The second day of trekking through the jungle was both easier and more difficult. Easier because they were able to chop through the brush with machetes. They were less concerned with leaving a visible path from the road now that they were over the first mound of the spiral. More difficult because they were exhausted.
There was little in the way of conversation all day. The only communication was in working together to blaze a trail and carve a path up and over the second mound. They took turns at the point position, but with five machetes between thirteen people, they were able to switch out frequently as their arms tired.
The elation at coming upon their campsite early that evening was subdued. The more quickly they could get their tents erected, the sooner they could climb inside and collapse.
They didn’t get that far.
What started as a few snapping twigs in the periphery of the camp led to the ominous feeling of being surrounded. Instinctively, everyone in the team gathered to the center of the camp and Nicholas wrapped his arms around Becky, a futile attempt to protect her.
Native Mayans were likely nervous about these foreigners invading their land. The team knew this might happen. But knowing something in the abstract and actually experiencing an ambush were very different.
“Hello?” Timothy called out. “Is anyone out there?” There was no noise.
“Máaxech” Levi called out. “Baʼax a kʼáat?”
A beautiful young woman stepped into the clearing, startling everyone. She looked directly at Levi asking, “A t’aan maaya’ex?”
Levi nodded and answered her. “Je’el.”
“What are you saying?” Nicholas asked his brother through clenched teeth. The fact that they were communicating was a good sign.
“I asked what they wanted,” Levi said. “And she asked me if I understood her language. Obviously, I do. She’s confused.”
The woman looked around at the other members of the group then back at Levi and said something else in her native Mayan tongue.
Levi shook his head and answered her then translated his statement into English. “No, I’m the only person here who speaks Yucatec.”
She wore a colorful textile dress, obviously tribal rather than a costume, had her hair pulled back and intricately braided on top and cascading down her back. A small headdress made of ornately carved wood and feathers adorned her head, not large enough to be that of a queen. A princess, maybe? Daughter of a tribal leader perhaps? She was fascinating.
“In k’aaba’ Levi.” Levi put his hand on his chest and then pointed to her, most likely asking her name. “Bix a k’aba?”
Her suspicious gaze darted between Levi and Nicholas, and Levi stepped closer to his twin, moving his hand between the two.
“In suku’un,” Levi said. “My brother. And my friends. In nuup’o’ob” He waved his hand in a sweeping gesture to include the whole group.
“Ba’ax a k’áat?” She turned his words around demanding to know what they wanted.
“She wants to know why we’re here,” Levi said to the group. “We are scientists. Chan científicos. We want to study the temple pyramid. Táak k xook le templo.” He pointed in the direction the team was heading.
A startled expression crossed her face. Her wide eyes darted around the group. “Teche’ ma’ k’a’ana’an wojéeltik tu yo’olal le je’elo.” Angry words spewed forth, loud and fast. Nicholas wondered if Levi could even translate that complicated rant.
“I think she said we’re not supposed to know about the temple. Their tribe has probably been protecting the temple for generations. I need to let her know we won’t hurt the temple.” Levi paused to breathe, then spoke to her in a soft, placating tone. “Ma’ táan k herir le templo. Táak k paakat le templo.”
“Ma’. Ko’oten ojéeltbil ti in yuum.” She turned around and made a motion to the others who were hiding in the jungle, out of our sight.
“She said, no, and that we need to come and meet her father.” Levi turned to meet Nicholas’ gaze with wide eyes. “I have a feeling we are about to meet the tribal chief.”
“I have a feeling you’re right,” Nicholas said. “Depending on how far away the village is located, this could be a long night.”
As he spoke, dozens of men with curved swords and spears surrounded their camp on all sides.