La Ruta Maya – Day 6

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Day 6: Corozal, Belize to Tikal, Guatemala

Another morning and another dead battery. This time the fridge was turned down to a much lower setting and theoretically it shouldn’t have drained the battery completely. A quick measurement and it turned out Camel’s alternator is only putting out about 25 amps, about a third of what it should be producing. Its not a big enough issue that it’ll be a problem, we’ll just have to keep an eye on the battery power from here on out.

Today was Camel’s turn to lead again. We headed out of Corozal and on to the first Mayan ruin of the day, a largely unexcavated site called Noh Mul just outside of Orange Walk. Getting to this site was fun as it was located out in some sugar cane fields. We turned off the highway, drove through the farm lands and there it was: a set of dirt and foliage covered ruins that was at one time a Mayan city. This site was interesting because of it’s natural unexcavated state. The temples looked like giant mounds or hills with the occassional bit of limestone carving or stairway jutting out. We climbed to the top of the largest temple and had a look around. We hiked around the temple and found an entance to a tomb Sam had mentioned he saw at his last visit. It had already been well visited and raided long before we got there.

We all descended the hill to our vehicles only to discover that like the tomb above, Sam’s vehicle had been looted. Evidently someone opened his door, cut a bag free and ran off with it. Luckily, the only thing in the bag was a remote control for his winch, but it was still something of an annoyance. Of course, who ever took the bag likely opened it up, found nothing of value to them and tossed the remote control into the sugar cane fields. The lesson to be learned: No matter how remote the stopping point, lock your car.

Back on the road we gassed up in Orange Walk. After a weeks worth of Pemex, it was nice to have the option of different brands of gasoline to choose from. Back in Mexico the government owns all of the gas stations, so choices were non-existant. Here in Belize we had all the familar brands from back home: Shell, Texaco, Exxon, albiet with much higher prices than back home ($BZ 5.50 per gallon, $2.75 US) (Note: at the time of the expedition, gas prices in the US were a modest $1.50-75/gallon).

Out of Orange walk, we drove down to Belize City for lunch and to pick up Stuart’s wife who had flown into Belize. Once in town, we split up for about an hour and a half with everyone attending to various errands. We all met back up at the Swing Bridge, a famous (but very small) bridge in the middle of town spanning what was one of the most polluted rivers we’ve ever seen. Nonetheless, the river was full of boats and fisherman. Rather than throwing down an actual anchor, they would stick a long pole into the murky depths of the water which was tethered to their boat, and that was it, they were anchored.

Just down the street from the swing bridge we found a 110 parked outside of a dive shop. We went in to inquire about it and found out that the owners were big Land Rover enthusiasts who owned a second 110 kitted out for serious 4-wheeling duty. The owner suggested some fun places to explore in the jungle and we did a shirt exchange, we traded a La Ruta Maya shirt for one of their dive shop shirts. Aside from the nice people, Belize City is some place I could go without visiting again. Run down and dirty, it serves primarily as a changeover point for travelers going through Belize. However, just before leaving town we did spot two diesel Freelanders…

Once out of Belize City, we headed west to the Guatemalan border. We needed to make good time and get to the Jungle Lodge in Tikal by nightfall. Traveling after dark is supposedly dangerous on Guatemalan roads. The border crossing was rather uneventful but expensive- there was an abundance of entry fees, exit fees, vehicle fees, environmental fees, etc. It seemed as though you name it, they charged us for it. There was also a sign in the Guatemalan customs office with a list of “banned” items for importation. Among those items was everything from meat to soap to t-shirts to gasoline. According to the customs rules, it seems, we should cross the border wearing nothing but our underwear. Fortunately, they choose not to enforce any of these rules and we crossed into Guatemala without so much as the pretense of a search.

Upon crossing into Guatemala, the roads degraded in quality significantly. They went from being old bumpy paved roads in Belize to washboard/hardpack limestone roads in Guatemala. A few miles into Guatemala we saw a broken down truck with over a dozen people packed into it. Sam and a few of the other vehicles stopped to see if they needed help. Meanwhile the others continued a little bit further down the road. Camel was making an awful rattling sound in the back like something was loose on the rear axle. For fear of snapping the bolts on the halfshaft, Nate took off the rear wheel and pulled out the driver side half shaft. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, we put it all back together and were back on the road. Lo and behold, the noise was gone. The noise was likely caused by some loose bolts on either the half shaft or the wheel.

Just as we were leaving, the police stopped and advised us that we should get moving again. They said that the roads were unsafe to travel on after dark. The police were heading a few miles back to the border, and then were going to send a police escort to catch up to us on the way. With that we decided to kick it in to high gear as we only had a half hour of daylight left. With Sam in the lead calling out obstacles, and everyone running all their lights, we hauled butt and the police escort never caught up with us.

An hour later, we pulled into the entrance to Tikal National Park, a drive we had heard would take upwards of two hours. Once into the park Sam, the lead vehicle, radioed that a Jaguar ran across the road right in front of him, a rare and unusual sighting. But the stealthy animal was only briefly spotted by a few of the front vehicles before it disappeared into the shadows of the jungle. Ten minutes later, we were checking in to our rooms at the Jungle Lodge, an eco-lodge built beneath the jungle canopy next to the trail leading to the Tikal ruins.

Tommorrow we visit the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal.

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