So, we knew that the trip to Laguna Miramar would not be an easy one but it sounded worth it. A pristine lake surrounded by jungle off the beaten track with plenty of wildlife and untouched mayan ruins... The guide book said it wasn`t the easiest place to get to... but it couldn`t be THAT hard surely!!!
We followed the directions in the lonely planet and made our way to Ocosingo, a stinky town of sketchy characters half way between san cristobal and palenque. It was the place we had to pick up a cargo truck that would take us to the village of St Quintin near the lake. There were only a couple of trucks that left early in the morning for St Quintin and we had missed them. We found ourselves a place to stay for the night and settled there. We had an early start in the morning so we caught up on some sleep.
We checked out early the following day but not early enough as we only arrived at the car park with 5 minutes to spare. We saw a truck with no roof parked in the corner. It was stacked to the non existent hilt with boxes of supplies, men, women and children... there didn`t look like there was room to breathe. Trent and I looked at each other and said that can`t be our truck can it? We asked the guy packing some final items into the back who told us that this was indeed the truck bound for St Quintin. We gulped! We didn`t think he`d let us on as it was already more than full and we had great big backpacks... but then we were forgetting we were in Mexico! The driver threw our bags on and we joined our fellow passangers... actually we felt more like cargo!
Trent and I struggled to find ourselves a place to stand. I had a choice of 3 places to put my feet... on an old ladies bare feet, in the space where a one legged man`s other foot should have been on teetering or the edge of a whole in the truck floor... I chose the latter and held on tight to the bars above me! Trent found himself a space on the spare tyre and held on too. We hadn`t had time to get any food or water so we started off our 6 hour journey on a dry throat and empty stomach! Actually it was less of a journey and more of an ordeal!
To begin with I thought, I can handle this. I thought it was likely that many of the other passangers would get off en route as that was what usually happened on the more rustic forms of transport... Trent asked a few people and they were all saying St Quintin! That`s when I realised I`d be stood like this with barely enough space to put my feet, holding tight to the bars as we lurched around corners, trying not to step on the old ladies feet as we bumped through pot-holes FOR 6 HOURS! I was still feeling positive though. The scenery was beautiful and kept me distracted for a time... then the dust from the road, I mean dirt track, started to cloud the truck. Within minutes I was covered! Everything and everyone was covered in fact. Then the man next to me with one leg started to puke... all down the back of the truck for the first 3 hours!
Luckily we stopped after an hour or two for refreshments. I bought some water, muffins and juice. I also dusted off and rinsed my face... this was pointless! I got back on the truck and got what I thought was a better space at the front where I could sit... actually it just gave me motion sickness so I got up and joined Trent at the back. This felt better, I had some air and I could see where I was going. It was unbelievable really. There were about 25 of us in the back of a 3 tonne pick up style truck with a cage for a roof. There were men, women, children, babies and stacks of cargo. People perched on the roof bars and ducked when we passed under trees or power cables! The road was bend after pot hole after dip after bend... bit of the road had collapsed away down the side of the mountain! I didn't like to think too much about the safety of it!
The children were amazing, barely a grizzle in 6 hours. I had trouble not grizzling to be honest! There was a man sat at the back with his little boy on his lap. The kid dropped his drink so I reached down to pick it up and handed it back to his dad. The man said 'gracias' to me then hunched down to his kid, pointed at me and said 'Grrrringa' in an exaggerated way trying to teach his little boy the word! I had to stifle a laugh! The whole journey was filled with moments like this. It was fun in a way and the time just went.
Trent and I didn't speak a huge amount on the way. We just checked that the other was ok from time to time. This worked pretty well to be honest. It was a stressful journey and we didn't end up rubbing each other up the wrong way by yabbering! It also seemed like we had the same ideas about being respectful tourists. Some backpackers make you cringe and feel ashamed to be a gringo!
Anyway, we arrived in St Quintin and it's far from a nice place to be! It's anti Zapatista and all that's there is an army garrison, an airstrip and a few make shift houses. We bought some supplies in a shifty shop and made our way swiftly to the neighbouring Zapatista village of Emiliano Zapata. There we had some trouble locating the Presedente de Turismo from whom we had to gain permission to visit the lake. We asked a few locals and were slightly confused by one man who we suspected was trying to stitch us up. He said he had equal authority to the Presedente and we could pay him to stay at the lake! Luckily Trent's Spanish is a lot better than mine and his ability to scope out a crook is more finely tuned! We moved on, asked a few more people and finally found the man himself. What a huge difference. He was warm, genuine and we felt reassured we were in the right place. We paid him for two night and a kayak for the day. He appointed a boy, maybe 12, to direct us to the path. He walked us over a rickety 'bridge' which was straight out of romancing the stone... compete with missing boards... and wires to hold the bridge up for that matter! It swung and shook as I start to make my way over it with my backpack and I felt sure I was going to fall in the river! Somehow I made it to the other side. We were then directed through a small pig farm after which the boy left us to follow the path... We were really heading into the jungle now and despite the discomfort I was feeling I was very excited. I'd certainly never been on an adventure like this before.
We walked and walked along the path whichbecame increasingly like an assault course! Trying to balance on a thin slippery logs over rivers and swamps with a tonne of rucksack on your back is quite a challenge! After about 45 mins of this I suddenly lost my stamina. We had after all endured a 6 hour ordeal of a journey, wandered around for an hour or so avoiding crooks to find the Presedente and then hiked for almost an hour on virtually no food and little water. We had a well earned sit down for ten minutes! When we set off again we felt sure that the lake would be just over the brow of that hill or just round this corner... After another hour of hiking with our luggage it felt like it was all a lie and there was really no lake at all! Then we started to see some reassuring signs. The final one read 'Bienvenidos Laguna Miramar'... then like a twinkling oasis the lake appeared through a gap in the jungle. I have to admit I squealed out loud when I saw it and even started to run! Trent laughed and I'm sure he thought I was crazy.
We were greeted by two men who worked for the Presedente who directed us to our sleeping quarters... there we met 3 Swedish travellers who had arrived earlier by the same means as us. We were amazed to find anyone else willing to embark on such a journey, as were they! They told us that there was a public announcement in Emiliano Zapata when they arrived... that's how rarely they see tourists! It was such a relief to see that the Swedes at started a fire. I dropped my bags and flopped with the most incredible sense of relief and satisfaction. I then took in my surroundings. The sun was just setting over the lake and it was indeed as stunning as we had heard.
As quickly as we could, Trent and I changed and jumped in the warm crystal lake. The water seemed to soothe my aching limbs and certainly cleansed me of the layer of dust I had accumulated! Back on dry land we realised what our sleeping arrangements entailed. We had no hammocks so it was to be a couple of planks of wood layed over some tree stumps! Comfort zones out the window Trent and I made the best of it and hung my mosi net and made the planks as comfy as possible.
After refueling on a tin of tuna and some tortillas we went to bed and tucked ourselves under the net. I barely slept a wink. I don't know if it was the deafening sound of howler monkeys, toads and jungle bugs or the make shift bed that we made... to be honest I think it was just over exhaustion and over excitement! Whatever I barely dozed. Trent and I top and tailed and I kept thinking his foot was some sort of jungle beast that had jumped on my head!
Morning came too soon and so did our guide! He took us groggy eyed in a kayak around the edge of the lake. The Presedente had told us of crocs and even jaguars at the lake but our guide told us of turtles and fish... his wildlife stories sounded much more friendly! He took us into a cave on the kayak, showed us some incredible volcanic rock formations that looked giant drips of melted wax. We were soon greeted by a cloud of bats and we made our way back out again. A little further around teh lake he parked the kayak on a rocky island and showed us some mayan wall paintings. A hand, a coyote and something else I couldn't work out. It was amazing. All the other mayan remains I've seen have been excavated, fenced off and sheltered from the elements. This is just there, in the jungle in its original form. We took it all in for a while and then made our way back to shore. There is an island on the lake that we wanted to visit but you have to take a speed boat ride to another village to seek permission as it is governed by another community. The island has the untouched ruins of some mayan temples. If we had time to stay another day we would definitely have done it... never mind.
Our guide then took us on a walk into the jungle where he showed us a mayan carving on a cliff and a cave with a snake in it... I just understood him say serpent, I didn't actually see it! He then took us further to a smaller lake where the crocs hang out! It was murky and surrounded my reeds... it looked much more like croc territory than the crystal waters of miramar. I was excited but at first thought it was unlikely we'd see anything. Our guide threw a few rocks in to see if he could stir any movement... nothing. We were just about to leave when he stopped and pointed... sure enough there in the murk emerged two eyes and a snout!!! A prehistoric monster in the flesh! Haha! We weren´t that close so I didn´t get any pics unfortunately. I´m hoping I´ll see more along my journey though. We were about to leave again when another one appeared. this one was just a tiddler but he was closer to us. Haha! I saw some crocs!
Back at the lake the clouds eventually cleared mid afternoon. I basked in the sunshine on a rocky island surrounded by my own personal freswater aquarium. In the rock pools to my left there was a nursery for the small fry. To my right the depths of the lake made way for the bigger boys! The Swedes were trying to catch our dinner with some cotton thread, a safety pin and some sweetcorn... I didn´t fancy their chances of success... I was right not to!
Miramar is so beautiful. It was tough getting there but so worth it. I will have to trim the rest of my time in Mexico but it´s ok. So I´ll miss some touristy attractions but I´ve been blessed with the experience of something much more unique.