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a jungle hideaway

I am trying to reach the border between Mexico and Guatemala but, on the spur of the moment, I pedal on straight past the turnoff to Frontera Echeverria on the Usumacinta River to make a quick visit to Bonampak, a Mayan archeological site in the middle of the jungle. It occurs to me that perhaps I am just bit a little reluctant to leave Mexico.

More monkey business.


Bonampak is about thirty-five kilometres past the turnoff and so it is not long before I arrive at a village near the site and set about finding a base from which to explore the area. I pull into the first place that offers accommodation and ask if I can camp somewhere.

A man shows me to a ramshackle structure on stilts overlooking the river and says I can put up my tent on the verandah. We almost come to grief over the price – the man initially quotes 100 pesos, a ridiculous sum for camping, but he finally, and somewhat incomprehensibly, settles on allowing me to stay for nothing. Camping under a roof is not a bad idea in the rainy season and after checking out the attractions of the river, I am quickly won over.

The campsite...

...with a private beach...

... and a swing over the water,...

After a swim I contemplate getting on my bike and riding the 10 kilometres to Bonampak but dark clouds lowering in the sky prompt me to take an afternoon nap in the hammock instead.

...and a hammock to lie in...

... while I watch the rain fall into the river fall into the river.

A candle in a paper bag to light up my jungle night.

The following morning I decide to walk to the cascades, one of the local attractions. I am not so fond of ‘attractions’ but the cascades are situated in some old growth forest and I am absolutely entranced by the jungle. A forty-five minute walk brings me to the cascades which are, in fact, quite spectacularly beautiful.

Some of the most beautiful waterfalls I've seen...

... verdant grottoes...

... and crystal clear water...

... in a pristine jungle setting. The sum is close to paradise.

I spend a hour or so sitting by the waterfall before making my way back along the path winding through the trees. The sound of heavy wing beats stops suddenly me in my tracks. I creep forward and spy a riveting bird perched on the branch of a tree. I stare amazed. I feel myself, clearly, to be in the presence of an incredible being. The bird is enormous, with black and white plumage, a vivid orange-red head, a bright red ringed eye. I try to get a little closer but the bird flies off, ponderously, to another perch slightly further away. After a few more moments the bird flies out of sight into the forest and I continue on my way, wondering what it is that I have seen.*

A path leads through towering trees and I spot a number of amazing wild creatures.

Low light makes for a fuzzy photo but I was astonished to find a crab scuttling across the path.

A towering tree.

Strange fruit in the jungle.

In afternoon, after stopping by at my veranda campsite for a refreshing swim, I make my way to Bonampak hoping to get there and back before the heavy afternoon rains set in.

I ride happily on ten kilometres of gravel road through more virgin jungle to the site but I find Bonampak produces a feeling of overwhelming ennui in me. Initially, I attribute this to Bonampak’s status as a ruin because, traditionally, ruins function to produce a feeling of romantic melancholy. However, after reflection, I associate the feeling with the presence of bored groups of guides waiting for a likely tourist, and a dense cluster of stalls selling trinkets, a ticket booth, a snack bar and public toilets.

I walk around the site contemplating whether I should give up going to tourist attractions completely. I wonder what, if anything, I learn from visiting the crumbling remnants of a culture of which I know nothing and no answer to this question occurs to me.

Ancient piles of stone.

Murals inside the structures.

Elaborate carvings.

Tranquil lawns.

Encroaching jungle.

On the ride back to the village, I encounter a green python making its serpentine way across the gravel road. I am travelling fast and I am almost upon the creature before I see it. The snake and I both recoil, the snake more elegantly than I because coiling and recoiling are what snakes are made to do.

In fact, the snake recoils and I jump, if it were possible to jump while riding a bike. I fling the leg closest to it into the air and grab the brakes. I come to a stop as the snake undulates off the road and into the bushes. Once it has achieved cover, it stops, draped along a branch – vivid green, orange eye unblinking, tongue flickering – and then slowly, in control now, it flows into the dense green foliage

*Internet research and the assistance of a knowledgeable person on an internet forum reveal the bird to have been a King Vulture

{ 4 } Comments

  1. Melda | June 7, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Wow – that bird is incredible!!

  2. Javier | June 10, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anna!

    We keep following you….what can I say, you keep taking wonderfull photos and really getting the juice of the country, its soul. What a difference to the fast travellers!, which sadly also included us in recent times…..

    Your route seems exactly the same as the one I took back in 1999, including Villa Hermosa, Agua Azul, Bonampak, San Cristobal, the Usumacinta river…..Thanks for helping me to have those memories back.

    I guess you will head northeast towards Tikal, I think it really worth it anyway. If you are not tired of climbing I got to love the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes towards San Juan. They have nice little villages and great paths for hiking. I hope it is still nice there…

    Take care, you have all our best wishes. Good luck until Ushuaia :)


  3. nicola | June 11, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful pictures – as ever! Did you make it to Guatemala yet?

  4. anna | June 11, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Melda, yes, it definitely was a truly incredible bird!

    Javier, slow travel is definitely the way to go, I think.

    Nicola, I spent a couple of weeks in the Peten the northern most state of Guatemala and then headed into Belize and then back into Mexico. I can’t get enough.