Calakmul: Ruins, jungles, and bats

It was time to escape. In January I was in the shadow of the second biggest rainforest in the world. Inside of it held ancient ruins from the Mayan people. I spent the week texting with the guide my friends took but he had a private tour and couldn’t include me. He sent me the contact of another guide and he had space. I was ready for the 7am pick up outside my hotel in my work out clothes. Finally using the hiking boots I had carted around all these different cities.

On the drive there I sat in the back with a Mexican from Jalisco. He worked in medicine and was on a solo vacation, desperately needed after the pandemic. In the middle sat two Canadian women in the 60s? Not sure but they were friendly enough. After you leave Xpujil you are only surrounded by forests and little back roads. An hour later, we stop at the turn to the entrance and the guide jumps out to feed the stray dogs.

At the entrance we use the last real bathroom and get our passes to enter. My coworker is freaking out asking 100 questions for this recording we have in a week. I send off a couple texts and say this is a Monday problem. I’m out. Quite literally as after we drove passed the gate I lost service.

We had two stops, first a jungle tour, second the ruin tour. I was pushing for a third, a bat tour. More about that to come. One of the Canadian ladies stays behind saying she can’t walk much. Odd to choose this tour to come on considering it was a jungle walking tour not a Universal movie lot tour. In the jungle we watched monkeys swinging, learned about trees and how the protected themselves from other trees, found some alligators, and even a toucan!

Back at the car we crushed a beer and a snack. Next stop the ruins. There is not much socially spoken about this culture and people. Arguably they were as smart as the Egyptians and Greeks. They created incredibly large structures, had agriculture, astronomy, and a written language. Most of the ruins are preserved, literally being unearthed throughout the landscape each year. Calakmul is located within this jungle and has pyramids you can climb. Most of them are closed around Mexico because stupid tourists ruin them. So this was a special place.

There were 3 pyramids and you best believe I was climbing all 3. We walked around and learned about the history, the culture, and took in the beauty. The Canadian women who couldn’t walk hired a man absolutely older than her to bike her around in a little chariot. She was embarrassed but happy to still be able to see it. Another odd reminder that these richer nations mostly result in unhealthy people. Not like I am the picture of fitness here but I can climb whatever you put in front of me.

From the top of the middle ruin you can see nothing but trees. Truly your entire vision on all sides is tree tops. Sitting there I cried thinking what beauty this world has hidden away. A green sea sitting here waiting for you to discover.

That ended the tour for everyone but me. I was adamant to see the cave with bats. Thousands of bats depart from a cave each evening at sunset. The Canadian women had a bus to catch, and the Mexican guy was not interested. My tour guide said he’d drop me off at the location and help me get a guide and a ride back. Seemed sketchy but I was in.

Literally on the side of the highway he pulls off and jumps out. I run after him. He starts quickly asking the 10 guides standing around who can give me a tour plus drive me back. The speech was fast but I mostly followed. Most guides had motorbikes. Shit, was I going to go back on the back of a motorbike with a stranger? This maybe was the wrong idea. Eventually one beautiful man explained his wife and children were coming. I could drive back with them. Beautiful plan. My tour guide says thanks and goodbye. I watch the car drive away and follow my 12 year old guide towards the forest.

In order to make sure the guides are real knowledgable guides they each have a pass confirming their certification. My young guide proudly wears his and leads me through the forest speaking slowly. I am thankful because just in this moment I learned what the world in Spanish is for bat. He has facts about the number of bats, their daily schedules, what they eat, how they live, endless facts. We are required to wear masks which is fantastic because it blocks the smell of the bats as well as protects us from COVID.

As we walk towards the cave’s entrance bats stream through the sky. It already started. Bats dodge through the trees at such speeds it is shocking. Considering they are mostly blind as well it is insane to watch. At the mouth of the cave he leads me towards a good vantage point. The bats swirl from a large hole in this mountain. The darkness of the cave transforms into thousands of bats as they exit in a perfect circle. Twirling out of the cave they follow each other into the sky and out into the dusk. It is mesmerizing. My guide shows me how to push my ears forward which allows you to hear their screeches and wings flapping better. It is not a long tour because we leave right after the sun sets using the remaining light to take us back to the parking lot.

Here everything happens within seconds. I pay my guide the small fee and he leaves. My motorcycle dad waves me down and walks out of the lot. I follow him with a little run. I cannot be left in this dark parking lot. He points to his wife and the car. She reorganizes the car and I get in next to her 4 year old son. Her 8 year old daughter sits in the front. The windows are down, the music is playing, the vibe is beautiful. All beautiful except the gas light is on. We start to drive the 20 minutes back as we loose the sun entirely. The darkness swallows us just leaving the headlights to guide us forward.

I follow along on google maps at least feeling the comfort we are going in the right direction. I make small talk with the children asking their names, ages, but mostly sit quietly as they chat with their mom or just stare out the window. No ipads or screens to distract here. Just pleasant smiling faces. Eventually I direct her up towards my hotel. I thank her as ardently as my Spanish allows and give her the little cash I have.

I come back to my hotel room feeling absolutely alive and exhausted. What a day. I go to take a shower but when I turn my light on I see more mosquitos than I thought truly possible. Well I thought they were mosquitos and I had the bites to prove it but then again I always have bites. I try to ignore this and shower quickly. My bus was at 6am the next day. I asked the kitchen to warm up a tamale I had from the day before and crashed.

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