I wake up at 5 AM and run to Adolfo’s house to do the last of my bird counts in the Lacandon agroforestry system. This is definitely the last time I will see Adolfo this year and potentially the last time I visit Lacanja, depending on my funding situation for next year. I gather up the soil samples we collected from the restoration experiment, which collectively probably weigh about 100 pounds. Before I go, I hand him the gift that I’ve been waiting to give him ever since last year when he surprised me with a bag made from the Akun tree bark (the same material I helped pound yesterday). I hand him a rechargeable flashlight. I can tell that he is pleased. Rosa, his wife, is especially excited. Her eyes widened the moment I mentioned that it does not require batteries, which I correctly assumed were somewhat difficult to acquire in Lacanja. I say my goodbyes and grunt as I lift the pack onto my back and lumber down the trail. The taxi is set to leave at 9:30 and it is already 9. Hopefully I can make it in time.
Fortunately I do return to the cabins and Stew and I are off to the Cruzero de San Javier. We wait for about half an hour for a combi to pass by, which is longer than usual. However, we are rewarded for our patience with a combi that is nearly empty. That almost never happens leaving Benemerito. Typically, a group like ours needs to split up into two combis, but not today. Stew and I part ways in Palenque. He was going to go with me to the Peten to visit the field sites of a colleague and visit some Mopan villages in the hope of writing a more successful Fulbright application for next year. Unfortunately, there is no Fulbright scholarship to Belize and the chair of our university department has requested Stew’s dossier for tenure-review. This will require all of his attention over the next couple of days. I finished all of the data collection that I needed or could reasonably accomplish this particular year, and my flight is out of Cancun. Therefore, I decide to continue on the trans-Guatemala-Belize-Yucatan trip as planned.
I stay in Panchan for the night. Stripping down in front of a mirror to take a shower reveals the full extent of the insect bites that cover me. They cover every part of my body: my legs are in particularly bad shape, with one or two red, pus-oozing welts per square inch of skin. My waistline has fortunately not been attacked by chiggers, but my upper back is covered with mosquito bites where the double-layer of t-shirt and long-sleeve shirt did not protect me. Even my face was not spared the onslaught. I shudder and walk into the shower. The warm water does not work, but that doesn’t bother me given the heat and humidity of Palenque. The cold water barely emerges from the nozzle in a languorous drip and I struggle to wash the soap and shampoo off. This is even less effective than my stream baths in Lacanja. I head to the main desk and make arrangements for transport to Flores, Guatemala. The hotel offers a tour directly from Panchan to Frontera Corozal, across the Uscamacinta River to Bethel and the immigration office there, and all the way to Flores. The price is reasonable and greatly reduces the stress of traveling through the Peten, which remains a very wild place. It is Guatemala’s frontier, where vaqueros and campesinos operate without any oversight from the law or the state. I fall asleep early given the early mornings I’ve had over the past five days and the fact that the departure to Flores is at 5AM tomorrow.