Welcome To The Jungle

It seemed like our patience with problems was finally rewarded when we arrived in the early afternoon on the shore of Lake Tziscao, bathed in sunshine. Our past problems were soon forgotten, as we pulled up to our night’s camping spot. We parked right on the side of the lake and enjoyed perfect temperature. Having climbed a little higher, it was now a bit cooler and a pleasant breeze drifted across the water. This is what travelling was meant to be about!

We were so close to Guatemala that it was possible to walk to Laguna International, imaginatively named this way as half of it is Mexican, half Guatemalan. It being so close, we took an afternoon stroll across the border. The red bouys across the water mark the border itself.

To the one side was countryside, a few rural houses scattered nearby. The opposing Mexican side is covered in shops selling all kinds of artisanal clothing and food. We wandered through the streets, past all the brightly coloured woven rugs and barbecued meat until we arrived back down into the car park. We debated treating ourselves to a Guatemalan beer, but decided it would taste far superior when we had actually made it to the next country on our adventure.

At the bottom of the steps in front of us we spotted Taro parked, and David and Katie waving at us. They had spotted Ruby and were trying to find us. It was nearly a year to the day that we saw them last, we couldn’t believe it had been so long. We had last seen them before Covid was even a word in our vocabulary. Sadly, our catch up was cut short by an approaching monsoon. They were staying at a free spot a little further away, so we said goodbye for the night and ran for Ruby in the torrential downpour. 

After spending a night on the side of the highway, a night of silence by the side of the lagoon was even more satisfying than it would normally be.

We saw David and Katie again the next morning, and this time we also met their friends Kim and Chris. We decided to go for the hike that they had completed the previous day, but they warned us that in order to do a circular route you needed to get a boat across the lake for 300 pesos each and you had to pre-book it at the start of the hike. When we had parked up however, we were told that for only two people it’s 500 pesos each, so we quickly changed our minds and decided we would just walk to the lake and back.

It’s a short two mile hike to the end of the trail, but moderately hilly in the high temperatures and humidity. We had descended significantly since San Cristobal and were no longer benefiting from the cooler temperatures of high altitude. At least the hike was through the jungle and shaded. After a bit of uphill, we reached the first viewpoint out to the lakes, after many pauses for breathe and selfies.

While we had camped at Tziscao, the biggest lake, the area seems more famous for Laguna de Montebello, another nearby lake. The lakes we hiked that day were again different ones, the whole national park full of lakes in varying sizes and colours. Despite the heavy rainfall the previous night, they remained a brilliant blue. 

As we continued through the jungle I stopped to admire the various plants in the trees, and plan which ones I would use to replenish my diminishing supply in the camper… much to the displeasure of Lee.

It took us around an hour and a half to reach the lakeshore. Two kids were collecting something in a wheelbarrow, but there wasn’t another person in sight. 

Despite the fact that neither of us brought our swimming stuff, we couldn’t resist cooling off in the crystal clear waters before returning back the way we had come.

As we had only done the first part of the hike, we arrived back in good time. We had planned to stay another night at the lake, but we knew that the others were moving on today and it seemed that if we didn’t catch up with them now, we would always a step behind. The sat nav reckoned it was just over an hour to the next point, Las Nubes and so we decided to go for it. 

The actual drive was in fact much slower. Construction trucks, topes and windy roads, slowed us all the way. Even though we had descended a fair amount already, the majority of the road was downhill. Being stuck behind some very slow trucks meant we had to use our brakes more than we would like, to the point where they overheated. We pulled up on a flat straight bit of road so that traffic could overtake us, behind another truck. They clearly had the same problem, the driver was relieving himself onto the front brake discs in a cloud of ominous steam., Lee was ready and waiting if we became desperate. We waited about half an hour, until the brakes had cooled a bit, before setting off on the final downhill section.

The combination of these events meant that we did not reach the camp spots until a lot later than we had initially planned. We turned off the main road on a dirt road for the remaining section. The sign marked Las Nubes as being 6km away and the heavens opened. Fortunately it was a good dirt road, and we plodded along with somewhat limited visibility due to our wipers only working on the intermittent setting. We arrived at our destination in the last hour of daylight and saw the other two parked up on the river.

As we began to set up camp, a loud cracking noise made us jump as one of the large trees next to us fell into the river. Thankfully it had fallen away from us. That would have been the last thing we needed after finally getting back on the road.

By the morning, the rain had stopped and we were able to appreciate our surroundings. Everyone else went about their morning exercise program, while we eyed them suspiciously over our cups of coffee. The lifting of our cups, the only exercise we require in the early hours of the day! We were glad to see however, that the rain hadn’t muddied the blue waters of the river and it was still looking very appealing for a swim. 

We spent the morning getting to know the other guys and catching up on what had happened in the year since we had seen David and Katie. We also used the close proximity to clean water to do the task of clothes washing. By afternoon we were ready for a hike down to see the cascade.

It appeared that you could walk down a trail on the riverside a kilometre or so to do this. We had a very rudimentary map and no signal, but it seemed straightforward enough. The trail through the jungle here was covered in leafcutter ants that had forged nearly human sized trails across the jungle floor. Swarms of little bugs that didn’t bite but were intent on getting into our eyes plagued us throughout some sections.

After a little while, the path forked. One section curved inland through a field while the other followed the river. As the river itself curved, we followed the initial path. This turned into a dead end. We went back to the river path, this was blocked by a fence. After several failed attempts of finding another route and being cut off by impassable rivers or fencing, we eventually found a way through after wandering around this field for some time.

We crossed a side river and finished the last section to the waterfall and suspension bridge on a small dirt road.

The suspension bridge is not something to go across if you don’t like heights, which is apparently something that bothers me more the older I get. Lee however, found much joy in standing on the bridge, swaying it from side to side as I walked. The bridge sways and bounces around some 100ft above the raging river below, a couple of Mexicans bounced across on a moped. The views from the bridge however are worth it.

On the other side is a hotel and restaurant where we stopped for a lemonade overlooking the falls. We were pre-warned that beer was hard to buy in Mayan land. After a short while, David and Katie appeared having had similar navigation problems. They didn’t stop for too long, as the clouds blackened in the distance and they realised they had left their windows open. Following them at a bit more of a leisurely paced we headed down to the water for a closer look.

It was a particularly beautiful spot.

Then, we retraced our steps across the bridge. This time we opted to walk back along the road, which took a fraction of the time. Fortunately for us, as it started to rain on the now dry washing as we headed back into the camp.

With rainy season now truly here, we left the following morning in the rain. After a little while though, it cleared and we continued through the jungle on the road the runs just a few miles from the border to Guatemala. A few military checkpoints give away its proximity. It’s a beautiful drive, through lush green landscapes and little towns, which is good as it’s a long one.

Our next stop was to be Las Guacamayas, supposedly one of the best places to see monkeys and scarlet macaws.

We turned off the main road, after fuelling up at on of the ‘gas stations’. This is a bloke on the side of the road with a hose and various plastic containers full of fuel that they have acquired by locating and drilling into a fuel supply line. Sometimes they optimistically hang a hand written ‘Pemex’ sign at the top too. After being a bit unsure about the quality of the fuel, but ultimately not having any choice, we continued without an issue.

Las Guacamayas has two campsites, both near the large river that passes nearby. One supposedly boasted wifi, but apparently the entire towns electricity was out at the moment so that was no longer a selling point. We went to the first one, a large green field surround by fruit trees on the waters edge. The friendly owner, and one other camper greeted us. Kim and Chris returned from scouting out the other campsite to declare this one had more space. So we settled in next to our new acquaintance Gerald and soon enough David and Katie joined us. The owner told us that the monkeys would be here later and there might be some macaws but it was out of season.

She wasn’t wrong about the monkeys. There were two types here; howler monkeys and spider monkeys. We could hear the howler monkeys on the other side of the river, and wondered if we should get out our kayak until we saw the crocodile on the bank. Soon enough, there was no need, as spider monkeys came and entertained us. Around six or seven of them, including some babies swung through the trees above us hurling mangoes, some of them directed at Kim and Chris’ dog. Having never seen a wild monkeys before, Lee was very excited. He’s been talking about seeing a monkey for as long as I can remember.

In the meantime, the guys headed down to check out the restaurant and we decided we would all go there later for dinner. The restaurant was just about getting by without any power, but it meant the fans weren’t working so we sat and gently sweated in the still and humid evening. After our meal, we headed back to the campers in the dark, fireflies flickering all over the camp. The evening was ended again by the rain and we retired inside for a night surrounded by the sounds of the jungle.

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