Call Me El Gid: Chapters 1 – 10

Chapter 1: What the Hell is this Nonsense?

June 18, 2020
(c) 2020 Aardvarks Are Wee, LLC

Those who follow me on Facebook know that I have a few recurring themes for my posts.

There are the Arlington Nature Chronicles, which consists of my wry observations on nature, sly humor, pictures of animals, and whatever other random shit I want to blather on about.

Leadership is a passion of mine, so there is also the Leadership Quote of the Week, where I post, wait for it, leadership quotes. Most weeks, anyway. OK, some weeks. You seem to like them, and I thank you for that. As recent events have shown, leadership matters. I want us all to be better at it.

I have Tiny Art, where I post pictures of the artwork that I see in people’s yards while I am out and about in the neighborhood. Garden gnomes, statutes, glass, paintings, odd trinkets. People like to dismiss the arts, but here’s the conundrum: we sure like to have it around us. For me, it’s an excuse to keep my eyes open and my phone in my pocket while I walk my dogs. Until I see something I like, of course, and then I need the phone to take the photo. Conundrum number 2!

No one can forget the grotesque beauty of Mucous Haiku! Even with therapy.

And then I sometimes post photos and pretend they are in an art museum of some sort, with an art museum-like heading. It’s silly, and I crack myself up every time.

Today I turn 60. 60 damned years old! It seems like a huge milestone. Like something I should think about. On the one hand, I have lived a blessed life so far, sprinkled with great adventures, mischievous shenanigans, not too many arrests, the love of my family and friends, and dozens of warm memories. All of that makes me happy. I have more than a few stories I would like to share with you about that.

On the other hand, the pandemic is turning the world upside down, civil unrest is raging across the country, and the very foundations of our democracy appear to be crumbling to dust before our eyes. Those parts of our current world make me unbearably sad. That existential dread has made me ponder life as well.

All of this age and happiness and sadness has turned me introspective. What better way to process my thoughts than to start another thread to share my memories of this whacky, wonderful, worrisome life I have lived so far?

I am calling it “Call Me El Gid: Reflections of an Accidental Zoologist.” You just read chapter one.

Chapter 2: Call Me El Gid? What the Fuck Does That Mean?

June 19, 2020
(c) 2020 Aardvarks Are Wee, LLC

Names are funny things. Nicknames, even funnier. By funny, of course, I mean odd. Or disturbing. Nonsensical. Some of them are throwbacks to childhood humiliations or misadventures. They can be a weapon, used to taunt or bully or mock. There are those based, honestly or ironically, on some bodily feature.

They might be based on your job. True story, a group I was with once had a marshmallow roast with a branch of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. One of whom was nicknamed “Digger,” because he dug graves for a living.

Some are just short forms or diminutive versions of someone’s “legal” name. I have never liked those. Or at least I have never liked the reason for those. If you want to call your kid Mike, name the little fucker Mike, not Michael. Mea culpa, my daughter Sadie’s legal name is not Sadie. We knew we would call her Sadie, which was based on my great-grandmother’s (great-great?) name. I wanted to just name her Sadie and be done with it. I was overruled.

My name is Jerry, which is okay, I guess. My legal name is Jerold. Sorry, Mom and Dad, but I have always hated Jerold. I like the unique spelling, but it’s just not me. I never used it – ever – until those pricks attacked us on 9/11. Before long, we had to put our legal names on airplane tickets and government emails and the like. Then Jerold, which I thought I had long since sealed forevermore into the Cupboard of Abandoned Names, slithered out and attached itself to me again, a malignant, unwanted, shadow.

Besides Jerry, I have had other nicknames. “Tiger,” when I was a kid, because I like tigers. I didn’t like that one much either. Over the years I have answered to “Jer,” “Jer Bear,” El Jefe, Lord Gidner. None of them stuck.

But then there is “El Gid.”

It was 1991. I had just escaped a hellish year-long stint at a corrupt law firm that was imploding in Annapolis, Maryland for a job at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC. I’ll tell that tale another time, but it involved a white-water rafting trip, an interview on crutches, and giving 18 hours’ notice before leaving the law firm.

My boss at the EPA was a man named Mike Walker. Now retired, Mike was a joy to work for. He was brilliant, whacky, frenetic, gleefully inappropriate. A performance artist with every breath he took. I learned a lot from Mike and have never laughed so much and so loud at work before or since.

To say Mike has a way with words is like saying the sun can be a mite toasty. A drastic understatement. I don’t remember exactly when it happened. One of the many times I sat on the couch in Mike’s office, I suppose, laughing until I nearly pissed myself as he riffed on random topics. One day, casually pointing at me, he called me “El Gid.” I don’t know where it came from. A corruption of “El Cid?” Random nonsense? Who the hell knows? It doesn’t matter, I guess. I liked it and it stuck.

Those days at the EPA were thirty years ago, and as I moved on to the Department of the Interior, fewer people knew the nickname or used it. But some still do, and other than “Dad,” it’s my favorite nickname of all time. As the title of this series requests, call me El Gid.

Chapter 3: What Kind of Dumb Fucker Accidentally Becomes a Zoologist?

June 20, 2020
(c) 2020 Aardvarks Are Wee, LLC

My dad spent his career in the aerospace industry. Wright Patterson Air Force base in Dayton, Boeing in Philly, Bell Helicopter in Ft. Worth, and finally Boeing again, in Seattle. I can’t say I know what he did all the time, but one year he spent most of the year on business in Australia! Overall, the airplane and helicopter business kept me fed and put me through college, and although a cyclical industry, it seemed like a decent career. Except for those occasional times when the cycle hit bottom.

Somewhere around 1982, I was working on a double major in Physiology and Fish and Wildlife Biology at Michigan State University. I was solidly on the 5-year plan and had just finished the fourth year. There were visions of vet school after that (spoiler alert – never applied). It was right about then that the aerospace industry took a nosedive (bad term?) and my dad was out of work for a time.

Which is to say I lost my gravy train and needed a job.

Fortunately, I had worked the Summer before as a Park Ranger at Fitzgerald Park in Grand Ledge, Michigan, maybe 15 miles west of East Lansing. “The Ledges” as the park was known, was the home of the Eaton County Parks and Recreation Department. Famous for sandstone cliffs, a fish ladder, and a lichen not usually found that far south. My job included cutting the grass, building fences, maintaining trails. I opened the park in the morning and closed it at night. One thing I learned: If you chatted up the groups that reserved the picnic pavilions, they invited you to eat with them, and you kept yourself pretty well fed. The usual stuff of parks.

About the time I realized I needed a job, the Parks Naturalist left. The Parks Director encouraged me to apply. It was no big surprise then when I was offered the permanent position.

But the offer came with a catch. The job required a bachelor’s degree, which I didn’t have. Fortunately, we were able to cut a deal. They gave me until December of 1982 to graduate. I talked to an advisor at MSU and we made an interesting discovery. Both Physiology and Fish and Wildlife Biology required a number of zoology classes. Although I had a year to go to finish the double major, I was one lone credit away from a Zoology degree. I took the job, switched my major to Zoology, took a forgettable night class that Fall, and that December, I became a zoologist. Accidently.

Chapter 4: There Will be Swearing.

June 21, 2020
(c) 2020 Aardvarks Are Wee, LLC

Around 1310 in jolly old Chester, England, court records mentioned a man named Roger Fuckebythenavale.1 The entry, believed by historians to reference a nickname, marked the first known written use of the greatest linguistic accomplishment known to humankind: The word fuck.

I consider that moment in time to be one of glorious liberation and great beginnings for those of us who swear. Those of you who don’t swear can just fuck off.

Today’s chapter is just a trigger warning of sorts. This series will be, I hope, funny, poignant, thoughtful, madcap, or at least entertaining. Most of all, I hope it is real and raw and a true representation of a life that I consider to be well lived to this point. It can’t be that unless my writing is honest.

And honestly, I swear. A lot. Routinely. Persistently. I hope creatively. My mind generates swear words like cows produce farts. In my febrile brain, there are few taboos around swear words. Given a bit of inspiration, I can produce new combinations of swear words, animals, and improbable sexual interactions at blinding speed. I swear like a dying sailor who just caught the clap from a dead sheep. Apparently, that zoology degree was a good investment after all.

What’s more, I like to swear. I like the way swear words sound. The way they feel when I say them. The emphasis they bring and the reactions they produce. My brain just simply feels better when I am cursing.

Swear words are versatile, colorful, have hundreds of uses, can be combined in infinite ways, and are usually present when you step on something sharp. Swear words are linguistic Legos!

This series will contain swearing.If that offends you, stop reading it, and go bugger a dying sheep. Or a walrus. Or something. If it doesn’t, come the fuck in and pull up a chair. We have stories to tell.


Chapter 5: Who is El Gid?

June 22, 2020
© Aardvarks Are Wee, LLC

Who am I, and why am I writing this? By day I am a mild-manner Federal Executive. By night, I am a . . . well, an old, tired 60-year-old guy, with body parts that hurt at odd times for no apparent reason, and an inability to pee straight. But it was not always thus.

Looking back over my life, I had some wonderful interesting times and outstanding adventures. I was 38-years-old when our oldest daughter was born. When our youngest came along, already 43. Do the math: I lived over half my life before my kids came along. They only know the slower, staider (yet still hilarious) Dad me of the past 20 years. There is a lot of invisible iceberg below that tip.

We are a family of introverts. By and large we are cynical and sarcastic loners. We are not big on dinner around the table, basking in family love and eager, bright-eyed cries of “tell me the time you slept in a storage room at the hotel at the bird sanctuary in India.” (true story). Or “tell us about the horse you owned who kept bucking you off.” (true story). Or, “what was it like when you went sky-diving?” (yes, true story. Twice.).

Some families live that way, and I get that. Family bliss. Lively, pertinent conversation. No elbows on the table. No farts. No burps. That’s not us.

Assuming we even eat together given our schedules, its likely to be on the couch, pets sprawled all around, and me dribbling food down my ubiquitous T-shirt. Sweatshirt, if its winter. Streaming whatever show we are binge watching that day, week, month, year. Right now its Gilmore Girls (When Rory and Dean will break up?)

It all doesn’t leave much time for spinning yarns about life in the olden days. But for me, those days were good ones.

This, then, is a record for my kids, if they ever want to know more about their dad. A chronicle for me, to organize my thoughts, before they drip from my brain in my dotage and disappear into the unknown history of the world. Perhaps a base to plan for whatever – hopefully long – future I have left.

If I can entertain some of you along the way, so much the better.

So, who is El Gid? Besides an accidental zoologist? I am a husband. A dad. A son. I try to be my best I can be at all of those often-competing roles. I hope I succeed at least as much as I fail.

A twitchy bastard of the first order. I have Tourette Syndrome.

Writing is one of the hardest things I have ever done. Yet still I do it (poems, kid’s books, sci-fi, shit like this post). To write, you have to read, and I do, avidly and unceasingly (murder mysteries, sci-fi and fantasy, history).

I am a fan of John Denver and renewable energy. That seems incongruous, but this is my story; you can tell your own.

Defining much of my life and my career, I am a citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Traveling both excites and terrifies me. I have been fortunate enough, though, to visit 17 countries (wish it were more), 49 states (Hawaii, you bitch, I will see you someday), and nearly 100 Native American reservations. Each trip has taught me something about the world and myself. More recently those lessons include how good it feels to just be back home. My wander lust is ebbing, particularly in these virus times. I hope the world, and my desire to see it, return at some point.

My more adventurous activities include skydiving, scuba diving, rock-climbing, zip-lining, parasailing, hang gliding (one lesson, but still), white water rafting, mountain climbing, rappelling, jet skiing, and more.

Since I have a degree in zoology, I guess I am lucky to have encountered dozens of wild animals in their own worlds, including bats, moose, tarantulas, bears, sharks, howler monkeys, elk, crocodiles, and elephants. Chapter 7 will tell the story of one of those encounters.

The future and technology fascinate me. What comes next? And what comes after that? And after that? Is it good or bad? Skynet or penicillin?

I love archeology and the unfolding stories of the ancestors. I love history, which after all is just archeology that is not quite ripe, and the future of people long since dead. My favorite time period of history to study, relevant for the times we live in, is the European exploration, theft, and occupation of what is now the Americas. Sounds like a good topic for Chapter 6.

Chapter 6: Continental Grift

June 23, 2020
© Aardvarks Are Wee, LLC

Chaos. Transformational change. I love it. At work, I am not the guy to put in charge of a place and keep it running just the way it is. I would be nodding off in 5 minutes and waking up only to escape down the freight elevator in 10. Give me a place that needs to be turned upside-down and inside-out. That’s what makes my blood sing. I call it “shaking the snow globe.”

Maybe that is why my major interest in history starts about 500 years ago, when the Europeans made their way to what is now the Americas, taking the land from the Indigenous populations with the economic help of Black slaves stolen from Africa. Let me state it a different way: When the white, inbred, narcissistic, small-dicked, racist, fuckwad toddlers of Europe committed genocide for money.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like this period of history. It was morally repugnant. It was theft and slaughter of monumental proportions. On a world scale, it left emotional and environmental and political scars that even centuries later, have not begun to heal. On a personal scale, the violence, violation, and devastation, for too many, was unimaginable.

As an amateur historian though, I come back to it time and time again. There are three reasons, really.

The first is the chaos and complexity. It was a clash of cultures and civilizations unlike any I can think of (I am an amateur historian – undoubtedly someone will claim a different example is more applicable). Ponder the scope of it: three races and four continents. Yes, I know, race is a social construct! But a construct with damning consequences, and therefore relevant to our shared history. But beyond that, neither Europe, nor Africa, nor the Americas were monolithic or homogenous. Each had its own profusion of cultures, languages, religions, political rivalries, germs, and dreams. Each its own heroes and villains. This spinning kaleidoscope makes understanding the whole malignant cluster fuck that much more daunting.

England, Spain, France, and the Netherland all had their own reasons for, and methods of, operating in the “New World.” Those differences are evident in the status of Indigenous populations across North and South America even today, half a millennium later.

The Europeans and the Indigenous tribes each exploited the political rivalries of the other for their own gains. Africans from different tribes and cultures were forcibly melded into one enslaved body, with impacts on language and culture still evident today. I could go on and on about the tangled threads of this story. The wheels within wheels within wheels. A living Rube Goldberg machine relentlessly spinning through space and time. I can’t change what happened in those hundreds of years. But despite the horror of the atrocities, the multifaceted nature of that 500 years of history draws me ever back to learn more.

The second reason is that the history has not ended. It is today’s story. It is the present. We live it today. The daily racist mistreatment of non-whites in the United States. The imposed poverty. The systemic barriers. The snubs, big and small. The murders by police officers. The lynchings! For fucks sake, it is 2020 and we have lynchings.

The same forces that drove the last 500 years of European entitlement is as alive and well today as when Christopher Columbus, the genocidal pedophile, first wet dreamed about sailing East. We cannot understand the United States today if we don’t understand the centuries that came before.

The third reason is this: I am indigenous (Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa). So are my children. And I am European (English, German, Norwegian, Irish, English, at least). So are my children. The exultation and agony of the last 500 years are built into my DNA. With my every breath a ship of racist attackers crashes ashore, guns pointed forward. With every beat of my heart, the blood of my ancestors stains the ground red.

And so, I return, over and over, to studying the history of my ancestors, to learn what I can about myself.

Whew! That was heavy, and not really a story about things I have done. But important information about where I come from. With writing, sometimes what has to come out is not what you thought when you started. So be it. Tomorrow, on a lighter note, watching bats.

Chapter 7: Millions of Bats

June 24, 2020
© Aardvarks Are Wee, LLC

No one wanted to fly in the weeks after 9/11. I sure as hell did not. But I was in a Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program with the Federal Government. We had a previously scheduled week of training in San Antonio, Texas, a couple weeks after the attack. So, we went.

I can’t speak for others, but that flight was stressful. The plane was nowhere near full, and everyone was on edge. I eyed the other passengers warily, ready to go medieval on them if they dared to fart in the wrong flavor.

Fortunately, the flight was without incident, and the course went off as planned. I guess. I honestly don’t remember what we learned that week. Not a bit of the content. I remember the Riverwalk in San Antonio, dinner on a boat, a trip to the Alamo, and a resulting Junior Ranger badge that got passed around the class as a sarcastic prize. Most of all, though, I remember the bats.

One of our classmates had a friend or relative who worked at the Bracken Cave, a preserve about 20 miles from San Antonio. She arranged for us to go there one night to watch the bats leave the cave for their nightly hunt.

I had never heard of the place, which should probably be embarrassing to an accidental zoologist. But I was glad to learn about it. And more grateful yet to experience it. As their website says:

“Bracken Cave is the summer home of more than 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis), making it the world’s largest bat colony and one of the largest concentration of mammals on earth. The emergence of these millions of bats, as they spiral out of the cave at dusk for their nightly insect hunt, is an unforgettable sight.”

It truly was remarkable. I don’t remember how we got there, how far we had to walk from the entrance to where we sat, or much else about it. But I remember the bats.

We sat on stones ringing the depression that held the entrance to the cave. I think the bats can come out before dark, but I remember it as being evening. A pleasant September night in Texas. The sky was clear, the air was warm, the dusk descending like a gentle rain. The anticipation was high, as we peered caveward. Waiting.

At last they came. Just one or two at first, vague shadows flapping counterclockwise through the sky, leathery wings scraping the night. Then more. More again. Hundreds of the little fuckers. Thousands. Until they filled the sky and blocked the remaining light and all you could see was bats. Heading out to strip the Texas skies of millions of insects. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of the mosquito-eating buggers making their nightly rounds.

The massive bat exodus reminded me of the nights, only a few weeks before, in the immediate days following the attack, when flights were grounded. The skies were quiet by day. The nights, though, were filled with the high-pitched hum of fighter planes patrolling the skies over our nation’s capital. I could not ignore the comparison between small, nimble fighter planes, and these tiny, miraculous creatures, each launching themselves into the ink-black heavens. Each a predator. On the hunt.

There was something calm about it. Transcendent. Maybe there was peaceful strength in knowing the skies held allies. Maybe it was the realization that some things would continue as always. That in the midst of uncertain times, despite whatever atrocities humans imposed on themselves, these bats were constant. They scoured the world that night. As they had every night into the distant past. As they would every night into the distant future. Maybe it was just that momentary connection with the miracle of nature. Regardless, I left that place a different man.

The bats flew on and on and on, up and up and into the night, seemingly for hours. We didn’t stay until the end. At some point it was dark, and you could hear the wings, but could no longer see the bats themselves. Eventually we left and returned to the mundane world. All these years later, though, I can still feel the hard rocks digging into my ass, the slow creep from light to dark, the awe it inspired, and the unending whoosh of a million bat wings churning through the air. Into the future.

Chapter 8: Scuba Diving in Belize

June 25, 2020
© Aardvarks Are Wee, LLC

The best decision I ever made was to marry Amy Sosin. We had a small, intimate wedding in our townhouse on Saturday, October 19, 1991. And went back to work on Monday, October 21, two days later. The honeymoon waited several months, until Spring 1992, when we spent three weeks traveling around Belize. In hindsight, I can’t remember all the reasons that we picked Belize. But one was the possibility of scuba diving on the coral reefs.

In preparation, we took a scuba class in Arlington, VA. The classroom part was as one might expect. Important, but forgettable from the vantage point of 2020, 28 years later.

The water part was held at the pool at Yorktown High School. (Side note: Yorktown is in north Arlington. At the time we took this training, we lived in south Arlington and no idea where the school was. Nor did we have kids. The wheel of time rolled forward, as it does, and we ended up living a mile from the school and having two kids go there). The training was fun, but odd. Just something about taking that first breath underwater that makes you appreciate NOT breathing underwater. In any event, it took some doing, but we both passed the course and were ready to get certified with open water dives.

If you live in Arlington, the choices for certification dives are limited. You dive in what was described to us as some cold muddy quarry west of Arlington. Or you go somewhere else.

That’s where Belize came in. Originally the home of the Mayans, Belize is a hodgepodge of cultural influences. Indigenous. Spanish. Pirates. African slaves. Garifuna (descendants of Carib and Africans who had escaped slavery). Overlaid with the relentless bureaucracy of the eventual British colonizers, who called it British Honduras until Belize regained independence in 1981.

With ocean, islands, and coral reefs to the east, rainforest and wildlife blanketing the country, and Mayan ruins tucked away everywhere, like hidden eggs on Easter Sunday, it is a fascinating country with a lot to offer the curious.
We spent our first week there on the islands. If memory serves, we took our certification dives with Frenchie’s Diving Services on Caye Caulker (still there!

Certification consists of 4 dives and it was just Amy, some young, clueless guy whose name we can’t remember, the instructor, and me.

Our first dive was in about 20 feet of water, and we were going to start all the way on the bottom. The boat ride there was choppy though, and after we anchored, and were getting ready to dive, I was close to throwing up. The Dive Instructor saw my distress, and since I was suited up and ready to go, he told me to get in the water and meet them on the ocean floor.

I sat on the edge of the boat, held the regulator so it wouldn’t pop out of my mouth, and rolled backwards into the Caribbean Sea. It was like something I might have watched on Flipper as a kid. A few minutes later, I was kneeling on the underwater sand, marveling at the beauty around me, all seasickness long forgotten. It was silly, since it was our very first dive, but that whole experience of flipping of the boat and getting to the bottom by myself made me actually feel like I was a scuba diver.

What an amazing place to dive! The reefs were colorful, bountiful, and thriving with animals Over 500 species, and it seems like we saw most of them: Angel fish, triggerfish, nurse sharks, manta rays, turtles. The water was multiple shades of green and blue, beyond my ability to name them, each more stunning than the last. And so clear. On one of our dives, the water was about 120 feet deep, and we were diving 60 feet down. From there, we could see the sand on the bottom as if it was just below our feet. Looking up, we could clearly see gulls wheeling across the sky above the water.

We did the four dives over two days and became certified scuba divers. After that, one of us got sick – I think it was me – and we didn’t dive again. Or in all the years since, for that matter. Of all the adventure sports I have done, though, scuba diving is the one I would most like to do again. Maybe someday, if we get past this fucking virus.

We did snorkel a couple times that week, but between the scuba, the snorkeling, me being sick, and someone cutting the screen window of our hotel room and stealing my wallet off a table, WHILE WE WERE SLEEPING IN THE ROOM, we were ready for our week on the islands to be over. So, we headed to the mainland, for howler monkeys, tapirs, tarantulas, Tikal, a special sunrise, and committing an international crime. More about that in the next couple of days.

Chapter 9: “¿Tikal aqui?”

June 26, 2020
© Aardvarks Are Wee, LLC

The border crossing between Belize and Guatemala was not a substantial place. More of a concept, really. A plain, squat building on one side of the border; its companion on the other. Lots of men in green uniforms. The actual border was not well marked. More or less on a whim, we had decided to rent a truck in Belize City, so we could drive to Tikal, one of the more famous Mayan ruins in the world.

I remember that we parked the truck and went inside, to get our passports stamped. Back in the truck, at what appeared to be the border, a guard stopped us, glared at us suspiciously, and looked at our paperwork for a very long time. Finally, wordlessly, he nodded for us to drive through.

The road from the border to Tikal was lined with lush green hills, and small farms. It was a sweltering day and the air conditioning in the truck did not work. The only way to keep cool was to drive fast with the windows down. Sadly, for that plan, the road was dirt and lined with potholes the size of full-grown elk. Craters really. I had to steer around them when I could, or creep in and out of them when I couldn’t. In either case, it wasn’t fast enough to get a breeze. It was slow, it was 100 degrees, and the slow-motion surfing through the elk craters made me seasick.

It was hard to tell how far we went, or if we were on the right track, although truthfully, there were no other roads so we could hardly have taken a wrong turn. I did get worried though, so at one point, when I saw a farmer working in a field near the road, I got out and waved to get his attention. Some people have a real ear for languages and can pick them up easily. I am not one of those people. The amount I remembered from high school Spanish could have fit in a thimble, with room left over for one of those elk. And its entire family.

I was reduced to asking, “¿Tikal, aqui?” and pointing my arm down the road in the direction we were driving. I knew it was not the right word. Not eloquent. Or elegant. Three-year-old Spanish speakers would have laughed at me, called me pendejo, and probably kicked me in the balls in contempt. But after a few minutes of watching this idiotic tourist butchering his language, the farmer nodded and said, “Si.” So, we were back on the road.

A lot of the places we had stayed in Belize City were not right for us. They were either hostels, which catered to a younger, more care-free crowd and were woefully short on creature comforts. At those places, we were the oldest and richest people in residence. Or there were higher end places catering to a more sophisticated clientele. At those, we were the youngest, poorest people. But the Hotel Gringo Perdido was just right. Located on Lago del Peten Itza in El Remate, Guatemala, about 40 miles south of Tikal, it seemed like a great place to stop for the night. I am guessing it still is:

The owner served us dinner, with several other guests, on a patio by the lake. One big table seating maybe twelve of us. It was more dinner party than hotel dining room fare. I don’t remember what we ate or what we talked about particularly, but I do remember the other guests were in our general age range, and it was just about the only place we stayed on our whole trip where that was the case. I clearly remember sitting there for several pleasant hours, with the lake water lapping below us, and flickering candles casting shadows on a deep red cloth that covered the table from end to end.

According to the owner, he was, at the time, Guatemala’s only triathlete. Part of his training regime was to swim in the lake adjacent to the hotel. I don’t remember how it happened, but somehow, Amy and I helped with a training swim. The three of us putted across the lake in a small motorboat. On the way over, he told us about the crocodiles that lived in the lake. The freshwater crocodiles of that lake, according to him, were not carnivorous. Or didn’t attack humans. Or something. Which seems like something an accidental zoologist should know, but I didn’t. Maybe he was making it up.

In any event, when we reached the far side of the lake, crocodiles or no, he jumped overboard and swam back, with me steering the boat behind him.

Coming up next: Sunrise Surprise.

Chapter 10: Sunrise Surprise

June 27, 2020
© Aardvarks Are Wee, LLC

The Maya arrived in the area now known as Tikal, Guatemala, around 900 BC. Over the centuries, the area grew into a major cultural and business center, supporting nearly 100,000 people in the 8th century AD. The empire collapsed, for reasons not fully known, at the end of the 9th century AD.

Tikal is now a major tourist site, home to more than 3,000 buildings, many still buried, shrouded by rainforest, in the midst of the one million-hectare Maya Biosphere Reserve.

Amy and I headed to Tikal from the Gringo Perdido hotel. After torturing bemused entry guards with my bad Spanish, we made our way into the reserve, parking near the on-site campgrounds, early one morning, the sun just beginning to turn the dew to steam.

The place is magnificent. Ancient mossy stone temples poking above an unending canopy of trees. Dozens of species of birds singing from hidden perches, invisible amongst the thick foliage, their whistles echoing across the open ground of the Grand Plaza.

We poked around in the temples, exploring what nooks and crannies were open to public access. It was truly profound to be inside massive edifices, which were constructed millennia ago, by people without bulldozers, power tools, and cranes.

One thing I really wanted to do was to climb Temple II, the Temple of the Masks. It was built between 682 and 734 A.D., by the emperor of the time, Jasaw Chan K’awill I. He was also known as Ah Cacoa, which in competition with El Gid for cool names, apparently means Lord Chocolate. More importantly for our time there, at 125 feet high, Temple II juts above the trees, providing amazing views of the entire area.

We worked our way west across the Grand Plaza, the sun at our backs. From a distance, we could see that someone had already scaled the Temple that morning, and they were sitting on the temple summit, leaning against the wall of the building that topped it.

The climb was hard. The stairs of these temples are not the same height as modern stairs. Each one is considerably taller than what we were used to. Maybe they weren’t designed to be stairs at all, but stadium seating for games in the Grand Plaza below. In any event, climbing it was like vertical day at the Ministry of Silly Walks. Leaning sideways, to crane one leg upward to make the step, leaning forward and to the other side to lever the trailing leg to be level with the first. Sweaty hands praying desperately for purchase on the worn stone. Or flailing for balance like a puppet show gone bad. Anything to get enough leverage to pry yourself up the step. 125 feet of them.

Our chests and thighs were competing for which was burning the most by the time our heads popped over the lip of the temple summit. Those sensations were quickly forgotten, though, by what greeted us there.

We had lost track of our fellow tourist as we climbed. The angle of the stairs made it impossible to see her during the climb. As I had thought, she was on the temple summit, back resting against the building that is perched there. The shrine? I am not sure. In any event, her head was tipped back, eyes closed, sun illuminating the short blonde hair that framed her face. She wore a sun dress of some sort, and as her knees were bent and spread apart, the dress had ridden up her legs. She was, as we might say, going commando, so when we topped the lip of the summit, we were staring, from maybe ten feet away, directly at her naked pussy, which was also illuminated by the sun.

I don’t remember if we caught her eye, or talked to her, tourist-to-tourist, or if she knew she was exposing herself to anyone willing to make the arduous climb. I do know that as we walked past her and into the cool shade of the shrine, the pain in my chest was replaced by the pain from Amy’s elbow, as we nudged each other, trying to giggle under our breath.

Tomorrow: International Criminals