Guatemala 2023  

Update June 2

"The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley." --- Robert Burns

My three months in Guatemala eneded up nothing like I had imagined, those plans of which are detailed below. God had His own ideas for my time in Guatemala. And in fact---but of course---they were much better than what I had wanted. Rather than spend any time in Honduras and Nicaragua, those three months were all well-spent in Guatemala. There was one entire month in the northern jungles of El Peten, which served me notice that my days of solo jungle backpacking are over. What I could manage at 50 is near-impossible at 69. Ok then, Biology is a bitch, but what of it? My time both in the jungles and the highlands of Guatemala were life-changing and life-affirming. They were the best three months of my life overseas.

I traveled to parts yonder that I had never seen before: Xela, Huehue, Todos Santos, Sacapulas, Rio Dulce, Tecpan, Quiche, Solola. And I visted places long remembered and well-traveled: Antigua, Flores, Sayache, Panajachel, San Pablo, San Juan, Santiago de Atitlan, Yaxha, Nakum.

So now what? A great deal actually. No more plans to head out south of the Rio Grande. That door is shut, but another one has opened. My friend Dustin bought me the puppy of my dreams, a five month old Chiweenie whom I have named Marvel. She and I will be camping and dogpacking together as far and as long as we can.

Deus volt.

It seems like forever since I have been in the jungle. And maybe it has been. The last time was 12 years ago. I was teaching then, a profession I practiced for 27 years in 3 countries. It is now almost 4 years since I was in a classroom, and I hope and pray I never enter another one. I paid my dues, I am done with it, and goodbye to all that. My time since retirement has been spent bikepacking in Oklahoma, Utah, Kansas, Colorado, Arkansas and Mississippi, acquiring more audiophile equipment and adding to my stable of ferociously expensive bicycles. But there was always something missing, and that something was the jungle. It is only recently that I could fully take advantage of my free time---and all of my time is now free time---and head back to Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua for a few months. As I am 69, I had better get there soon as biology is unforgiving. It is now or never.

Solo backpacking in lowland jungles is difficult in the extreme, much more so than backpacking the well-marked, well-traveled and well-maintained trails in the USA. I call backpacking in North America, Canada and Europe “Grandmother’s Backyard Backpacking”. Such a thing offers scarce adventure, is tedious and absurdly safe. Those who claim that well-established trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail are adventurous have no idea what adventure is. Adventure is not safe---quite the contrary. For my money, if a man doesn’t want danger, then what the Hell does he want? Why does a man exist therefore? A soft life is for soft men.

A ship in the harbor is safe.

But that is not what ships are made for.

 

I have since 1986 solo backpacked the jungles, Andes, forests, foothills and grasslands of Central and South America. My focus this time is northern Guatemala---a section of that country called Petén---and the Mosquito Coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua. Much of northern Guatemala is primary rain forest, which means that walking through it is not difficult at all. The dangers are heat, humidity, insects, arachnids, wild animals---mainly puma and peccary---and a scarcity of water. The jungle demands of every solo backpacker a number of things: tent, stove, machete, snake protectors, compass, map and jungle boots just to name a few. To be unprepared in Petén is to be very foolish---and possibly very dead. 

Should my knees give out I will still be able to spend one month in the jungles of Guatemala at Yaxha, Tikal and Laguna del Tigre. This will allow me two months of travel in Honduras and Nicaragua, countries I have visited many times. A dream I have had for years is to travel overland from La Ceiba in Honduras to Waspam on the Rio Coco in Nicaragua. From there I would spend time in the largest expanse of rain forest in the Western Hemisphere outside of the Amazon Basin, La Reserva de la Biósfera Bosawás. This involves extremely hard-core traveling and the ability to survive for days at a time with whatever is in my backpack. For this reason once I leave Guatemala for Honduras and Nicaragua I will travel in what climbers call “alpine style”, taking only what is absolutely essential for survival and leaving the rest with friends in Antigua, Guatemala, and pick it up when I return from Nicaragua.

While in Nicaragua a journey up the Rio San Juan to the Caribbean is in order, then crossing into Costa Rica---where I lived for two years---for a day or so, then returning to Nicaragua. It seems that for two months I will be surviving off rice, beans, eggs, chicken, coffee, rum, beer and cigarettes. Such is the food of the gods. Ok then.

All the dates and places below are extremely tentative, and will depend upon how well my knees hold up. I am doing all I can before I go to strengthen them. The rest is in God’s capable hands. 

A word on equipment: Some of “Grandmother's Backyard Backpacking” gear will be adequate for the jungles of Central America, some will not, and some will get you killed. Keep in mind that the “ultralight backpacking” fanatics have no real place in the jungle, though going as light as possible is always a good idea, whether in grandmother’s backyard or in Central America.

Deus volt. 

Basic Gear

Never venture out into the jungle without a long machete. Practice first at home so that you don't slice your leg open.

Most backpackers use internal frame packs. I prefer an external frame pack. This is the Kelty 5500. Just to look at this pack would cause ultra-light backpacking afficianados to get the vapors.

YouTube channels devoted to backpacking all recommend wearing Trail Runners rather than leather hiking boots. Trail Runners are only for backpacking in grandmother’s backyard. Imagine what the fangs of a fer-de-lance would do to trail runners.

I use Altama jungle boots.

I am taking two ultralight tents. One stays in the hotel, while the other is in my pack on the trail. If one fails, I will use the other. It is near-impossible to replace a state-of-the-art ultralight tent in Central America. And use a tent, not a tarp. A tarp is very popular among grandmother’s backyard backpackers. Using one in the Central American jungles would expose you to all manner of insects, arachnids and snakes, as well as leishmaniasis, Chagas Disease, Dengue Fever and malaria. You would be dead in two weeks.

 

I use the MSR XGK EX multi-fuel stove. It will never fail.

A GPS and various apps on your phone are silly and useless "Grandmother's Backyard Backpacking" toys. Get a Suunto compass, set the declination, get a topo map if you can---this will take effort and patience in Central America---and start walking. Always---as in ALWAYS---trust your compass. It will never fail.

And of course:

 

 

Where When Nights

Antigua

February 20- February 22

Hotel

Flores

February 23 - 25

Hotel

Yaxha

February 26 - March 2

Tent

Yaxha – Nakum – Tikal 

March 3 - 8

Tent

Tikal

March 9 - 11

Hotel

Flores

March 12 - 14

Hotel

Dos Lagunas

March 15 - 17

Tent

Campamento El Cedro 

March 18 - 19

Tent

Rio Azul

March 19 - 25

Tent

Campamento El Cedro

March 26 - 27

Tent

Dos Lagunas

March 28 - 29

Tent

Dos Lagunas-El Mirador

March 30 - April 4

Tent

El Mirador

April 5 - 6

Tent

El Mirador - Carmelita - Flores

OR

El Mirador - Uaxactun

April 7 - April 13

Hotel / Tent

Flores  

April 14 - 15

Hotel

Laguna Del Tigre

April 16 - April 21

Tent

Flores

April 22 - 23

Hotel

Antigua

April 24 - 26

Hotel

Honduras / Nicaragua

April 27 - May 28 Tent and Hotel
Antigua May 29 - 31 Hotel