Monday, May 19, 2014

Biking to the ruins of El Mirador

Just just recently got back from an one of a kind mountain bike trip out to the Northen Jungles of Peten, Guatemala.  Our idea was to be the first to ride the famous Carmelita to El Mirador trail.  This trail has long existed, infact it dates back to the Mayan pre-classic period and follows much of the original Mayan Sakbe or Mayan highway from Carmelita to the ruins themselves.
 In its heyday Mirador was one of the largest Mayan city/states in the area.  It still boasts the largest pyramids built by ancient peoples, ANYWHERE!  In modern times these trails have been used by Chicleros, or the men who walk out into the junlge to harvest Chicle.  This is the stuff that we used to use to make gum.  Today the chicle trade isnt quite what it used to be but the trails still exist.  Most of the traffic on the Sakbe these days are adventurous backpackers and gear laiden mules headed out to the ruins.
 After having hiked this trail years ago I wanted to be the first to take a crew in on bikes.  Having seen the trail, the lack up elevation that I am acustomed to in the Guatemalan highlands,  and mapping the distances it didnt seem like this was going to be too hard.  After all, the trail is only 43 kms. from Carmelita to Mirador.  Most groups walk this in two days overnighting on day one at the ruins of Tintal.  
 We sent an advance team to Carmelita with the gear and food that we would need and loaded the mules.  They set out a day ahead of us so that, assuming all went to plan that they would be arriving in Mirador about the same time as us.  We had caluclated that the mules would take a full 2 days to get there while we on bikes moving much faster (we hoped) would be able to cover the 43 kms. in a hard day.

We didnt really take into account the heat and humidity into our calculations of effort and time needed to make it to Mirador.  It is totally do-able in a day.  But you need to be prepared to have access to a LOT of water.  Upon planning the trip everyone that we spoke with out in Carmelita tod us that it was going to be hard going and hot but at the very least that it was dry.  What no one told us was that it would be potentially better to go a little later in the season.  They had gotten a  lot of late season rain which with all the mule train traffic had created this lunar hardened mud post hole effect that was like riding through a 43 km. boulder field in 35* heat and 90% humidity.
 We did make it though.  Crossing the many altos and bajos (high and low ground) where the terrain would change from rolling, beautiful singletrack to hardened mud post hole hell out to the ruins.  We slung our hammocks and listened to the sounds of the jungle and mosquitos lull us to sleep.  We decided that we would give this trip another shot the next May a little later in the season when enough mule traffic would work to smooth out the crusted mud formations and thus make it a slightly easier ride.
We spent 3 nights in the woods riding from ruin to ruin far away from anywhere.  It was a pretty amazing experience.  One that although was the hardest 43 km ride ive ever done and looking forward to next years trip.  We are hoping to create a tour to help the locals promote and protect this amazing resource.  Stay tuned to jump on the next ride out.