Deep Into Yipyip!! Country
Monday, February 19
Tuesday, February 20
Guatemala Day 5/6/7
Belize Day 16
Tikal to El Remate
El Remate to Yaxja (Yipyip!! country)
Yaxha to Highway and Belize Border to San Ignacio
The old bones were still aching from walking around Tikal for 5 1/2 hours one day and cycling 49km to Uaxactun the next. But I jumped out of the sleeping bag at the crack of dawn, dawn is at 9:00am right? Off I went at 10:00am for the short 33km ride to El Remate. The two gringo researchers from yesterday quizzed me about the road to Uaxactun and were pleased to hear that the Chateros and I had hammered out a peace accord and no attacks were imminent. They wished me a good trip and assured me that it was downhill. I am now firmly convinced that one should never listen to a gringo for any kind of advice, especially car driving gringos with no concept of what's involved with cycling. The hills were as wicked as ever and the Guatemalan roads in this area have such a rough surface that I probably had to work twice as hard to cover the same distance at home.
Here is where I met the first other touring cyclist. I had seen one from the taxi and one bike parked at Tikal, which was gone by the time I got settled in. I was simply exhausted and close to hitting the wall. My stomach wasn't functioning and food was not digesting properly. That made it extremely difficult to go on. As I rested in the shade, leaning against the bike I spotted the familiar shape of an overburdened cyclist approaching. A slow lumbering mass inching forward, with spare tires and other gadgets strapped to his panniers. He took no notice of me until I hollered "Hello!". Then he got startled and looked over towards me and recognized in me a kindred spirit. He was from Holland and had started cycling in Vancouver, BC. He was on his way down to South America. He had all Central American maps except Belize and Guatemala. So I promptly sold him my Guatemala map for US$10 to raise some travel cash. I was running low on Quetzales and there were no banks on the way to Belize. The only banks were back where I had come from in Flores. I was exstatic over the $10. Now I would not have to worry about the two days I had remaining in Guatemala.
Tonight I camped at the Gringo Perdido for $3.25 and walked into town for some kickass sunsets and the slowest Internet connection I had ever encountered. The rain and wind whipped around the palapa under which I had set up my tent and I had to use my sleeping bag for warmth. I had also found that up in the hills in Tikal I had needed the sleeping bag.
Sunset Over Lago Peten Itza.
Sunset Over Lago Peten Itza.
When I awoke the next morning I simply knew that I couldn't go on. Everything was aching and my body had trouble moving. I'm not sure if I was dehydrated, simply exhausted, my digestion problems weakening me, or whatever. So I promptly packed up and hopped on the bike at 7:30am to continue anyway. After all, I only had 46km to cover I reasoned. The familiar giggles of the village girls escorted me out of town as I waddled down the road wincing with every turn of the pedal. Only 49km, I can do it.
I had heard great stories of Yaxja and the mysterious Yipyip! tribe that lived in the area. Most scholars scoff at the idea of such a tribe and believe it to be a myth. I was nevertheless curious. I don't believe in Sasquatch either. But given the chance to be proven wrong, I'd jump at the opportunity to head into their territory as well. So I just had to get there.
Without hesitation, the headwinds kicked in and the Guatemalan highway towards the Belizean border may as well have been gravel. The surface was so rough and my strength so sapped that the smallest hills had me down in my grannie gear, barely moving. I didn't take in much of the scenery since most of my remaining energy was focused on making that next hill. After the flat roads and reasonably smooth pavement of Belize this was a bit of a struggle. If only I could make it to the Yaxja junction. Only 11km in from there. The scenery was actually quite peaceful and it was Mayan Cowboy country. Cows, ranches and cowboys with straw hats all over the place.
There it was! the junction to Yaxja. A rutted dirt road with soft spots all over the place. I was within seconds of deciding to simply hop on a collective van for the Belize border. But I persisted and made the 11km uphill to Yaxja. Many a foul word escaped my mouth as I struggled over two hours to cover the 11km. Much of that was due to my vanishing strength. I made it to the park gates and paid my US$11 entry fee for the ruins. Then I looked up and an amazing sight came into light. There was the highest of the ruins. Way up on a hill sticking out over the jungle canopy. Yup, up yet another hill.
I set up camp underneath a palapa on stilts, accessible via ladder. As I rested and reflected on my unreasonable stubborness I observed a crew of workers mowing the grass with machetes. They probably scared all the Yipyip! people away with all those bad, ugly machetes. I slowly unpacked my tent trying not to yelp in pain with every movement of my body. Suddenly there were yelps in the air that sounded like "yip yip!! aldo! aldo! aldo!, yip yip!". The Yipyip! people must be nearby but hiding in fear of the machete men. A few minutes later as I looked out onto beautiful Lago Yaxja the yelps started up again. That's when I realized that I had been observing the Yipyip! tribe all along. I have my own theory that some jungle Mayans had cross bred with some of the local wildlife to come up with that uniquely annoying yelp.
I dragged my sorry ass up the steep trail to the ruins and found a site which I liked much better than Tikal. It's not near as spectacular but I ran into a total of about 10 other tourists. The peacefulness was just what I was looking for. There was also some major restoration work going on and I could feel a sense of excitement at the prospect of some of these old structures being brought out again. I simply wandered for a few hours and realized that I was at one point walking on some kind of 100 foot wide boulevard, now covered in trees, that had retaining walls built on both sites.
Plaza Mayor at Yaxja.
For about an hour, after I had slowly clawed my way up the steps of the tallest pyramid, I just sat on top and listened to the howler monkeys roaring away. Then I spotted an entire little colony of spider monkeys in the trees just below me. It was such a great relaxing thing to do. The spider monkeys were a hoot. They'd hang by their tails, and flit about amongst the branches to pick food off the trees. When they jump from one tree to another they just fling themselves with front legs outstretched. I can just see them yelling Banzai! as they go for it.
I sat there until the sun set over Lago Yaxja. A very serene picture indeed. Then 6 other tourists, with their guide, and I headed down with a park warden making sure now one sneaked off into the bushes to do whatever one does when one sneaks off into the bushes.
Acropolis Este at Yaxja.
Watched the Sunset From the Top.
Spider Monkey at Yaxja.
Acropolis Este, Yaxja.
That night the workers' cook made me a spaghetti meal. I sat there eating while listening to three of the workers playing a Mayan marimba to entertain themselves after a hard day's work. I enjoyed the music but I was actually feeling somewhat uncomfortable sitting there with 22 male workers and not really speaking the language properly. Off I went to bed early, as did everyone else.
There was no need to set an alarm for the next morning. At 6:00am the Yipyip!! people woke each other up with their time honoured yelps of "yip yip! aldo! aldo! aldo!, yip yip! I still had no energy to go anywhere but I simply had to leave before I shot a Yipyip tribe member. They're out of season right now and can not be hunted with firearms at any time anyway.
I once again dragged my sore body the 11km down to the so called highway and flagged down the first collectivo van going to Melchor de Mencos at the Belizean border. I had pre-inquired locally about the fare and simply handed the driver 10 Quetzales (US$1.33) after he had loaded my bike on the roof. No special turista fare for me today, ha! Then off we rattled with the other passengers for the 33km trip to the Belize border. After a few km's the road turned to dirt and remained as such up to the border. The signs said it was being paved but I saw no actual paving equipment yet. Maybe they blew the budget on that one sign but I did see a lone surveyor and some heavy equipment straightening out one sharp corner.
We neared Melchor and it seemed even poorer than what I had seen in Guatemala so far. I suppose it's a border town and many migrants flock to these towns. There were about 8 aggressive money changers calling into the van, through closed windows. They wanted to change back my remaining Quetzales. I told them that I was keeping them as souvenirs since I was in no mood to deal with pushy people today.
Off I rode across the river, paid my exit tax, found a laid back money changer to sell back my Quetzales, and wheeled my bike into the Belize customs area. They briefly looked at my passport, realized that I had already been there and wished me a nice journey. The contrast between Belize and Guatemala was simply immense. I had just come from a crowded area lined with shacks, a dirt road, no sidewalks and poverty all over the place. One little political boundary and the shacks were cleaner, the poverty somewhat less pronounced, the roads suddenly a little smoother, sidewalks existed, to some extent, and there weren't as many people. I was actually relieved to be back in Belize and happily cycled the 16km into San Ignacio to set up my tent on the lawn of the Midas Inn for $4.00.