A Nighttime Escape – continues
photo by Cam & Nicole Wears
With a stroke of luck, for us, the largest tourist hotel in Emiliano Zapata was not full of those fleeing the Zapatista conflict. We happily occupied 13 of its rooms, bathed, dined, and then took a sigh of relief. And on the stairwell to the second floor, I was recounting our predicament to one of the hotel’s bellboys, only to be overheard by the hotel manager, who was in the company of a man who then offered his large, palapa picnic pavilion with non-stop views of the curving river and the verdant tropical pastures surrounding it, to our group as a meeting hall for all of the next two days. We would stay two nights in Emiliano Zapata; the women were happy; and now it was time for me to depart.
I’d never done anything dumb like this before, but I was invincible, I thought, and I’d booked back to back tours – and now with only the day to travel back to Merida by bus, to rest a night, and pick up the next “adventure” group. The next group of five normally would have met me in Chiapas, but because of the killings and continued uncertainty in the area, the decision had been made to invert the next “church” tour (a Presbyterian minister, his wife, his daughter and her husband, and because there was an empty seat, I had invited my mother to go along with us to Central America.
Picking up the group in Merida, the original itinerary had been to travel from Merida to Campeche, and on through Palenque, San Pedro y Pablo River travel into the northern Peten of Guatemala, and overland to the island city of Flores in Lake Peten Itza.
From there to the ruins of Tikal for a few nights and overland on the nightmare of a clay rutted highway to San Ignacio in the highlands of Belize and on south along the Caribbean Coast by our company’s elegant Suburban with chauffeur to the island of Placencia and continuing on to Punta Gorda, by ocean going motorboat, where the road and the country end. After a few hours there we were to be picked up by a pre-booked launch and whisked into the mouth of the Rio Dulce River and a night in the picturesque village of Livingston (no vehicles, no roads, just bicycles and river and Caribbean bay boat traffic). To be continued by dugout the next morning, up the Rio Dulce River and then a short overland jungle trip entering the back way, fording a forest stream in a taxi with a plastic bag for a windshield, and on for the night in the Village of Copan, Honduras.
Looking back from the distance of all these years, It’s hard to believe that I had the energy to plan, much less to endure the hardships of such an adventure, all the while dragging my mother along, through the sweaty jungles and for hours in the open sea in a motorboat.
Because of the Zapatista Conflict, the southern Mexican portion of the itinerary had to be nixed and other points added. And our original itinerary had to be followed — in reverse! The added destination was Esquipulas, Guatemala, which lies on the border with El Salvador, and whose fame rests on a 18th century pilgrim church containing the sacred image of the Black Christ of Esquipulas., within a dimly lit sanctuary filled with smoke-colored stones from the millions of candles which stay lit day and night. There are Catholic rituals outside the church many times each day for the blessing of artifacts brought by the faithful, who sometimes come on hands and knees.
You can imagine how all of this went over with the Presbyterian minister’s family — that is, the two which remained ! Oh — did I tell you that we did the established itinerary backwards — or that the minister’s wife, on the first full day of trekking in the Ruins of Tikal, stepped over a log, slipped, and broke her thigh !
She had to be lifted from the jungle path on a liter and taken to the primitive hospital in Santa Elena along the shore of the Lake Peten, and then taken , by us, not an ambulance, to await the flight to Guatemala City and a connecting flight to Miami. Where, I’m told, she was diagnosed with osteoporosis and had several metal pins put in her leg and hip bones.
When at last Mom and I reached Chetumal, the capital city of Quintana Roo, and miraculously boarded the top tier in Mexican buses, the ADO Gran Lujo, it was like traveling on a pale blue and grey velvet cloud back to Merida — and home.