We had been sitting in a minivan, facing backwards on a hard handmade bench, for hours as the driver delivered people and goods between the start point and our destination. We passed through villages, jostled over dirt roads, and witnessed teenaged infatuation, and jealousy. After the last passengers were delivered to homes or stores, we continued onward into increasingly rural areas, until there was nothing to see outside of the window but a single strip of a two-lane road, and the imposing figures of trees.
The next piece of civilization we came across was a roadblock, guarded by armed men who waited and lounged and watched. We paid an entrance fee at the hut, and continued on, going deeper still.
A modest complex marks the entrance of the Parque Nacional Tikal, where Mayan ruins happen to haunt a small portion of a jungle, which occupies the entire Northern part of Guatemala. After dumping our gear in the bungalow where the archeologists who originally excavated and studied the ruins once lived, we ventured out on foot.
The air, wet, sat heavy on our skin, and sank into our clothes. And then a slew of creatures and sounds confronted us. An alligator lazed in a giant cistern-pond with its Mesozoic snout hovering above the waterline. Ceiba trees towered above us, and between the chatter of bugs and arguments among birds, there was no silence, no pause in the stream of oscillating frequencies. Monkeys crashed gracefully from one tree to the next, their approach marked by the sensation of a strong wind menacing the boughs.
It is so easy, as an urban dweller whose time in the wilderness is curated, to draw cliched analogies between the jungle and city life. Patterns of movement, behavior and survival might be applicable to both environments, but they are not the same.
The process of life here in this madness of green is arguably far less managed by the hand of man. Unfettered to a degree. When the day flickers off, and night stands in the sky, the insects go from whispering aphrodisiacs and warnings to screaming them. They are a glimpse into an ecosystem, which is fed by birth and death, foraging and hunting, social relationships, and the chemistry of change. The dirt of the jungle floor is the result of a millennia of these comings and goings, as are the trees and the creatures who are perfectly adapted for that place and its circumstances.
I thought I would be moved by the ruins at Tikal, entranced and beguiled by them; but I never thought the jungle in which they resided would hold so much magic. That place was outside of my experience, raw in ways I couldn’t anticipate. And this, after only dipping a toe in. The magic of the jungle swims in my blood, my imagination. It beckons me to return, and venture deeper still.