by John Lamkin
The president of the municipality, Cora Amalia, affirmed the stories I’d been hearing. There was a “lost” Maya city hidden in the nearby jungle that rivals Tikal in Guatemala and has a pyramid larger than the one at Palenque in the state of Campeche. Here was my chance to play Indiana Jones.
“When can I go there?" I asked the government tourism officials. “Only when you get permission from INAH (the Mexican government archaeological administration),” was the answer, “And you can’t go now because the jungle roads are too muddy. You must wait for the dry season.”
Well, the dry season came. We applied for and got the INAH permit and set off on the adventure – seven of us in Luis’ Suburban.
Our crew consisted of Luis Tellez, award-winning guide and photographer and his wife Leti, myself and Susy--my significant other, two expats that lived locally and had done some research on the city, and don Millon a 90-year-old farmer who had worked in the area as a chiclero, one of the men that harvested the chicle for making chewing gum, and who had visited the ruins of the Maya city in his youth.
We located the turn-off from the paved road that led to a small Maya community of a few traditional thatched huts. We presented our permit to a Mayan woman who was the designated caretaker. She read the permit and then herded her family out to be photographed by us.
We left the little settlement and followed a narrow, winding road through the jungle – just wide enough for our vehicle. Soon we came to a freshly bulldozed, rough “highway” that had been recently cut through the jungle. “Is this the way?” we asked don Millon. “Si, this is the same road I traveled when I was young”
After a few miles of torn up earth that had exposed many ancient pottery shards and with the smell of ripped-up vegetation in our nostrils, we came to an intersection in the jungle freeway. “Turn left,” said don Millon. To the right we could see heavy equipment and men working in the distance.
We drove about three quarters of a mile dodging large rocks, tree trunks and limbs until the road became so bad we could go no further.
We had passed a turnoff a little way back and decided to turn around and take it. It was a primitive road that looked as if it hadn’t been traveled for ages. “Yes, I think this is it. It looks familiar,” said our navigator, don Millon.
After about a half a mile of traversing a terrain of ruts and rocks, we decided to get out and look around. I walked further down the road with don Millon. He told me that he had been on this road many times in years past. “One night I was walking on this road and saw two ‘tigres' ” he said. Tigre (tiger) is the local word for any large cat – in this case probably jaguar. Since it was daylight I thought we would be safe from attack by the big cats.
We wandered for awhile towards what I hoped was the “lost” city. Then we heard the women calling us. We backtracked to meet them and were told that Luis had had a flat tire and his jack had broken. Jim, the expat, had hiked back to see if he could get help from the work crew. The tire was finally removed with a borrowed jack and the spare put on. We decided we should not try to go any further, so we headed back towards “civilization.” We passed the turnoff to where the crews were working and went a couple of miles more when another tire blew. Three tires weren't going to get us back.
Luis and Jim headed back to ask the workers for help. They returned with a guy in a beat up pickup truck loaded with empty diesel fuel drums. He said he would take us into town to find a tire. We remembered that the manager of Rancho Encantado, the resort where we were staying, also had an old model Suburban, so we headed there.
It seemed like we were going 90 miles an hour on the way back. Don Millon and I were in the back of the pickup bouncing into the air every time we hit a pothole along with several oil drums, and ducking to avoid overhanging branches.
We made it to the resort and fortunately the manager did have a spare which the driver of the pickup took back to Jim and Luis who were still waiting with the vehicle in the jungle.
Well, the “lost city” still remains lost. But I have made a vow to get back there again, on one tire, two tires, or literally flying by the seat of my pants, if I have to. Having been down that road, I'm not holding my breath.
Fast forward a couple of years and the local tourism authorities have assured me that Ichkabal (pronounced each-kah-bal), the name of the “lost city,” will be open to the public sometime soon, maybe. I still need a permit from INAH to go there. But, it seems that the local indigenous organization (ejido) and INHA are feuding and no one can go there.
So, here I sit again, pretty close to realizing my chance to look for the “lost ark,” but stymied by red tape. My next report will have the exciting details of my adventure (mañana, maybe....)
IF YOU GO TO THE AREA
Adventure in Quintana Roo http://visitmexico.com/en_us/VisitMexico30/Adventure_In_Quintana_Roo
Mexican Caribbean http://www.mexicancaribbean.com/
Rancho Encantado http://www.encantado.com/en-us/
John Lamkin is an award-winning travel journalist and photographer based in Taos, New Mexico. When not in Taos, he can be found roaming the world, mostly in Latin America, and writing about it. He has written for many newspapers and magazines, and is a contributor to several online publications. Mr. Lamkin is the editor of Soul of Travel online magazine. He is a board member and Global Membership Chair of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association and is Vice Chairperson of the Travel Writers Association. His website is: TravelWritingAndPhotography.com