Published: October 20th 2011October 15th 2011
The journey from Belize to Guatemala was an easy and interesting one. We caught the water ferry from Caye Caulker to Belize City and jumped on a bus bound for Flores in Guatemala. The bus was 'air conditioned' ie all windows open which actually made it surprisingly cool and there weren´t many people on it so we could spread out. Good news as it was really uncomfortable!
We crossed the border with no issues - this was my first land border crossing, the previous one being done via ferry. We hopped off the bus at the Belizean border, walked through and got our passports stamped and paid our exit fee, then walked across the border into Guatemala and back on the bus.
Almost immediately some differences were notable. The quality of the roads was shocking, and the bus had to slow right down and even drive on the other side of the road for parts due to such bad potholes (thankfully the road was very quiet!), animals roamed freely by the roads, and everything just felt a little less developed.
We arrived in Flores with no dramas and headed to our hostel. Los Amigos was great - again
I had my own room, and it had a great restaurant which was open all day serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, a 5 hour happy hour where a cocktail with a double shot of alcohol was about $1.20 and lots of outdoor and indoor seating including hammocks (my new favourite thing!) to swing in, and all amongst a jungle like setting.
We booked our trip to Tikal for the following day and realised it meant we had to get up around 4am for a 4.30am pickup. Ouch! This meant we would get into the park when it opened and it proved to be a great way to do it.
We went for a walk down to the lake - Flores is on an island in the middle of Lake de Peten Itza, and actually quite tiny. We settled for a restaurant on the waterfront as the sun was going down which was nice. Bed was early due to the ridiculous time we had to get up the next morning.
Before going to bed I had put my phone on to charge (which also contained my alarm) and during the night the charger must have fallen out. I
had set it for 4.10am so I could be ready for 4.20pickup, and lucky I woke up up on my own at 4.14 when the others were outside my door!
We all jumped into the minivan and fell back asleep for the drive to Tikal. I am becoming a master of sleeping anywhere again - this time I think it reached new heights as I fell asleep sitting up, in a minivan with nothing to lean on (I was in the middle) and no headrest- so bolt upright!
We got into Tikal at 6am when the gates opened, drove the extra 17 km into the park and grabbed some brekky.
Our guide Luis took us on a 4 hour tour of archeology, flaura and fauna. Flora meant the magnificent and old saber trees, and fauna meant huge tarantulas, spider and howler monkeys, creatures who are a cross between a racoon and a possum (cannot for the life of me remember the name!), huge grasshoppers, tiny lizards, and other interesting creatures.
Tikal is my 3rd Mayan ruin to see and I´ve learnt by now they are all quite different. Tikal is huge - it has 9 plazas
all with multiple structures and pyramids and it just seems to go on forever (especially when you have woken up at the crack of sparrows fart to get there!). The buildings all have names like pyramid 1,2,3 & 4 and Group G, P, etc. Luis just reeled them off - credit to him that he kept remining us what we had seen and were going to see, but it had the effect of bamboozling us as we don´t know the buildings apart!
Another difference of Tikal is that you can climb the pyramids. Not sure how I feel about this for conservation reasons, but it´s pretty amazing! Tikal is deep in the jungle, and climbing the structures gave great views over the current plaza we were in and out to the tips of the other pyramids,which peeped out over the jungle canopy. SOme you can climb the actual pyramids and the stairs are huge and steep. In Chitchen Itza we learnt that the rulers liked them to be steep so when they looked out from the edge they could not see the stairs up. Three days later and I´m ashamed to say my legs are still sore! Others have
wooden stairs built alongside most of the structure, to help yu reach the top. These were awelcome relief as they were much easier to climb! It´s the end of the rainy season here and one lot of stairs was crumbling so glad they didn´t let us up those! Pyramid IV was my fave - I can remember it only as it´s the steepest, and yuo climb via wooden stairs. At the top you can climb onto the pyramid itself and the views out to the jungle, other pyramids and beyond were fabulous.
After spending about 6 hours in Tikal park we climed into our minibus transport again and headed back to Flores. I managed to sleep sitting up again and slept the whole way back!
We spent the rest of the day chilling out at the hostel, enjoying the endless happy hour and staying out of the rain which started early afternoon and just got heavier all night. We headed out for an ok meal (I had been told Guatemalan food wasn´t great and it is true so far!) with Claire and Alex, who we had left behind in Belize and who had caught us up.
They had planned to go to Tikal the next day but the rain was torrential all night - it felt like a monsoon. When we got up in the morning we were thinking of them and how unpleasant it would be, but they popped out of their rooms soon after and said they hadn´t gone.
I said goodbye to Lies, Nanna and Luna and they headed off to Lanquin in a minibus for 7 hours. We spent the day close to the hostel, as the rain just didn´t let up. I had booked an overnight bus leaving that day for Antigua with Tom, Claire and Alex and we were wondering if the rain would affect our journey. A lady at teh hostel said that we would be fine, but that some of the smaller roads were floooded, in particular the road to Lanquin. We hoped the girls would make it ok.
We boarded our ´¨luxury´bus with some trepidation and found that in fact we did get more legroom, reclinable chairs but no food as promised! Luckily we had eaten dinner beforehand. We arrived in Guatemala city some 9 hours later, and were picked up by a shuttle to
take us to Antigua. Guatemala city was big, sprawling and full of chicken buses, which we hadn´t really seen before. They are colourful and everywhere and it will be interesting to take one. The city was full of election posters also - and I´m talking massive posters of the candidates faces, on every single lampost, so it´s a bit stifling.
We arrived in Antigua about an hour later. It´s set up in the mountains and has a huge volcano on its southside. It is an old colonial town with cobbled streets, lots of old crumbling churches, colourful buildings and people in traditional dress. It feels a bit like San Cristobal in Mexico in its setting, but is a bit more cosmopolitan. People come here for the language schools, and there are lots of different types of restaurants and some great coffee around the main square.
I´m starting my Volcano Trail tour here on Monday, so had 2 nights accommodation in a hotel. I was able to check in at 8am (thank goodness!) and had my first hot shower in about 10 days. It´s not as bad as it sounds, as the places I have been staying have been
hot and humid, so a cold shower is usually welcome. However the hot shower was bliss! I tucked into a buffet breakfast and headed out to put in my laundry. On the way out I ran into Sandy and Justin who Steve and I had met in Palenque in Mexico, about 2 weeks ago! I heard Ángela´and looked around to see Justin coming out of a shop. I had to do a quick memory check for where I´d seen them last but recogised them straight away. The travellers coincidences keep on happening! It was lovely to see them and we swapped stories on what we´d done since seeing each other last.
I then met up with Tom, Claire and Alex and we headed to the famous Antigua Markets. I love going to markets when I´m in foreign places, and these must have been the most random collection of wares I have seen in a market to date! From touristy souvenirs, to electrical shops where you can buy computer games and a charger for anything, to underwear stores, hardware stalls, people selling fruit and veg, to the individual hawkers selling a) antennae and remote controls b) all kinds of pills
including viagra (with the hip thrusting motion to demonstrate what it did) c) a man with a huge bucket of prawns d) a lady with goldfish in bags. To top it all off, you could pay a man with scales to weigh you! We had a wander around the markets and then decided to leave.
Afterwards we went trawling spanish language schools. The others have the luxury of being able to stay here a week and are enrolling in a school for that time, but I just lined up an afternoon of spanish tutoring.
We headed for lunch at a Mexican place called Tacontento & Alex & I went in for the Tacontento platter- a mix of all meats, melted cheese & accompanied by tortillas. We managed to get through most of it which was an achievement!
The rest of the afternoon was spent chilling out as it was pouring & I actually didnt feel well so had a night in with th telly in my hotel room- the first time I had watched TV since I left home! Luckily they had lots of choice in English speaking programmes.
The next day I had my Spanish
tutoring - 3 hours of 1-1 was pretty intense but I learnt a lot. I went along with a list of things I wanted to learn which was good as it gave Some structure to the time- things I had wanted to know during my first 3 weeks of travel. Now I just need to practise it all!
I went back to my hotel for the first meeting of my tour group which started the next day. We have 11 in the group and a good of Aussies, Brits, Canadians and Swiss/German/ Austrians. We found out our departure time the next morning was to be 4am so it was to be an early night!
They all headed out for a first night dinner but I already had plans to have a farewell dinner with my other group of travelling friends. Nanna, Luna and Lies had arrived from Lanquin and we all met up at Tom, Alex and Claires hostel for some beers. We then headed out for a last meal together for Mexican which was yummy. They were all pretty tired from travel or partying the night before and combined with my need to get up at ridiculous
o'clock we had an early night.
The next morning we headed for Copan, Honduras- to be continued in my next installment!
There are more photos below