pack the car tonight and leave work at 1pm tomorrow to drive up. I can't wait! It is like standing on top of the World with your best friends!

Jul 08, 2008 02:00 PM That other travel - back to business

I am now back to business - that other travel. In the airport with all the other first of the morning flyers (San Jose Airport doesn't take off until after 6am - too close to homes). I think back to my conversation with our driver, Zedan, in Egypt, only 10 days ago. His one wish was to have a reason to fly at least once. Zedan is 49 and he has never had such an excuse. Here I am, waiting for my 1.5 hour flight to Vegas and that other Luxor, in a sea of khaki pants and light blue shirts. I have the khaki pants as well, but I have opted for a green shirt - always the need to be different :-). I will return this afternoon, hopefully in time to get into te office and take care of the rest of business. I take this for granted - I take this flight every two weeks to inspect construction and our completed buildings, meet with buyers or tenants. I forget that flying is still something tht many people have never, and may never, do.

Off to my khaki world!

Jun 27, 2008 02:00 PM Camel Diving in the Red Sea at Dahab

Camel Diving in the Red Sea at Dahab If I have one regret about this trip, which has been beyond fantastic, it is that we did not schedule more time in Dahab. Dahab has been a dream. The diving was spectacular - squid, lion fish, scorpion fish, the most colorful coral I have ever seen. The town has a wonderful laid back feel to it and hasn't yet gotten that resort patina that ruins so many places. The dives here are all shore dives, meaning that you walk in. You start at the dive shop and catch your camel to the dive location north or south of town. The water is warm - I am wearing a 2/3ml suit - and very clear. You descend slowly, and come to terrific coral walls just teaming with fish and urchins. It does take more weight to dive here because of the very salty water but the safety stops are fantastic! Rather than just floating in water, looking at nothing but what is below you, you slowing ascend over coral and do your 3 minutes safety stop while watching tons of smaller fish swim through coral bunches. Like being in someone's colorful garden! i WILL DEFINITELY BE COMING BACK!

Jun 24, 2008 02:00 PM Camels at Giza - Cliche but....

Camels at Giza - Cliche but.... Okay, We rode the camels around Giza this morning. I know it is a cliche, but all the same, it was marvelous! Worth the $25 per camel. John (14) was too keen on it and we did get the usual soaking from the man selling drinks along the way...$2 for a bottle of water is a bit steep. There are pictures from the back side that can not be got any other way since they keep this closed except to the MANY horse and camel jockeys who make a living at it.

I bought rugs. Two of them. It is a bad habit that I picked up in India a couple of years back.

Aside from the nights in the Desert, the Valley of the Kings has been the most impressive. The artwork inside the tombs is just amazing. I can't believe how beautiful and clear the paintings have remained. I was a little urked by tour groups that tromp in and out in less time that it took us to get half way.

We visit coptic Cairo and Islamic Cairo tomorrow. Both these sections are extremely old but supposed to be lovely. Then we are off to the Sinai and diving!

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