[ El Remate, Peten ]
Hola mis queridas transglobalistas, y abrazos de Guatemala—
We last spoke from semi-submerged Sayaxché, and since then much has happened.
There were more water-borne adventures to be sure–including sketchy boats on flooded rivers, crystalline lakes, and a second cyclonic encounter in as many months (Hurricane Lisa was her name). There was a pleasant, surreal reunion with the contingente holandés—Berit and Marco of San Cristóbal Saints fame—and my first encounters with the Q’eqchi’ people. Also of note were the (sooo-aptly-named) Guatemalan black howler monkeys, inestimable natural beauty along roads of mud and stone, and the death of my long-suffering, much-loved GPS unit.
Most disturbing, though, was a highly unpleasant series of gallbladder attacks—which might yet require surgical intervention. And—because the word “gallbladder” quickly loses its meaning if you say it (or write it) a few times in a row (go ahead & give it a try; see what I mean?)—hereafter I’m gonna write GBA for gallbladder attack.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I enjoyed Sayaxché tremendously—lingering a few nights just because. At least that’s how it started. On my second night, those nasty gallstones made themselves known—with a painful attack that lasted almost six hours (that duration is typical). Despite radical changes to my diet, the GBAs recurred the following two nights.
More annoyed than concerned, I got on the bike and headed towards Lake Peten Itza. The ride began with an adventurous backroad river-crossing (i.e. we ran out of gas and had engine failure mid-river), and continued with a muggy ride off the map–through small villages, ranches and farmland. This same route was peppered with occasional stretches of forest—full of screaming velociraptors, komodo dragons, sharknadoes, and other apex predators clearly out to disembowel, dismember, and masticate your humble Transglobalist.
Or at least that’s how it sounded. Hand to God!
In truth, these monsters were anything but monstrous. Rather they were the low-energy, leaf-eating Guatemalan howlers previously mentioned—monkeys evolved to “scream real good.” Although I’ve yet to see one, I hear their cries more days than not . They are impressive vocalists, to be sure. Believe me when I tell you they sound much more formidable in person, with imposing, otherworldly bass resonance.
[ HOW I LEARNED ABOUT HOWLERS: Soon after my first encounter with the sounds, I passed a construction area, with a worker hiding inside the cabin of a grader. Presumably & obviously, I thought, sheltering for dear life from the approaching velociraptors et al. So I knocked on the door and asked him—a member of the Guatemalan Corps of Engineers as it turns out—about the source of these horrific sounds. He furrowed his brow, asking sincerely “What sounds?” to which I responded with a stunned look of puzzlement, pointing directly into the woods where a cacophony of fierce death-cries was currently and loudly and incessantly and forbiddingly ongoing.
“Oh. That,” he says. “That’s nothing. Just monkeys.”
“And by monkeys, you mean ‘gorillas,’ right? Huge, deadly King Kong-sized man-eaters, right?”
“Uh, no,” he laughs. Holds his hand about chest-high. “Just monkeys. They’re everywhere.”
And off I rode, somewhat reassured. ]
But I digress. Where were we? Oh yeah:
On the second afternoon I arrived in Santa Elena, and booked a cheap(ish) room on the tiny island of Flores—a major tourist destination–to see what all the fuss was about. The sad truth is I absolutely, utterly, thoroughly detested it. It is a terrible, glitzy, over-priced, inauthentic theme-park full of glam-tourists, drunk backpackers, and mediocre artisans offering generic tchotchkes at hysterically inflated prices. Also: Burger King and a Hyatt Regency. Flores is a hard HARD pass. (And to top it off, I had GBAs of renewed ferocity while there. Both nights!)
El Remate, on the other hand, was great. If you find yourself in northern Guatemala, skip Flores and go directly to El Remate. It is far more beautiful, comfortable, and inviting—an actual village on the sleepy east coast of the lake. When I received a message from Berit and Marco—saying they were on the night bus from Antigua—I said “meet you there!” And I did.
We spent the next six days either hanging out or hunkered down (thanks a lot, Lisa!) or, in my case, hunched over (thanks a lot, GB!). We had a great time, with lots of swimming in the crystalline lake. Fun Fact: the lake has many doctor fish—the kind used in fancy spas to chew the dead skin from your feet. The first time one nibbled on me, I nearly walked on water to get away, convinced the infamous fresh water Great White Shark existed and was about to devour me whole. (Thanks a lot, Steven Spielberg!)
Velociraptors and fresh water Great Whites and Hurricanes. Some trip, huh?
A final word regarding the GBAs. The lovely earth-mother hostess at my guest house decided to restore me to health. She took me under her wing, crafting custom foods and drinks with medicinal plants taken directly from the family garden. She regulated my access to fats and salt and sugars, and administered a two-day natural treatment many would dismiss outright. Not me (when in Rome, baby, when in Rome).
After much research, I decided to supplement these steps with the standard course of antibiotics recommended to treat an inflamed, infected bile duct—which I most certainly had at that point.
Since then it’s been well over two weeks of smooth sailing. Nary a recurrence, pain, twinge, or milli-jinth of discomfort. So far so good. And yes, I plan to see a doctor in Guatemala City for a follow-up and an ultrasound, etc.
And with that—nearly one thousand words, one one-hundredth of a novel—I’ll sign off for now. As always, the photos themselves are captioned with mini-stories that shed more light on the foregoing, and put faces to names.
Take care of yourselves and each other.
Until the next time,
Your friendly neighborhood Transglobalist,