After all three of us arrived in Guatemala and spent a day situating ourselves at the base camp – Casa de Tío Romeo, Claudia’s real uncle and mine and Vanessa’s newly adopted uncle – we made way to the bus station to take the nine hour overnight bus ride to Santa Elena. I was thrilled at this prospect. Bus transportation was my favorite in South America and I joyously recounted several overnights through Perú and even the time I splurged on the full cama (180 degree beds) from Lima to the border of Chile. I convinced Claudia and Vanessa of how luxurious these South American buses could be with the qualifier that they were nothing like Greyhound buses. I didn’t book this particular trip but I figured since the tickets said “Lujo”, Spanish for luxury, that we’d be taking the full cama journey. No. Not at all. What I forgot to count into my delusional expectations was that this was only a nine hour trip and not one of the 20-36 hour journeys that were common in Perú. In Ecuador when the maximum travel distances were the same as Guatemala, the buses were much more modest in that they only reclined by about 20 degrees. This was what we were dealing with on our overnight to Santa Elena and I felt like a tool for reassuring Claudia that we were going to have a super comfortable bus. To add insult to injury, we were also on the bus that seemed to have an intense fear of the possibility of sweating or just an extreme desire to simulate arctic conditions. The air conditioning was on full force throughout the entire bus ride and though I remember being thankful for wearing my hiking shoes and long pants, I still had to stop myself from trying to snuggle Claudia sitting next to me.
Soon enough the bus ride that I’d been looking forward to for a couple of week now was over and we were quickly whisked away to the Jungle Lodge in Tikal National Park. After settling in to our cabin, some showers and a quick breakfast, we quickly made our way to the ruins as we only had two full days to maximize our time here. I of course felt some slight obligation to enjoy it more than the average person since the site was partially restored by my alma mater, University of Pennsylvania, a fact I was reminded of the next day by our tour guide. The day of hiking entailed climbing up lots and lots of steps, an activity for which I sadly realized my sentient self of eight months of sitting on my ass in Colorado was not prepared. I made the revolving pact with myself to start hiking more once I returned to the U.S. and moved on. Guilt for not being physically fit doesn’t seem to have any leverage with my conscience these days. The highlights of our hike were the main plaza featuring El Gran Jaguar which sadly you cannot climb, Temple #4 which oversees the lay of the land and upon which I took a quick nap almost causing me to roll off the damn thing, and the spider monkeys.
The next day we filled with organized tours to Uaxactún and zip-lining in the afternoon. The first tour took us to the tiny gum-making village of Uaxactún, a village where production of gum made the local people so rich, they allegedly smoked currency, and a village so isolated that the local people, los chicleros, saw their first airplane before their first car. This fact tickled me the most because upon hearing this, I realized that these are the only people I’ve come across so far in my worldly studies that have legitimately experienced the same emotions one would feel upon seeing a UFO land. In my case, seeing an unidentified flying object would have been a dream come true because it would mean that everything in The X-files is truth, but then I could understand how the people of Uaxactún would have been legitimately frightened. Nonetheless, they carried on with their business of making gum from a fruit produced by a tree that our guide told us was called the cojones de caballo or horse’s balls for English speaking folk. At the museum, we got to taste the gum that was made and this experience ended with a metaphysical debate over whether or not “no taste” is actually a taste in and of itself. I stated that gum had an interesting taste while Claudia exclaimed that there is no taste. The three of us went back and forth but I still hold that no taste is still a taste. The gum wasn’t sweet, salty, bitter or sour but you still knew that something other than saliva was in your mouth and as far as I’m concerned, saliva is the baseline for whether or not something has a taste.
Taste debates behind us, the second part of the day featured our adventure sport activity of the trip, zip-lining, a checkmark on Claudia’s bucket list. I had done this two times before in Costa Rica and recalling what an enjoyable time I had previously, I was happy that Claudia was making this an important part of her birthday trip. I didn’t realize however how fearful Claudia was of heights and felt terrible after making the callous remark that all she had to worry about was being stuck in the middle and having to pull herself to the base. Claudia swung on through though as did the rest of us and by observing the big smile on her face as she was swinging in to the bases, I could tell she was quite satisfied with her decision to go zip-lining. Vanessa probably had the most fun of us all as she had the fortune of having her “Super Chica” flight captured on video, a video that was shot by the tour guide attached to her and that feature a minute long shot of her rear end going through the trees. I never heard three women laugh as hard as we did when reviewing this documentary gem and moments like these are why I’ll always cherish traveling with friends.
Next stops: Pollo Campero, Panajachel, Monterrico and Antigua!