Skip to content

walking to el mirador

The remains of the ancient city of El Mirador is one of the earliest Mayan sites yet discovered. It sits deep in the jungle not far from the border between northern Guatemala and Mexico.

While most people are content to simply visit the nearby and much more famous and, therefore, accessible Tikal, El Mirador is on the tourist map for those travellers who are willing to make a two day trek on foot on muddy trails through the wilderness. Sufficient tourists do make the trip for the procession of mules that cart their provisions and equipment to create a hideous boggy mess of the lower lying ground on the route there.

While I’m not really obsessively into Mayan ruins, they generally provide a bit of accessible jungle to explore with cleared trails to walk on and I find this irresistible. So I set off on this trail, alone, carrying my food, stove, tent and sleeping bag on my own back, reasonably confident that I will find my way simply by following the traces of mule traffic.

A disturbed by relatively dry section of the path to El Mirador.

It is a day’s walk from Carmelita to El Tintal, a minor archaeological site at the half way point to El Mirador. There is an encampment there where I can top up my water supplies and camp in the proximity of other people. That’s the theory, anyway, but I don’t leave Carmelita until sometime around noon.

I find that parts of the trail are quite clear and relatively easy walking but where the ground is lower and wetter the path divides and fans out as people diverge from the main route to try to find ways to avoid sinking into the morass. I am rather inadequately shod in what are somewhat ridiculously referred to as ‘adventure’ sandals and to avoid losing them in the mire I follow these secondary paths, a little anxious at each divergence that I may end up wandering, astray, into the jungle.

One of the tiny trails skirting the quagmire takes longer than usual to rejoin the main path and eventually I find myself at a long abandoned chicle encampment. My unease increases. The sun, already obscured by the thick forest canopy, is low in the sky. I spy a path leading out the other side of the overgrown clearing and follow it with the fading hope that it will lead back to the main path. I soon find myself wallowing in deep mud, unable to keep my shoes on my feet, on a narrow path that appears relatively well travelled, but not by mules. These are human footprints.

The parting comment of a Carmelita resident as he pointed me on my way out of the village comes floating back to me. “This is the way to Mexico,” he had said, and suddenly I think of the footprints in the mud, the sad lost shoe, the stray cap floating in a stream, that I saw on last week’s abortive jungle venture, past Calakmul, on the other side of the border, not so far from here. My apprehension becomes more palpable.

I retrace my steps and twenty minutes later I am back on the main path in rapidly growing darkness. The mud here is deeper and even more treacherous and the idea of reaching Tintal tonight rapidly recedes. This is not a major disaster as I have everything I require for a day or so but I need to find some dry ground to set up camp. I wade through the bog sliding clumsily into deep craters in the viscous mud, which once they have me in their grasp are extremely reluctant to release me.

It is almost completely dark when I find myself on a patch of ground that is dry enough for me to pitch my tent. Exhausted, I lie on my back looking up as the few stars that can be seen through the dense network of foliage above me gradually appear in the night sky. The jungle is eerily silent.

Dinner. Sleep.

An hour’s walk, in the morning, brings me to Tintal where the guard gives me a cup of coffee and lets me refill my water bottles from the rainwater tank. He reassures me that the path between here and El Mirador is in a much better state and I set off on my way without even a cursory glance at the archaeological ruins.

Even though it is true that the walking is far easier today, it is still almost dark before I reach El Mirador. The web of paths I find myself on as I enter the site are largely unsigned and I am too tired to wander them in search of the official encampment but as soon as I have set up my tent and start cooking the sounds of a generator and voices drift out of the darkness from startlingly close by.

{ 2 } Comments

  1. Lucie | December 18, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Anna, you are my hero! Sleeping alone in the jungle, sewing your own bike bags… and a lot more you can do. Incredible! Warm thoughts from a snowed-in Prague from Lucie. Have a nice Christmas, the second on the road! I will be thinking of you!

  2. anna | December 18, 2010 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lucie, thanks! I hope you and Jaromir are wrapped up cosily in snowy Prague.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *