As I am sure you can imagine, waking up in the jungle is like no other experience I have ever had. I laid there in bed, eyes closed. At this point, I still hadn't seen the world around me. I let the sounds around me paint the picture of my surroundings. For all I know I could be in the middle of a swamp surrounded by crocodiles! It was early in the morning, but it was already quite hot and the soft breeze that wandered into our open cabin was gentle and soothing. The songs of the various birds filled the cabin, some with delightful song while others having conversations with other nearby birds about the weather and their weekend plans. So beautiful. So peaceful. So relaxed. And I still hadn't even opened my eyes to fully take it all in. I felt like I could lay there all day in this relaxed state listening and feeling the beauty around me.
Once I was at my maximum patience threshold for being lazy in bed, I woke Steve up so we could explore the grounds of the jungle hotel finally. The moment I stepped out of our cabin it felt unreal! The closest experience for me would have been sleeping over at the Toronto Zoo in one of their indoor pavilions... except this was real. The sights and sounds of the local wildlife, the smell and feel of the humid soil and plant life was dreamlike.
The hotel grounds were simple and rustic but naturally beautiful. The hotel contained a handful of uniquely created cabins - each made with local palm trees, stones and wood, some small with basic requirements, while others were more like small apartments for longer stays. After our brief cabin gawk we decided to head to the restaurant for some breakfast. We were the only people in the restaurant at this time so it was pretty quiet and had our choice of tables! Behind the counter there was just one lady doing some dishes. We sat down and I looked around for a menu which didn't seem to exist. "They must have a menu somewhere around here" I remember thinking to myself as I scanned the nearby table tops. Nothing. Hesitantly I get up and approach the counter of the open kitchen, "Hola" I say to the lady to get her attention who looks up, greets me in return and then waits so see what I want or need. Oh right, she can't read my mind. "Hablas inglais?", I asked. No, was the response given to me. Apparently Willie who served us the evening before was the only hotel staff that spoke English, although I must admit I wasn't completely surprised. I stared at her for a few moments trying desperately to think of the word menu or food or anything related so that I could get my point across. Nothing was coming to me. I started drawing a menu in the air with my finger as I said menu slowly and loudly (as if that helped). Nothing. The lady behind the counter was being very patient with my ignorance. "Desayuno!" I exclaimed as it suddenly came to me! While scanning my entire brain for the bits of Spanish I had tried teaching myself before I left for the trip, suddenly the image of someone's travel blog popped into my head and I remember reading about a traveller's Guatemalan adventure and the various types of cuisine they encountered and that breakfast (as we know it) is called Desayuno. The lady instantly smiled brightly now that she finally knew what I wanted and pointed RIGHT BESIDE ME to where the menu's were kept.
Breakfast - and every other meal we would have - at Posada del Cerro was amazing! The freshly baked bread and delicious coffee were my favourites. Once our bellies were full we decided to head out to explore El Remate! First stop: the Lake! Besides the gorgeous natural rooms, another reason I chose this hotel was because it was right on Lake Peten Itza and I imagined myself lounging on one of the many docks that lined the lake, relaxing in the sun reading a book. Our walk to the lake ended early when we quickly discovered that the rainy season really did a number on this town. Every single dock that should have been there seemed to be missing. In actuality, they were all submerged! The only remnants left of the docks were makeshift gazebo-type structures sticking out of the water. When you looked down the lake every so often you would see one of these half-submerged gazebos poking out.
Considering the docks were flooded we decided to walk to the centre of town, which was about a twenty minute trip in the direct sun. There were modest homes, and Inns that scattered the roadside to town, most were so old and creaky that it was difficult to tell which ones were in use and which ones abandoned. Windows boarded up, or no windows at all; just window-shaped spaces in the wooden walls that surely wouldn't keep any mosquitoes out. It didn't take long until I spotted some ducks and decided to stop for a photo shoot (this happens often when you join me on walks). Along the road there were all kinds of animals roaming around; ducks, chickens, pigs, piglets, dogs and horses randomly tied up a long the road and lakeside patiently waiting for their owners to come back with a bag full of fish.
Throughout Guatemala there are all sorts of stray dogs. One of my favourite things to do while I walk down streets is to greet local dogs I pass and give them a nice pet and a friendly hello. In Guatemala the dogs were terrified of us! It was incredibly heartbreaking, so many skinny or injured dogs and I just wanted to get close to make sure they were okay, or say hello. The moment I would show any interest in them at all, they would get extremely scared and defensive. Instead of happy wagging tails we got growling, barking and none of them would let me within ten feet.
The town centre was much the same as the journey there, apart from some of the nicer tourist Inns. In front of many houses there sat an old rickety drink stand to purchase various cold beverages, they were all completely plastered with Coca Cola advertisements. Our twenty minute walk in the hot sun and humid air made us extremely sweaty and thirsty, I was literally dripping with sweat. All I could think about was getting some sort of cold drink to quench my intense thirst and cool me off slightly but I was so intimidated by the people at the drink stands. If the people working at the airport do not speak English, I doubt that the people who own these little "lemonade stands" speak any English, and that thought made me very nervous. There were no signs, handmade or otherwise listing what they offered either, so I would need to rely on my amazing Spanish skills (yeah right). Neither Steve nor I wanted to test out our lack of Spanish quite yet, so decided to walk back to the comfort of our own hotel to order some smoothies - at least I knew where the menus were!
I honestly don't think I have ever sweat as much as I did that day. By the time we managed to walk back to the Posada every inch of my body was dripping, as if I had just stepped out of a shower or a pool! Once we climbed the nearly endless uphill path to the hotel, we collapsed onto some chairs in the restaurant and ordered some licuados (smoothies). I became a big fan of licuados in Guatemala - so fresh, so thirst quenching and best of all easy on the stomach - as I was dealing with slight nausea from my antimalarial medications. I'm not sure if it was because I was so exhausted and hot but that smoothie was the best darn smoothie I have ever had!
Once refreshed we decided to relax in our cabin for a bit. Even though our trek to town wasn't very long or strenuous the heat hit us hard and we were exhausted! Rotating between lounging on the bed to the hammock to the cozy chairs - if only these were always the toughest decisions of my day. A little while later we decided that we would go next door to the Cerro Biotope Cahui, which is part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The park was created to protect one of the largest tropical forests of Central America from illegal logging, farming, drug trade and looting of ancient Maya artifacts. The reserve is home to a wide array of wildlife including jaguar, puma, ocelot, spider and howler monkeys, tapirs, crocodiles and quite the selection if avian life. The land ranges from low mountains to wetlands which include several bodies of water that includes lakes, rivers, streams and cenotes. The reserve even stretches over to the well known, Tikal - one of the largest ancient Maya sites as well as a number of other Maya cities that are still under excavation currently.
The reserve was only about twenty feet away from the hotel. In Guatemala signs are a tourist luxury, and English signs - a miracle! We got to what looked like the entrance to the reserve where they have a few hiking trails through the vast park. There wasn't really any signs, just a flimsy table used like a desk where about five Guatemalan men sat starring back at us. "Is this the place?" I whispered to Steve. Our hotel told us it was right next door so we had to be at the right place - there was just no indication, so we had to approach the desk. It felt like we were walking in slow motion to the desk as the men sat silently watching us approach. None of the men spoke any English but Steve certainly did his best trying to awkwardly communicate with the friendly men. Sometimes we would just agree to whatever they were asking because it was easier and less awkward than trying to figure it out. We decided to take the shorter of the two hikes as some ominous clouds were starting to roll in and we surely did not want to get trapped in the jungle during a storm! Did I mention that i am not only terrified of flying, but also lightning?
The trek was amazing, everything so green and lush, with vines wrapping themselves around other branches and even attempting to completely take over humongous trees that towered over us and the forest canopy. We stuck to the path like glue, getting lost in this reserve would probably guarantee that the jungle would now be your new home because you would never find your way out - it was far too massive and dense. I thought briefly of the different types of tree houses I could live in, it didn't actually seem that bad - then I remembered the jaguars and tapirs and quickly abandoned that day dream. It was hard to believe and imagine that our trek though the jungle probably only covered less than 3% of the entire reserve. It didn't take long to spot our first creature - a gorgeous Owl Butterfly!
The trail was fairly easy but we were still huffing and puffing and sweaty! We needed to stop a few times to catch our breath and to reapply mosquito repellent. Unfortunately other than birds we didn't really see much other wildlife on the trail, but as we were approaching the end we began to hear some thunder so we picked up our pace because I was expecting some lightning to be nearby as well. Our new fast pace and the rolls of the thunder disturbed quite a number of owl butterflies who began popping out of everywhere and fluttering all around us to undisturbed trees and vines - it was magical, unfortunately I was too afraid of the incoming storm that I didn't stop to capture this with my camera.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing at our hotel. We needed to have a very restful sleep as the next morning was going to be a very early start and the day Steve and I were looking forward to most - Tikal!