The three day tour starts from Cruce de dos Aguas, north of Flores in the department of El Peten. The truck ride there is a rough two hours on dirt road before you get to the remote village of El Cruce de dos Aguas for a typical breakfast with locals. That was our last connection with any kind of civilization before we entered the jungle.
One of the challenging things about that hike is that it took place during a tropical storm.
It was rainy season anyway, so the ground was already damp. On top of that, the heavy rain from the tropical storm made for an incredibly slippery surface. It took us about six hours to walk the first 20kms of the trail. We rapidly got soaked as well and became very muddy too. We had to get our feet wet to cross puddles and streams of water; or to be more precise, rivers and lakes created by the heavy rain. The last day was the wettest of all; we literally had to walk across a lake with water up to our waists in order to follow the path. Nothing was able to dry at night because there was so much humidity in the air and there was also nowhere to hang clothes. In the morning, getting dressed consisted of putting on what felt like a wet suit but was nothing less than our filthy, smelly, damp dirty clothes from the day before.
Even if you tried to be fancy and put on some clean socks, it was only moments until the rain caught up with you so there was really no point.
The nights were rough, just the way you would expect a sleep in the jungle to be. It was wet. The tent was wet, your backpack was wet, which of course meant your clothes were wet, and the soil was wet (did I mention it was rainy season and we were under a tropical storm?). When attempting to sleep, there was also no mattress or foam or anything between you and the rock hard floor. In the middle of the night (around midnight cause in the jungle you live with the sun: wake up at 5am, lunch at 11am, diner at 6pm and in bed by 7:30pm) , the guide woke me up screaming "lleno de agua, lleno de agua!" but I was replying "no, esta bien, no problema" as I was getting used to the wetness of it all. He insisted and I still have the picture in my head of what it looked like when I opened the tent and was completely surrounded by a pool of water. I was on a floating island surrounded by lake and rivers created by the rainfall. Immediately I had to change my spot not to be flushed away.
The nights were also extremely noisy,
not comparable in types with the Times Square New York city sounds but comparable in decibels. All those animal sounds and scuffles are quite a thing, the noisiest of them all being the howler monkeys. They wear their names quite well. They make an incredible howl, maybe similar to the sound a pig makes when decapitated or something out of a horror film. We actually got "attacked" by the monkeys on one occasion. We stopped on the path to watch them play around in the trees (and to rest a bit to be honest). As soon as they saw us, they started to break branches from the trees and threw them at us.
We saw so many animals: ants, flies, spiders, snails, mice, bats, lizards but also a snake, a jaguar, an anteater, toucans, and tarantulas... Most of the animals are more scared of you than you are of them so you can only get a glimpse at them very swiftly like the jaguar or the snake but you sometimes can get a closer stare at the tarantulas ...
or the slugs. As part of the animal kingdom, I would say the king in the jungle is the mosquito. Gosh! Those ones never give up. They follow you around at all times, which means that you walk with an escort of thirty mosquitoes around your head, thirty more around your feet and another squadron around your butt. They stick to you like glue and cuddle with you every night. Even with 95% DEET buttered to your skin every hour, they still persist. Long sleeves and long pants are a necessity but not a remedy.
The worst was when we stopped for the night and decided to wash up in what the local guide called a 'natural shower of rain'; in other words a muddy lake full of everything the rain grabbed when pouring and running down the trail before being stopped by broken down trees to accumulate and macerate under a cloud of mosquitoes.
I had DEET nearly all over my body except for harder areas to reach when dressed: thighs, back and butt. The second I took off the left leg of my pants, my left cheek got bitten at twelve different spots. I felt like being the last candy left on a plate that everybody at a party had been contemplating for a while but that nobody dared to grab...until the power goes out (and everybody finds themselves in the dark reaching for that last candy bar!)
After that hard day, I really felt like cleaning myself by jumping in that uninviting giant bath tub, so I still did it despite the mosquitoes. Maybe I should not have done so for I finally returned from the trek I had over 120 mosquito bites (I counted them!). I do not know what the percentage of mosquitoes carrying malaria is in the jungle of El Peten, Guatemala, but with a score of 120, my chances are high! Better not forget to take my malaria pill next week!
I definitely came back a bit damaged but what a unique experience!
By the way I forgot to mention what the main goal of the trek was about - the ruins. Maybe because what counted the most was the hike itself; more than where we were going to. Nevertheless, the temples at El Zotz, which we reached the second day, were all covered in soil and moss and that what I liked about them. It made them more mysterious. You can climb to the top of the tallest temple for views of Tikal, about 24 km to the west. Tikal was our last destination and we arrived there from the jungle through the back 'access' trail appearing dirty and disgusting to millions of happy tourists, smiling, taking pictures at the monuments, and then turning around to look at you funny (as if you were came out of nowhere!).
By that time, we were so tired that nothing really mattered anymore. When put in front of the pyramids of Tikal, you find the last strength to climb up and down to admire the awe of the site (think of the scene from Star Wars' Empire Strikes Back rebel headquarters).
We did not walk back. We took the bus instead. Once in the bus, because we had a one way ticket back to Flores, we got questioned and had to confess to the whole bus that we walked three days to get to Tikal. YOU GUYS WALKED? the entire bus reformulated in chorus! It was not easy to find out we were not lying by looking at us, our dirty outfits or simply by smelling us !
You come back eaten by mosquitoes, munched, tired, scratched and damaged, with sore legs and broken back from a three day trek through heavy jungle in order to reach the remote ruins of El Zotz but the experience is worth it. El Zotz means bats in Mayan language and these ruins carry their name well. Every night, thousands of bats fly out of the caves all around El Zotz to fetch food before coming back to sleep in the early morning the following day. It was absolutely amazing to see all those bats fly over you in an organised, anarchy formation. There were thousands of them literally covering the sky.