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Uaxactun is a mere 23 kilometres from Tikal on a beautifully surfaced gravel road and the only thing that momentarily impedes my progress is a thorn-induced puncture. When I arrive, on the basis of a last minute tip from an ex-pat German girl, living in El Remate, I seek out Antonio, who is one of the few people who take people on tours in the jungle to the north and knows all the roads like the back of his hand. He is also, apparently, a keen cyclist.

Unknowingly, I arrive in the middle of the World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and South Africa and so Antonio’s focus is somewhat divided – I am very impressed that he manages to lavish any attention on me at all. With eyes flickering between me and the television, Antonio tells me that what I want to do will be difficult, but not impossible, before we agree that we talk later, in more detail, over some maps. He then returns to bear witness to Guatemala’s doomed struggle with South Africa and I venture out into the blistering afternoon sun to explore Uaxactun.

Uaxactun is a quiet village lined up in two rows on either side of a wide green, set in the middle of ancient ruins. The Mayan site pre-dates the larger and more popular Tikal site. Crumbling structures surround the living village and there is not a tourist to be seen anywhere. I wander alone in the afternoon heat, resting often under giant trees.

Spider monkeys hurl themselves carelessly from one tree to the next with utter confidence. The ground doesn’t seem to exist for these creatures. I decide that I like spider monkeys far more than howler monkeys; spider monkeys are agile and move very fast through the jungle canopy, branches dipping and swaying as they leap and then hang nonchalantly from any combination of their five limbs. I wonder if there are occasional accidents… do branches break, perhaps?… is a misjudged leap possible?

The archeological site at Uaxactun is deserted, except for the monkeys and a woman with a wheelbarrow collecting wood.

As the shadows lengthen a small grey fox trots purposefully out of the jungle carrying a bird in its mouth, feathers curling luxuriantly from both sides of its snout. The animal is unaware of me and turns onto the path I am standing on. I don’t know which of its senses suddenly alerts it to my presence but it freezes and then leaps away and races back into the forest.

Later, while I am sitting at the base of a pyramid, I spy a toucan, in a tree very close to me, moving from branch to branch. This is not a Keen-billed Toucan but the Collared Aracari, a smaller bird, predominantly black with a vivid bib of red and yellow. Its beak is a deep vermilion, with startlingly geometric patterning. The bird’s beak, which is so over-sized that it is easy to instinctively assume that it is clumsy is, of course, actually an elegant tool. The bird hops and leaps with surprising agility and strength around the tree seizing various items and tossing them neatly down its throat. Then, suddenly, a red fruit grasped delicately in its beak the bird cocks its head to one side and takes to the air.

I return to Antonio’s place where I set up my tent in the yard and prepare for the road ahead by removing my mud guards. Antonio has photocopied a map of the local roads and tells me what I can expect to find in the jungle. He shows me the location of a couple work camps where I can replenish my water supplies and, probably, camp. It rained heavily earlier in the week, but not for the last two days; the roads should be passable although, without question, there will be many areas of deep mud. He casually waves aside the suggestion that I will come across the bandits, rogues, murders and rapists that the good people of El Remate seem convinced haunt the jungle, waiting for an unwary cycle tourist to pass.

The logistics of my journey sorted, Antonio donates a few tortillas to complement my avocado and so completes my evening repast and cooks himself some eggs. After we eat, I show him a few photos of some previous parts of my journey.

In the morning, when I am almost ready to leave Antonio unlocks a door on the verandah and invites me inside. The large room is lined with shelves holding an impressive collection of Mayan artefacts. They are, largely, what was left behind by tomb robbers who looted the local site. The larger more valuable items from the tombs have long since disappeared into private collections and these are the remnants. I have seen the extensive collections at the anthropological museums of both Mexico City and Puebla but there is something much more thrilling about the immediacy of these items which I can actually pick up and hold in my hands.


Antonio's collection of artefacts,...

...the less valuable items left behind by tomb robbers, who looted the site.

Stone implements found in the area surrounding the village.

When I have finished admiring the collection, we set off together as Antonio has decided to accompany me for a way, to set me on the right track. We head out of the village on footpaths through the houses and onto a road ankle deep in fine black mud which quickly coats my wheels. There are narrow tracks, paralleling the road in places, skirting the worst of the bogs but, even so, with viscous mud sucking at my wheels a couple of kilometres or so of it has me wondering about the feasibility of my plan. However, the track we are riding on, or, really, pushing and dragging our bikes along joins another and here the ground seems firmer and Antonio gingerly shakes my muddy hand and then sends me on my way with good wishes.

Antonio leading the way on a bit of jungle single track.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. Jonathan | June 12, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anna, glad to see you are making steady progress; and am somewhat envious of your visiting all those piles of Mayan stones! As I know that soccer has never been of particular interest, Antonio was watching the opening game of the World Cup in South Africa — South Africa against Mexico

  2. Jonathan | June 12, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anna, me again – I failed to look at the date on your post and now see how right you were!! The game I referred to was yesterday and not 31st May.

  3. anna | June 12, 2010 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    The game most definitely involved Guatemala – which is why interest in it was so strong in Uaxactun.

    And I wish I had your knowledge of Mayan culture to help me while I wonder around all those ancient piles of stone.

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