It had been a little challenge just coming here to Uaxactun, the northern part of Petén, Guatemala and part of the Tikal National Park. You pay Q$25 to enter the village via the Tikal Ruins. I got to know about this seldom visited part of the jungle and became quite obsessed about it, needless to say, it took much effort asking around how to get here as I got many different answers.
There is only one public bus per day and it leaves from Santa Elena, stopping at El Remate at 3pm and Tikal at 4.30pm and arriving at the Mayan village around 6pm. One public bus out of the place at 6am in the morning. Nothing else leaves unless you are lucky to hitch a ride from a virtually non-existent private transportation. You would be stranded for at least 1 night.
The 2 hour bus ride turned into a 3 hour long journey with intermittent waits for passengers and stops by the Bus attendant climbing on top of the bus with his machete, cutting up the creeping jungle all ready to engulf the only limestone paved route that links civilisation to the village. Come rainy season, this road would be flooded and transportation may not even come through.
The area around Tikal has been protected since 1990 by the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The reserve was intended to stop timber companies, farmers, and ranchers from cutting down the trees. Once you are out the protected zone, you see massive deforestation and agricultural crops growing everywhere.
Uaxactun pronounced as Wa-sha-toon was coined 8-stones by an American archaeologist back in the 1920s. This place according to the popular Mayan Archeology theory was said to have been an astrological learning place for Tikal elites. There are ruins scattered around the village and the villagers are happy to point the roads leading to them if you ask.
As you enter the village, you see a large field in the center once a air-strip constructed by the Carnegie Institution that had conducted archaeological excavations back in the 1940s. This was the place where Mayan archaeologists embark on long difficult treks into the thick jungle searching for lost ruins.
As with any typical jungle village, houses grew surrounding this large defunct air strip, now being used as ground for goats and cows grazing, and children playing soccer.
Now the village is used as a transit stop-over place for all sorts of people, poor Guatemalans on their way to Mexico and United States in search of work, rich American Game hunters sporting exotic jungle animals for fun, Mayan archeology enthusiast studying the abandoned ruins glyphs and braving 3 day treks to the remote El Mirador ruins.I met them all in this tiny strip of a village, the only visitors while I was there.
No one else ever visits this place, you might be lucky seeing a tourist here every few weeks. On the good side, you literally have the whole ruins site to yourself, although most of the ruins are in a pile of grassy mole hill.
I met a group of Guatemalans in the bus on the way to the village and met them again at one of the only 3 restaurants in the village. A friendly Guatemalan soon introduced himself, speaking with a clear midwestern American accent. After a brief conversation, he soon revealed that he was acting as a ‘tour guide’ to these group of Guatemalans. They were spending a night at the restaurant, making their way to the Mexico border and then onwards to the United States seeking their riches and their ideal new American life.
He was quite proud and pretty open about what he was doing, happily chatting about what he does for a living. Being a guide for these poor people soon to be illegal workers in the United States, (should they be so lucky to make it across the borders). He worked near Chicago, spending 4 years learning his english ; boasting he earned US$150 a day tending a ranch.
“We make sure they will have proper papers crossing the Mexico border, I have connections that will ensure safe passage for my group at this border. Without me, they will definitely be caught by the Mexican police and extorted more money, probably jailed. Tomorrow morning they will take my truck onwards to the border, we have connections here so they will be safe. Then once across the border, they will be taken to wherever they want to go in the States.”
The group did not understand a word of english, were a quiet yet accommodating bunch, I had only managed communicating with them in my raw basic spanish. I was surprised they even allowed me to take photos of them. It was only the family working in the restaurant wary about this foreigner talking to the group.
In other parts of Guatemala the average pay was between Q500 (US$75)-1000 (US$130) a month. It was no wonder these poor workers were risking their lives for a chance to work in the United States for a better life for themselves and their families.
My heart sank for them, I wished them luck and was gestured by the owner of the restaurant into a separate room for my dinner. I do hope they make it to United States and achieve their American dream.