Tikal, Guatemalan Accidents, and Entering El Salvador – Oh My!

2009 January 22
by Levi

The morning after my last post on Guatemala, we headed to Tikal. We were on a bit of a money crunch because there was no ATM near the town we were staying in, and had massive sticker shock when entrance tickets to the ruins in Tikal cost about $20 USD each! Nevertheless, we bought our tickets and entered. Palanque had been a truly magical experience, and one the other Mayan ruins had failed to live up to. The ruins at Tikal though… were every bit as impressive from an architecture standpoint, and the site is truly massive, with a trail to one part listed as 23km on our map.

The temples at Tikal were very different than anything we’d seen before. Giant pyramids towering over 200 feet above the jungle floor, complete with rounded corners and massive staircases flanked by smooth runners leading to the sky – simultaneously marvels of ancient engineering and religious insanity. One of the highest temples had a wooden “staircase” added so visitors could climb it without using the delapidated stairs. I only use quotations because staircase fails to explain this dangerous cross between stairs and a ladder, which shot up a steep wall of the pyramid and worked wonders for convincing one just how tall and steep the pyramids really are.

Ruins coming out of the canopy at Tikal

Ruins coming out of the canopy at Tikal

Me in front of a "Temple 1" at Tikal

Me in front of a "Temple 1" at Tikal

Another massive Tikal Temple

Another massive Tikal Temple

We wandered among the ancient city for the better part of a day. As we’d seen before, scattered around the temples were massive stone acropolises and houses, great decorated plazas, and an occasional ball field. Aside from the central plaza and some of the larger scalable temples, most of the park was deserted, and at the last group of structures I wanted to visit, there wasn’t a soul in site, which lead to the full-on assault of strange monkey-like rodents with long tails in the air and long noses to the ground, foraging for food en masse.

Action shot... what ARE they?

Action shot... I don't know what they are, but there sure were a lot of them.

After Tikal, we went back to our hotel, and then to the internet cafe. I met a cool group of people from the US and Canada there, and managed to have the kind of night out I miss: a group of interesting people, speaking english (only because then I can understand everything that’s going on!), and, of course, drinking beer. Just what I needed, thanks guys. The bike of course got some more signatures as well.

The rain had given us a slight break by only mildly sprinking while we were in Tikal, but by morning, it had resumed its full force once again. We made it a pretty good distance and were winding through the mountains when I felt something weird. Though I’m still not sure if I saw it or imagined it, there was a flash of red (the color of my Dad’s bike) in my rearview in a turn, and looking back, I could no longer see my dad behind me. I went only another couple hundred yards at most before stopping.

I was taking out my radio when a truck pulled up behind me and signaled me to come over and speak to them. I dismounted the bike and the couple in the truck, in perfect, if accented, English said “Your partner was just in an accident just a little ways back. He’s ok. Go!” Instantly on high alert, I swung the bike around as a row of semi-trucks came up on where we’d been parked, the truckers practically hanging out their windows motioning me to the last curve, where Joe had crashed.

Around the bend I went, and there was an army of a family, along with my Dad, hauling his bike upright in the dirt on the outside of a corner that had been a right turn for us. I parked my bike and ran up as they were settling the bike unsteadily to its kickstand. They helped us get things situated, and told us it was only by the glory of God that he was alright, and though not a particularly religious person, I’d be inclined to believe it. My Dad and his bike had managed to exit the roadway on the outside of the turn into a cement drainage gutter before hitting soft ground and eventually a boulder (only with the front tire). Sitting Joe down, we managed to ascertain that nothing was broken, and the only open wound was on his leg. Miraculous!

The truck full of Guatemalans who’d helped us stuck around awhile to make sure we were ok and gave us some fresh water. After dressing my Joe’s leg and agreeing we had no choice but to move on to the next town to find a hotel, we proceeded, carefully, back through the mountains with no further incident on the road. We actually passed the first hotel we came to in leiu of the next real town, and as Joe has said, it was a dump. That night I was convinced there were two massive dead lizards in the bathroom window, only to find out the next morning that they were only sleeping there, albeit upside down. I’m not sure if that made me more or less happy with the accommodations.

We decided to eat at the restaurant at the “hotel.” The special of the night was fish, and to prove it, the matron brought us into the kitchen and showed us her son(?) pouring out bags of fish he’d likely caught into a sink and gutting them. We both took the special, and were treated to extremely tasty, if small, fried fish served in the traditional “looking at you” style. Mmm!

Joe had some painkillers and we went in search of new materials for dressing his wounds since we’d used all the tape we had at the site of the accident. At the pharmacy, we had one of what had to be an extremely funny conversation for anyone truly bilingual in Spanish and English as we tried to get gauze, tape, and higher-power painkillers. They offered to shoot Joe up with Morphine though. I still can’t figure out why he didn’t take them up on it…

The next day, it was off to the border with El Salvador, but not before more unnecessary action. While passing what had to be the largest McDonalds in the world, we hit a section of slow-moving traffic, which should have been our sign to be careful considering Central American drivers avoid slowing down at nearly all cost. Though we slowed, it wasn’t enough. Up a hill bordering the McDonald’s parking lot, I could see a flurry of cows being led by two young kids. Apparantly there was a straggler who didn’t feel like being left behind, and he appeared from behind a large truck in full cow sprint, heading across the road. There was a flash of breaks and my Dad swerved away from the cow and oncoming traffic, but with the cow running that way, it was dead center cow ribs. The cow absorbed the impact of the bike with hardly a sway but the 800 lbs of bike, gear, and rider flew instantaneously to the ground, thankfully at a bit of an angle so as not to send Joe Superman-ing over the bars.

Another flurry of activity. I pulled off in horror at having to watch it all play out only 10 feet in front of me. The kids with the cows ran to help. A car pulled off with another Guatemalan who’d seen it happen. We got the bike up and into a safe spot. Explatives poured from my Dad’s mouth. Once again, the bike was practically perfect, with a few things shifted or mildly deformed but functioning. I got to reach into my grab bag of injury-related Spanish again to convince a restaurant to give me a bag of ice for my injured friend, and despite my Dad’s visible frustration, he could think of little beyond getting out of Guatemala, a view I was ok with if I didn’t fully echo his reasons why.

All signs seemed to point to the Honduran border instead of the Salvadoran one, and our confidence in being on the right path was continually shaken despite seemingly being correct according to our map. We were, however, surrounded by trucks bearing Salvadorean plates, so we pressed on, eventually coming to a sign that didn’t look like a standard roadsign, but pointed accurately to the turnoff for the Salvadorean border. It may as well have said “bad roads this way.” What’d the Salvadoreans ever do to you, Guatemala?

It was the standard sillyness at the border, taking far longer than there’s and need, and costing a handful of dollars. Border crossings are by far the worst part about this trip (at least for me, who still hadn’t had a real accident). That said, we were eventually helped by an English-speaking customs agent in El Salvador, who provided the first cursory inspection of our stuff – having each of us open one of our panniers – but mostly helped us through the agonizingly slow process. The sun was beginning to set as we finally cleared customs, and we were treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve seen in my life over the Salvadorean mountains as we descended into the valley containing Metapan.

One Response leave one →
  1. 2009 November 12
    arodi guaran permalink

    we call them pizotes (those like monkey on the ground)