Los Espíritus de la Selva
The expedition started innocently enough. With his spouse Suzanne safely at home in New Mexico, (to brave a record freeze and snow storm alone), Andrew assembled the rest of the team of Laura, Gina and Nanci at the Marriott in Cancun, where we poured over Google Earth maps as we poured the wine and plotted our approach to 21N 90W. If there was any doubt as to whether the women had the resolve to trek through the jungle, it was quickly dispelled. Each of the women had joined Andrew’s pursuit individually for their own sense of adventure (and to enjoy the beach no doubt). The union forged of the three women was like three heavens, each sparkling in their own way, so much so that even the hotel staff was in wonder. We retired that night with plans to leave Sunday and head for Merida. By the next morning however, the spirits of the “Selva” began to appear as small things began to disappear; an ATM card here, a pair of sunglasses there. Would this be a harbinger of things to come when we would be deep in the jungle? We headed out carefree with skies as blue as the waters of Cenote Dzitnup, and after a wonderful meal of tacos (the salsa was as hot as the sun) at Cafe Maruja on the square in Valldolid, we soon arrived at our base in Merida, the wonderful Casa Feliz, and prepared for the assault the next morning.
On Monday January the 31st, after procuring a couple of Truper brand machetes from a local hardware store, we headed out to claim 21N 90W. The machetes would come in handy. One was slightly rusty, the kind that if you cut yourself with it you'd risk tetanus. The bright orange handles screamed ‘don’t lose me’. Andrew had visions of swinging two machetes at a time, to and fro, in a Caribbean pirate, Jack Sparrow-like manner, but alas, one hand had to hold the GPS. The women were grateful for the moments when he kept both hands on the steering wheel while driving. We made our way through the town of Hunucma, then to the village of Tetiz, and then westward to the hamlet of Nohuayun, our final point of ‘civilization’ before embarking on the nearly abandoned farm roads of the old henequen fields that surrounded the Nohuayun hacienda that once anchored the town perhaps a century ago. As the car turned north onto the first dirt road, Andrew was pleased with the quality of the passage, but the women were slightly anxious.
They were soon to learn this first part of the ‘road’ was the good part. The path became less travelled, and as we turned west again, it became much rockier, with the bottom of the car scraping along the limestone cobbles while trying to avoid the henequen darts. This is one reason when you rent a car; take the ‘zero liability’ option. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Andrew was busy driving and watching the GPS while the women kept their eyes peeled for their individual concerns; jaguars, snakes and the unannounced cenote to fall into. They would find out shortly that the mosquitos, heat and humidity were the real threats to their well-being. In due course we reached a point where the car could go no further, at 20°59'36.84"N & 89°59'9.00"W, so we parked and after checking the transmission and gas tank were still intact, we headed off hiking in the midday sun, the light dappled as it filtered through the forest that had long since reclaimed the proud green gold henequen fields of yesteryear. Spirits were high as the walking was relatively easy along a wide trail between the old fields, and we ventured west for about 1.3 km before reaching our turning point. After a moment to check our location, we proceeded north along a much less distinct but still visible trail. We moved single file with the sun now beating down our backs for another 0.4 to 0.5 km and the change in the heat was immediate. The women began to swat the flies, gnats, and mosquitoes, while Andrew was largely unaffected, perhaps due to his natural offensiveness.
Alas, it was time to turn west and make the final assault on our objective. We faced the wall of the jungle, pacing back and forth along our path looking for an easier entry into the thicket of vines, untamed henequen, and brush. At this point, we are only 250 to 300 meters from our goal. In our excitement, we ignored our earlier planned zigzag route through what we thought would be more passable breaks in the jungle, and the decision was made to simply plunge headlong into the maws of the vined beast. Andrew drew his cutlass, and took a mighty swing at the first henequen dart blocking his progress. In the battle between steel and henequen, the henequen won. Stepping gingerly around to avoid being impaled on the henequen, the labors turned to simply pressing your whole being through the sieve of vines that swirled about one’s body like Medusa’s hair. The jungle was angry that day. The density and tenacity of the vines, and the mosquitoes, was recondite. One could simply inhale deeply and receive a mouthful of the vile winged Draculas’, and chew them into a nice mosquito consommé, something that would go well with some fava beans and a nice sangria Clarice. Fufh-fufh-fufh-fufh. After some time, and loss of blood from the thorny prison, a point was reached that was close enough (well inside the 100 meter requirement), and from which further travel was all but exhausted from the soul; the mind was willing but the body was weak. It was here the point was finally logged, the pictures taken, and thoughts turned to going back through the same torture. With the heat and humidity having sapped all ones energy getting in, getting out consisted mostly of crawling along the jungle floor rather than trying to slash the way out. It was curious how the earthy, woody, yet sweet, mushroom-like smell of the jungle mud conjured up images of a warm huitlacoche sauce on cornbread. The heat was getting to us.
Finally springing out onto the trail once again, and collapsing in a heap covered with sweat, leaves, mashed mosquitoes, and general jungle grime, after a short rest we composed ourselves and hugged in victory, and took the group picture. With the winged bloodsuckers reminding us this was their land, and the heat and humidity building; we traced our route back to the car, and once again made our way out to the hustle and bustle of Nohuayun where we received a few curious stares from the local population. Once again on the main road at Tetiz, we very briefly entertained the idea of going down to Celestun to see the flamingos but quickly decided against it, which a good thing since we later was found out the flamingos were not there. Instead we turned back to Merida, and Casa Feliz to salve our wounds, bathe and refresh content in the victory. But the spirits of the jungle were not done with us. By next morning, many items were missing, including both machetes, the GPS antenna, some keys, and more, but what was not lost was the vision of us returning again soon for yet another Yucatan confluence adventure.