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Rivers & Ruins
Adventures in Central America!

Spider MonkeySpider Monkey (Tami Doughty)
Our bodies seemed to be adjusting to the rhythm of going to bed with the dark and rising early - similar to the other residents of the jungle around us. We had spotted a small lizard living in our roof the night before, and he serenaded us awake this morning. After a hearty breakfast swapping bug stories with our fellow guests, we were excited to find out that Hector would be our guide again today. Today was already warm, so we filled up all our water bottles from the main jug in the lodge and set off in a small truck.

After an hour of being entertained by our guide extraordinaire, we arrived at the banks of the Macal River in downtown San Ignacio. A man was there with a waiting canoe, and we waded out far into the middle of the river before all three of us boarded the canoe and set off paddling upstream. After about 3 minutes, we’d left all sounds of San Ignacio behind, and were immersed into the serene life of the river. We paddled upstream for about an hour, spotting brown jays, cormorants, toucans, and flocks of bats. We even spotted a basilisk lizard, otherwise known as the “Jesus Christ Lizard” for its ability to scoot across the water - so cool! Eventually we turned around and paddled back down the lazy current of the Macal towards San Ignacio. After returning our canoe, we decided to hold off on lunch and head to Xunantunich first.

Back in our truck, we passed thru San Ignacio and through the lush countryside for about half hour before arriving on the banks of the Mopan River. A handwinched ferry was the only way to cross, so we stood on the wooden planks watching schools of fish accompany us across their waterway, as an elderly gentleman cranked the winch. A quick 5-minute drive on the other side put us in the parking lot of the Xunantunich ruin, an ancient Maya city. We trudged up the hill in the hot sun, but as soon as we entered the complex at the top of the hill it was easy to forget the heat. A small ruin by comparison, it is nonetheless impressive with the height of the buildings. We stood in the shade as Hector again filled us up with his extensive knowledge and respect for the ancient Maya. We climbed to the top of El Castillo, happy to find the ledge at the top empty. We sat down on the top ledge of El Castillo, shade covering us from the massive stones we were leaning on. Soaking in the views from our vantage point, all three of us chugged our waterbottles and sat in companionable silence. Sitting there enjoying a breeze, soaking the remnants of an ancient civilization and surrounding view was definitely a highlight of the day and one of my favorite moments of our trip.

We climbed down, down, down, off of El Castillo and explored the grounds, taking in the ball court, the stellas used to commemorate leaders and significant moments in Mayan history, and the palace building. You know it’s really hot when even your guide can’t take the heat, so after we’d seen our fill of this magnificent ruin we gratefully retreated to the air-conditioned truck. Riding back across the river on the ferry, I watched as a pair of massive iguanas lazily tussled over a piece of food on the side of the river bank. We stopped at a little open air restaurant in San Ignacio for a lunch of chicken, rice and beans. Without the comforts of A/C we sweated our way through lunch and a few cool-ish bottles of soda. The drive back to Pook’s was spent laughing with Hector, we truly felt like we’d found a new friend in addition to being the most incredible guide. Remember those blue glitters we kept seeing while crossing through the Mayan ruin to get to our cabana each night? Hector was delighted to let us know what they were – spider eyes! He challenged us to look closer next time – what do you know, once we did, to my non-spider-loving horror, the field was swarming with black spiders the size of silver dollars. Ugh.

Arriving sticky and sweaty back at the lodge, Vicki greeted us with an invitation to go for a swim. The three of us set off from the lodge down the series of groomed nature trails that Pook’s maintains, chatting with Vicki about the history of the property and how she and her family created it from the dense jungle. We arrived at “Red Cliffs” – a section of the Roaring River with deep waters and a large red clay bank on the other side. We eagerly jumped into the water, and spent quite some time perching on underwater rocks chatting with Vicki and enjoying the coolness of the river. Tetra fish were our constant companions, nibbling at our skin and darting around us. Ryan and I lingered long after Vicki departed. The heat of the day had created massive thunderheads in the distance, and we soaked in the river and watched the sky change into electric storms, lightning bolts shooting down in the distance and thunder roaring overhead. Once we pulled ourselves from the cool water we explored the trail system on the way back to the lodge, picking up a few bug bites as souvenirs.

After cleaning up in our cabana, we headed back to the lodge for drinks and horsdevours before dinner. Numerous guests had left today and had been replaced for new guests, so we enjoyed fresh chips and salsa and Belikan beer while darkness descended. Cat and Dave lit the lanterns and candles all around and mingled with us, chatting about our adventures. Dinner was again another delicious meal of fresh veggies and herbed pork. Many of the other guests opted for a night hike with Francisco, but we decided to go to bed early in preparation for our big day tomorrow – Tikal!

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