“Perhaps I should have paid closer attention to what other travelers had written,” I thought as I carefully stepped over thick mud along the trail. My bags were cutting into my shoulders. “There has to be an easier way than this.”
There was, but I would discover that long after I had reached the camp with its quaint cabins overlooking the Macal River.
No-one else was at camp. Not a single traveler. No staff, either. Just me, trees full of birds, like the motmot, which reminded me of the lilac-breasted rollers of Africa, but bigger. They have a tuft at the end of their tails, like a tiny badminton racquet, as if God decided, “Hold on. Let me add a little more flair to you, you biggish burrowing bird!”
I chuckled at the thought that all the staff and guests may have been raptured, but the camp looked far too neat for something that abrupt. Clearly, hanging around the Macal River Camp mid-afternoon is not the thing to do. There are jungles to be explored. Rivers to be canoed. Human remains to behold in ancient Mayan caves.
So I did what any lone traveler happening upon an empty camp might do: I claimed a cabin for myself. I lugged my luggage upstairs and made myself at home in a hammock so I could read.
Please understand: I don’t typically just barge into places and put a stake down for where I choose to sleep, but knowing that I had pre-paid for one of these cabins for two nights, and seeing that several of the cabins along the river looked exactly the same, I figured it wouldn’t be an issue.
Traveling with so much luggage isn’t typical of me, either. This summer, I set off to the US for a month and took only two pieces of carry-on luggage. But I was coming to the jungle for three days, to a camp that doesn’t have electricity.
So I thought I might need a small cooler bag with refreshments. And binoculars. Plus my computer (so I could do what I had come here to do: write.) Then some backup chargers for my devices (I didn’t know they do have solar-powered charging stations at the camp).
I also had some books with me. Plus somewhat-protective gear for traipsing through a jungle at night. And my own pillow—which I could have left at home as the pillows at the camp were perfectly fine. But I didn’t know that when I packed. And having traveled much, I know when it comes to budget accommodation, the pillows can be rock hard.
Hence, when I found myself at a spot with signs making it clear that visitors weren’t allowed to drive their vehicles past that point, I parked the car, took up my burden, and hiked.
Judging by the trenches in the hardened mud along the trail, I concluded it probably was wise that I didn’t ignore the signs. The main road probably was equally bad. (Turns out, while it might not be as bad, you do need 4WD to get up and down that route.)
The staff did show up after a while. They were surprised to find me at the camp, as guests are expected to check in at the “wildly civilized” resort from where you and your luggage will be transported to the down-to-earth part of the property: the river camp.
But that, I didn’t know. So, when I reached a fork in the road with an arrow pointing to Macal River Camp, I turned toward the camp where my reservation was.
I did wonder, though, if it’s the right choice, so I pulled over at the stables along my route to inquire whether I should turn back to do what my gut told me to do, or not. “No, you can keep going!” a friendly, horse-washing staff member told me. He must have misunderstood my question. Hence, my hike.
But I made it to camp in one piece and at peace, and as it turns out, I had picked the very cabin that had been assigned to me! The manager offered to drive me to the main lodge so I could check in, or I could hike down a 12-minute trail to check in at the main resort.
Nah. Hike, I would. I took the trail which was in far better shape than the one that had brought me from the car to the camp. Plus, without the load, I could enjoy the jungle.
I saw a pair of lineated woodpeckers. As the second largest of the North American woodpeckers, I’ll bet these birds could peck a hole through a concrete wall! OK, not quite. But I’d not like it if they took up residence around my woodpecker-bait house. (Listen to their call here.) I also saw a tiny, hooded warbler.
And I found the spa after checking in. Why not end my day’s journey by laying prone on a table overlooking a lush valley while a kind mestizo woman kneaded the muscles on my back like a pastry chef kneading bread? I couldn’t think of a reason not to do that, either.
After the massage, dinner at the camp, and a night hike—ever seen a dragonfly emerge from a pupa, held a peanut-head bug, or watch a possum up in a tree freeze in the beam of your flashlight? or watch a black scorpion beam like a white T-shirt would when an ultraviolet lamp is shone on it?—I fell asleep to the sound of the jungle.
A kinkajou did acrobatics in the tree outside my cabin, gently rustling the branches. And sporadically throughout the night, boisterous declared ownership of their piece of the jungle. Obnoxious as their sound can be, I found myself smiling as I woke up time and again, thankful for the experience, thankful for the gift of being able to drive just a few hours north of where I live and explore the jungles, thankful for the fact that I am not afraid of exploring on my own, thankful for God’s peaceful presence along these journeys.
How about you?
- breakfast and dinner—great, home-made food, including gluten-free meals
- early morning guided bird watching
- transport between the camp and the lodge, should you not wish to make the 12-minute hike along the trail
- use of their canoes and safety gear
- use of the infinity pool
- free entrance to the butterfly farm and the history center
- free WiFi access at the main lodge (not at the camp)