13-Sep-2006 -- On the 12th day of September 2006, we began our ascent to the northernmost region of Guatemala, Petén. The vast extension of this Department filled with lots of rivers that form plenty of lakes and lagoons is in part remote and inaccessible. It was here where The Mayan culture (populated part of Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala) established several cities; among them are Tikal, Ceibal, Tayasal, Rio Azul, etc. Petén borders the countries of Mexico (East and North) and Belize (West).
Due to the mountainous formations and the flat lands, Petén offers climates that vary between template, and warm to hot, which makes it apt to cultivate a great number of crops such as pepper, rubber, cotton, bananas, corn, avocados, mangoes, etc. Petén has one of the Rain Forests left in this part of Central America and it is one of the reserves for mahogany and other precious woods. Unfortunately, lots of poaching goes on, along with the slash and burn practices to raise cattle, and to gather wood to burn on stoves to prepare food.
It took us about 9 hours to reach Flores, the principal city of this Department. Early on the 13th, we drove around the confluence in direction toward Carmelita. We tried a couple of roads, one of which led us to a small village, La Esperanza; the only problem was that we had to cross a small river in a boat. By that time we realized that leaving the car behind was not a good idea, because even from the village, the confluence was a bit far. The next road we tried just became too narrow and upwards, for the small car to go any further.
We kept on asking the locals if there was a road that could take us toward the confluence, but either they did not know, or they were map illiterate and would just look at it and us as if we were crazy.
On the 14th we drove around a little bit more toward San Andrés, a small village around the Sacpuy Lagoon. Again we tried the farm roads, to no avail. We stopped to ask a young man for directions. He was very friendly. He asked for a ride and stated that he was going to get some fire wood. His name is Marcelino. He told me that he had completed two note books with home-work, proudly he added that he can spell mamá, papá and masa (mom, dad, and dough). He told me about the teacher who hit his fingers’ pads, because he was not too scientific, math was too difficult for him. I almost began to cry, instead I smiled back at him and focused on translating to Dennis exactly what his school years had been like. Marcelino did not mind the fact that he was as innocent as a young child could be.
We dropped him off nearby a farm were he was to collect the fire wood. On our way, the road became impossible to continue on it anymore. We realized that the closest point to approach our goal was to make it across the Sacpuy lagoon.
We started to drive back, and decided to inquire about a boat or a canoe, to try to reach our destination. We asked a young woman, and she told us that all the men were either on an errand or working the fields. She directed us toward the Sagastume’s; one of the local families that owned one of them.
Don Cervando Sagastume, the father in this family, was taking the corn kernels out off the husks. He was sitting in his hammock, with a piece of cloth placed on his lap, to catch all the produce. Doña Gloria, the mother in the family, received us with a big smile. She asked if we knew how to row a canoe. (Dennis does, but the closest I could get to this knowledge was from the rowing machine at the Gold’s Gym, near our house). She said that they were a bit tired, because they just came back from the other side of the lagoon, up in the mountain, were they had to tend to their fields. She continued by offering us the paddles and asked her son Cervando Sagastume Pérez (11 years old) if he wanted to take us up the mountain. Cervando Jr. was very excited, we explained to him that this will not be an easy task and a lot of walking was required (on top of the rowing to and from the other side of the lagoon), it will be a very difficult climb. He smiled, took one of the paddles from his mom and just began walking toward the lagoon.
The dug-out-canoe was a beautiful example of craftsmanship, made from a beautiful tree; it was a dark color with original designs that only a tree that size could provide. I was instructed by Cervando to sit in the middle and be still. Could he sense that my swimming skills are not as good or was he just being a gentleman?
We arrived to the other side about half an hour later and began trekking up the mountain. We walked at a fast pace, after about 2 hours, Dennis called Cervando and me over to were he was standing; showing us a rattle snake that had just crossed over his path. It was big and beautiful. The second Cervando saw it he wanted to go over the "alambrado" (wire fence) with his machete in hand. We asked him to please let it be. Half an hour later we found the confluence.
On our way back, Dennis and I were very tired. Cervando could walk faster than us. When I reached him, he was whistling, smiling. Dennis was throwing up his water just as soon as he drank it. I felt like I could not give one more step. There were occasions in which I encountered a big stone in my way; my mind had to double think what to do? Go around it? Walk over it? Jump over it?
We made it back to the shore. This time I had to help row because Dennis was feeling very ill. When we reached the other side, Cervando and I carried the ores back to the house while Dennis lay on the fresh grass with his eyes open, breathing hard…
Before we made it back to the hotel, Don Cervando gave us water to drink. We took some photos and shared with them some items such as new blue jeans and shirts for the boys, toothbrushes and some women’s clothing items for the mother and daughter. Dennis gave them some money for the use of their canoe and gave Cervando some money. He made sure to tell Doña Gloria how brave her son had been. She was a bit disappointed that we did not let him kill the snake: For medicinal purposes, she said; it would have been good! He had the biggest smile on his face. He was the one who brought lots of money to the household for that day. We were accomplished and very tired!
Just as we were saying goodbye, the children pointed at Dennis’ arm, he had a tick sucking his blood. Instantly I felt mine, I had three of them. The children were very helpful helping us get rid of them.