Good morning blog readers, from a wet, wet Palenque. Everywhere the rainforest is dripping, hammering on to the iron roofs of all the backpacker cabañas and the palm fronds of the bars, on the tarpaulin covers of all the little horse trucks ferrying people between town, the hippie hangout of El Panchan, and the Mayan ruins.

I’m back on the gringo trail proper after a bit of a detour south to a remote lake in the Montes Azules region, near the Guatemalan border. After being surrounded by gringos, mochileros and ex-pats in San Cristóbal I wanted to try to do something different, to recapture a bit of that spirit of uncertainty and the less travelled road that I feel I’ve lost touch with since leaving the ‘States. So, following the recommendations of a writer and walker by the name of John Noble (Jo will get the reference if she’s reading), I hopped into the back of a colectivo truck amidst the mad clamour of an Ocosingo market Sunday to follow the long, dusty road south into the Lacandon jungle.

Gripping tightly a rickety wooden bench, surrounded by legs of boys balanced on the roof frame, I watched little Zapatista villages spin away: glimpses of the campesinso collective stores, EZLN graffiti, murals of ‘Che. Smoky fires burned inside simple huts, women in  wonderful rainbow shawls of flourescent rings turned to stare at our vehicle reproachfully, or looked away. Everywhere children and chickens tripped between the grass and the dusty road.

As evening arrived, the road got worse and worse. Our driver cut the engine as we rolled over lumps of rock, listening to the creaking of the axles and the humming from the undergrowth. You could see the war of ideas taking place over these lands: in almost all of these little hamlets were government billboards proudly recording investments and improvements. Beside the simple signs and notices made by the locals, brand-new bright green waymarkers looking a little out of place on that rutted path. There were military bases too, often positioned just around the bend from some mountain community, proclaiming order, modernity, surveillance. Indeed, at my destination, 5 hours down road, there was a huge base on a wide, gravel airstrip. An enormous Mexican flag hung over the jungle, white doubled over red in the still air. Clean, familiar-looking apartment blocks rose from inside the base’s perimeter, seeming to defy the surrounding walls of vegetation and the roar of wildlife.  On the back of the colectivo, I’d got chatting to a soldier called Ismael from Veracruz, travelling back to the base at San Quintín. He was dressed in a smart shirt, carried a laptop bag and fiddled with an impressive mobile phone as we bounced over the remote passes. He was a nice guy with a good laugh – curious about my travels and telling tales of his lonely Christmases spent in Chicago, where he once worked illegally in a warehouse. Not exactly the unthinking bully you expected after seeing the EZLN film.

At Ejido Emiliano Zapata I rented a little cabaña. Sitting outside it and smelling the strange night, I suddenly saw a movement. The furry legs, and then body of a tarantula edging out of a gap in the concrete…

Laguna Miramar is reached by a wide, muddy way covered in hoof prints. You pass little maize plantations cut of the trees: Ceiba, with their huge smooth trunks of silver, Mahagony, and the eerie, deathly forms of Strangler Fig. Strange bird calls ring from the canopy. The last stretch of the track is through a humid tunnel: a messy, hacked-out stretch where vines dangle and insects buzz on dirty pools. Finally, in the advancing semi-circle of light is a turquoise gleam and beached canoes.  The gentle lap of forgotten water! The lake stretches away on all sides, around cracks and coves and across to the hazy green throng, clambering all over the far ridges of the opposite shore. When I arrived, a local vigilante was sprawled out in a hammock, next to a quietly smoking fire.

With the help of a sprightly local kid, I took a canoe out on the deep and bright waters. We followed a little gulley at the edge, and then were clambering past a honeycomb of incredible caves and pits, squeezing through fern and creeper. Monkeys and tapirs rustled in the upper world, toucans hopped a branch in the brightness, while down in our morbid reaches bats circled . There are semi-excavated remains around the lake, as well as carvings and paintings on the enormous leaning rock faces. Rodrigo even spun a story about there being some kind of temple or burial site,  whose entrance was deep in the cave system. “There is one man who knows where”, he said, flinging a finger across the lake. “He lives in another village, but… he is scared now, he will not come back”. The lad claimed to have found gold coins at another place nearby, and kept pestering me for the value of gold in different countries.

Whether it’s fiction or not, I’m having a pretty good time. I’ve just landed straight into my own Temple of Doom. As we’re crawling and ducking and inching around dark holes, branches scraping at arms, I’m planning out the whole thing. Come back with a bit more money, get the locals on side, tools will be needed of course … but, who to tell first? I feel the pull of the treasure, the gold madness rushing through me.”Take me to the riches, my boy!”

¿Lo que pasó con el Rambo era verdad, no?” * he chirps, slashing at the floor absent-mindedly with his machete.

 

 

 

* “What happened to Rambo was true, wasn’t it?”

 

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