A few buses and a relatively painless border hop later (except for the outrageous exit fee from Belize!), we arrived in Flores. This tiny little town is on a island in Lake Peten Itza, connected by a bridge to the more substantial Santa Elena. It's a very pretty, very touristy little spot. We spent a couple of days getting organised before heading off on our jungle adventure to see Tikal and then hike in to see El Mirador.
As always we started ridiculously early. We hopped on a bus to a tiny village of Carmelita where we started with a very hearty breakfast, which was just what we needed. Unfortunately, our guide did not inspire a great deal of confidence. He was obviously still drunk from the night before and fell asleep on our jolting bus ride to Carmelita. We assumed when he disappeared after a very short breakfast he was loading up our donkey, but no, he was drinking 5 beers with his friends which he very cheerfully told us over an hour after we gave up on waiting and went to find him. Despite this we assured ourselves Alex would sober up and improve as the trek went on.
We spent our first day hiking through deep semi dried mud that was hell on the ankles. We had a few brief respites with some gentle, more rainforest like, stretches which was lovely, and we even encountered a low hanging birds nest. Our first night's camp was made in quite a nice setting and after smoking more weed (oh, he started on the trek), Alex eventually provided us with some basic dinner. By this stage I was more than annoyed with our wayward guide, which escalated further when he failed to fulfil his promise to wake us early to see our first pyramid ruin for sunrise. My fury helped me walk faster and we made good time on our second day. This was when my feet began to hurt in earnest.
Our guide, who we really should have stopped listening to at this stage, convinced us to take an "alternative route" so we could swing back this way to see the ruin we missed. The alternative route turned out to be a completely overgrown jungle trek, complete with spiky plants and a wasp sting for Matt. By the time we made it to our second campsite it was very close to dark. I was in tears my feet hurt so badly and Matt's back was also killing him. Somehow that all seemed to melt away though when we climbed up to the top of our first pyramid ruin and saw the sunset over a sea of green. It was incredibly peaceful and beautiful beyond words. Pop would have loved this sunset.
Our pictures don't do it justice. From our vantage point we could see the raised green mounds that indicated the other ruins we were to visit. They looked very far away. We had a much nicer and hot dinner provided by our guide's mother, who was guiding another tourist and was camping at the same site that night.
The next day we hiked to El Mirador. It was spectacular. A proper ruin, not just a mound covered in trees, we climbed to the top and spent some time soaking up the views. Our guide proved slightly more useful by talking us through the history of the site and meanings of the various pyramids and uses of the other areas. We walked our last 15 minutes to our campsite and were very happy to know we had a whole day and half of rest before hiking again.
Our guide took us around some of the other significant areas on the site, and we were often in view of families of spider monkeys and even some howler monkeys. Very cool. We climbed up another pyramid to watch the sunset again, and once again it was breathtaking. I loved watching the monkeys but this lot were bizarrely aggressive: throwing sticks, leaves, flowers, whatever they could find and coming really quite close in aggressive displays. It really was quite intimidating. They were still amazing to watch.
The next day we relaxed and visited more of the site. Learning a lot about Mayan culture and the history of the sites excavation, though I'm not sure how much of that was accurate given our guide was the hero in most of his stories. The paths were moss covered and the trees were beautiful. The whole site was on levelled platforms created by the Mayans for agriculture. It was all pretty incredible. All of this was made even more incredible by the fact that we were the only two tourists on the site for the whole time. We had the ruins and sunsets entirely to ourselves.
We climbed a different pyramid to watch our third sunset and even saw a toucan in the distance. Finally we enjoyed a brilliant lightshow from fireflies on our walk back to the camp.
The next morning we got up early (no longer relying on Alex's nightly promises to wake us) to watch sunrise from the top of one of the pyramids. It was beautiful and peaceful, but the sunsets were definitely more spectacular. We headed off again along a really beautiful path through a different part of the ruin and climbed another pyramid which proved to be the current hotspot for five toucans and a very pretty woodpecker. We were incredibly close and very beautiful, we stayed as long as they did and loved every minute.
We hiked off again to the final site, which really wasn't that amazing after all we've seen and looped back to our original campsite as promised for our final night.
The hike out proved the worst day yet, partially because we were footsore (or back-sore) but moreso because the horrible mud was back and this time less dried, It sucked at our feet and it got stuck on our shoes making them so much heavier. It didn't help that we were racing the clock to get back in time for the one daily bus. We were incredibly relieved to finally make it out and back to La Carmelita. The bus arrived 40 minutes after we arrived which allowed just enough time for a beer before dragging our weary butts back to Flores and a proper bed.
Some of the wildlife,