Adventuring in the Guatemalan Jungle
It’s taken me almost a year to write this post for a few different reasons.
One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to explore the natural world by jumping headfirst into new and adventurous situations.
During the last few days of the trip, we took a boat ride deep into the jungle to stay in accommodations with limited electricity. We went cliff jumping. We hiked into a cave and jumped into a black hole. We snorkeled in the Belize Cayes.
I have pictures of some of these events. Most of them were not very waterproof (in fact, one of the girls dropped her phone into the river. Luckily our boat guide dove into the water and swam 10 feet down to retrieve it).
I’ll post the pictures below. If that’s all you came here to see, then stop reading after the photos. Everything I write afterward will be about the single most impactful part of the trip—witnessing a death. Don’t read that far if you don’t like downers.
The last part of our vacation was relaxing, but definitely very heavy.
After leaving Chiquimula and heading into the wilderness, we were supposed to spend Wednesday evening at a hot springs waterfall. Unfortunately, it rained the previous day and the roads were too muddy to navigate, so we detoured to a national park instead.
The first part of the visit was quite pleasant. We relaxed in the lake, and two of us decided to cliff jump off of the waterfall pictured above.
We were heading out of the park when things went haywire. While stopping at the restrooms near the entrance of the park, we heard a commotion coming from the direction of the lake. Half of the group was already back in the van. The residents and locals at the park didn’t speak Spanish (they were Mayan) but our group’s Spanish speakers were able to piece together that a local back at the lake was drowning.
So as not to gruesomely recount everything in detail, here are the cliff notes:
- Two of the women in our group worked in healthcare. One is a nurse.
- The locals did not know how to swim. We did.
- One of the women in our group retrieved the man from the water. Members of the group took turns giving the man CPR.
- The nearest hospital was over 40 minutes away.
- Our phone reception was not great.
- The national park did not have any medical supplies on hand.
- After administering CPR for almost an hour, the ambulance arrived and pronounced the man dead.
In that hour, it was obvious that death was just a normal part of everyday life for the locals. The man’s friends who were there with him grieved. The women comforted the children who witnessed the incident. But there was the question of why our group insisted on trying so hard to save the guy’s life. What we did wasn’t normal.
There was the lingering thought of what if it happened to one of us? No one outside our group would be compelled or even equipped to help. There was no medical care in our vicinity, and as we traveled deeper into the jungle we traveled even further away from access to health care.
For the first time, I felt very mortal. And I also realized that I wasn’t going to stop this style of travel. Our activities at the national park were tame in comparison to the typical adventure activities we’d partake in.
It made me realize that if I was going to keep up that kind of lifestyle, I’d need to be more responsible about it.
Living in the U.S., we gripe about not having universal healthcare, but we’re lucky to have access to healthcare that we have. Not every country has that.
Here are a few things to learn before going on an adventure trip:
- If you have any preexisting health conditions, make sure the people in your group know about it, or that it is stated in an easily accessible place (medical bracelet or necklace)
- Be familiar with the healthcare situation and good samaritan laws in the country you’re in
- If you can’t speak the native language of that country, carry translation cards
- Be aware of where the nearest hospital is and how to get there
- Carry a phone that works in that country (I used to travel without a cell phone. Never again.)
- Carry a first aid kit wherever you go
- Learn basic first aid if you can
I feel incredibly lucky to have traveled with this group of ladies. This trip was no vacation, and there were some hard lessons learned. But all things considered, I’m grateful to be a part of this community.