Did you see Santa? We did! Ho Ho Ho-ing down the calle in Flores

Published: January 18th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Although Belize is obviously part of Central America, we were ready to explore a country that would be a happy medium between straight up ghetto and Disney Land for Americans. Now we didn’t give Belize a fair chance, we know, but we were ready to move on no matter. In our opinions, Guatemala was going to be our first real stop into Central America. Flores was first up, but first we had to get across the border. We had a leisurely breakfast and hopped on the 11am chicken bus bound for the border. We got dropped off an annoying 2km from the border and shared a taxi with a few other travelers. Normally, yes, we would walk it but was HOT and mid day so the couple bucks we spent was well worth it. Of course just outside the immigration office there were plenty of guys with huge wads of cash trying to get you to exchange money for Quetzales, the Guatemalan currency. These dudes have to do pretty well for themselves with the ridiculously bad exchange rates they were offering. Either people don’t do the math before trading money or they believe the bullshit they feed you about how there isn’t an ATM in town on the other side. Uh huh, sure guys. We believe you. Needless to say we were going to take our chances. Getting stamped out of Belize and into Guatemala was about as smooth as possible. Of course we had to pay our pretty large exit fee from Belize and the guy stamping us into Guatemala TRIED to charge us an entry fee. Jessie looked at him and laughed a little, “We don’t pay an entrance fee.” The guy smiled back and his look said it all, “Oh you know. There is no fee.” In our minds we were thinking both, “what a little shit” and also, “ah, it feels good to be back in a corrupt 3rd world country!”

The first thing we did once we got across was head into town with our heavy packs on in the heat of the day to find an ATM, and that we did. It’s funny how we were told by so many of the guys trying to change money that there wasn’t one. Its times like this that we’re glad we’ve been around the block a little bit, not to mention we just don’t really trust anyone. Once we had some Q’s in our pocket, we set off back down the road towards the bus station where we actually found a collectivo (or van) heading directly to Flores. We decided we would just take the easy way and get there as soon as we could instead of getting into a city we weren’t familiar with when it was dark outside. It’s a pretty long hike to get to Flores from the bus terminal in Santa Elena, so we were taking a tuk-tuk for sure. Being back in a tuk-tuk was almost like a little taste of Asia, but the tuk-tuks here actually have side doors on them so you don’t fall out…and they say Guatemala is a dangerous country! Hahaha!

As we crossed the bridge to the small island of Flores, we could tell pretty quickly that it was going to be a cute town. We had our driver drop us off at a place we had pre-booked at the day before. When we went to check in, they had no idea we were coming and had no record of us even emailing, but at least they still had a room for us considering Christmas was just a couple days away. Somehow we lucked out and got a room in another building they own that’s right around the corner and not in the main hostel, so it was nice and quiet at night when we actually wanted to sleep. Flores is a pretty small island and we had the majority of it explored within about 45 minutes to tell you the truth. This small town/island is full of nice people and just has that old town feel to it with the cobble stone roads and tight little alley ways everywhere you walk. The view over the lake is nice as well and makes for a peaceful setting when you’re up on your rooftop balcony, yes we lucked out. Sure we had only just arrived in one small area of Guatemala, but we could already tell this country was going to be more like what we are looking for.

Now if you’ve been to Flores or have done any research on it, you probably know that the most common thing to do here is take a day trip to the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal. Obviously it was going to be pretty hard to pass that up, even if it was a bit expensive. After all, how could we NOT go? That was our main mission the second day; booking our trip. You can shop every travel agent in town, but when it comes down to it, many of them are the same. Not to mention, if you’re here around the holidays, you’re probably not going to get much of a discount either. After listening to endless bullshit and pitch lines, we decided to make things easier on ourselves and just book with our hostel. We knew we were going to have a huge group since we were going on Christmas Eve, but we really just didn’t want to do a damn thing on Christmas Day. Although there was a part of us that was excited to check out Tikal, we have to admit…getting up by 4:30 in the morning is about like pulling teeth! Just the thought of it was enough to make us want to head to bed early, and that we did.

As we knew it would, 4:30 came in a hurry. We slowly dragged our asses out of bed and stumbled around the corner to where we were getting picked up along with the other 30 or so people waiting for the ride. Needless to say, we were only about half alive when we finally got into the shuttle. One thing about tours is for sure, more often than not you won’t be short of a couple of douche bags to irritate you at some point. In this case, it came within 20 minutes of being on the road. A few guys up front decided it was a good time to ask the driver to crank up the music and talk shit to each other as if they were your typical dude in high school trying to impress his friends. Ugh, are you kidding me right now? Unfortunately that’s how we would spend our entire ride to Tikal. Fun. When we arrived at the gate, the driver gathered up all of our entrance fees to try to keep us moving along as quickly as possible. Of course the dildos we just mentioned thought this was a good time to jump out and walk around a bit, not realizing that this completely defeated the purpose of trying to save us time. They were eventually corralled back in like wild horses and we made our way to the main entrance way where we got dropped off and hung out for about 20 minutes for people to grab some coffee or a small bite to eat.

One thing we couldn’t complain about was our guide. This guy knew MORE than enough to keep us well informed right from the beginning. Little did we know he had actually been a guide here for over 20 years and has been on National Geographic in the past due to the knowledge he has of this ancient civilization. Honestly, if it wasn’t for him, we probably would’ve been really pissed that we even came. Without understanding what everything means in Tikal, it just wasn’t going to captivate us. We were definitely grateful to have Ceasar explaining the layout of the buildings and the beliefs of the Mayan people. That hike up the first structure was enough to get your blood pumping. These steps seemed as though they were built for a frickin’ NBA player more than for the average size person. Nate’s not exactly short, and even he was taking some big strides to complete the task. The scary part was that it had rained the night before, which made the steps eerily slippery. We learned that the Mayan royalty had on upwards of 7kg of jewelry on and had to walk up the stairs diagonally to keep from falling backwards. Maybe we should have done like the Mayans even without the jewelry. Just as we approached the bottom on our way back down, J slipped and fell right on her ass while locking her knees up to break her fall. Nate: “Oh shit. Baby are you o….” Bam! Down he went before he could even finish his sentence, only Nate would end up scraping up his ankle pretty good in the process. Well, at least Jessie wasn’t alone in being embarrassed. Leave it to Nate to make sure THAT didn’t happen! After that there was a part of us that truly understood how people could fall to their death off of some of these monuments.

Little by little we made our way from place to place. The hike up to temple 4 was by far the most intense, but also the most rewarding with a stunning view of the landscape. Looking out over the trees and seeing the clouds hanging in the tree tops was incredibly peaceful. Well, that is until you get an annoying young girl (maybe 19 or so) who determines this is an appropriate time to laugh and giggle with her friends at full volume as if she was on a painfully awful reality show about spoiled LA girls. Thank God one of the other ladies in our group didn’t mind telling her to shut her mouth so we could actually listen to the guide we had paid for. We’re all for having a good time on whatever tour you’re doing, don’t get us wrong. Obviously that’s part of the fun traveling, but we were definitely not the only people who were clearly annoyed at this point. Actually, our guide would end up buying her a beer along the way and we’re thinking it was more of an attempt just to get her to shut the hell up for even 15 minutes. Of course it didn’t really work, but it was a good thought.

There was one thing we weren’t expecting to see during this tour, and that was a tame tarantula that Cesar brought out. Jessie is pretty much scared half to death of spiders, so for her to hold it in her hand and take a picture with it was quite a feat. She’s decided that she wants to make sure she does things that scare her through the rest of this trip and push her out of her comfort zone as much as possible. Nate doesn’t mind spiders and actually used to take care of one at one point, so it wasn’t as big of a deal for him. Kudos to J! It didn’t take much longer before we made it to the end of the tour and to the main town center where we saw how many of the people lived and learned a little more about the culture. You can tell it’s a totally different time when the “reward” for winning a sporting event is to be sacrificed to the Gods. Sure that’s the way it was back then, but it still seems absurd to us. I mean, how would that go? “Great job! Congratulations you won first place! Come on over and claim your prize!” (Says the guy with the monster sword ready chop your head off) The other interesting thing we learned was that we could breathe a sigh of relief to know we probably won’t die come December 22, 2012. It’s simply the start to a new calendar and the earth’s birthday according to the Mayan calendar. Whew! We’re sure glad we found THAT out before we did anything crazy thinking there wouldn’t be any consequences to deal with! Yeah right.

By the time we were done with the tour, our legs were spent. It was definitely nice to go back to our room and take a little snooze before the much anticipating partying that would be going on for Christmas Eve. We had heard from many people that Flores gets crazy this particular night and that we shouldn’t expect to get too much sleep. We were fortunate enough to have met some great people that day including a couple from Seattle who we really hope to see again in the future. The four of us wound up hanging out for a while that night although we didn’t see any crazy partying going on. At least there was an interesting festive “parade” that went through the streets. It was Santa and his helpers along with a truck behind blaring some crazy “Ho Ho Ho” Christmas music from the massive subs in the back. We got a kick out of it for sure! The kids were obviously enjoying the candy that was being tossed out of the Santa-mobile and we’re sure they couldn’t wait for the next day. Without much of a party really going on, we were just fine with not staying up super late and heading to bed to get some rest after tackling Tikal.

Waking up and being in Flores for Christmas was a little bit surreal. We have to admit, it really didn’t even feel like Christmas to us. Where we come from it’s usually frigid cold outside and with none of our family around, it just wasn’t quite the same. Ah well. We truly enjoyed spending the day doing absolutely nothing and being very unproductive. It’s nice to have days like that sometimes. With us both being from Wisconsin, we’re obviously huge Green Bay Packer fans. We even went to a second hand clothing store when we were back home to get a couple of Packer t-shirts for game days. The sad thing was there was nowhere that we could find where the game was on TV, not like we expected it to be. Somehow, we were walking past a guy in our hostel who was watching the game on his computer. Luckily Jessie spotted him and asked him about it, hoping it was for free and…it WAS! We seriously couldn’t have been happier to watch our favorite team on Christmas! Even better, they beat our long time rivals the Bears, so we were super pumped! It was just a great way to spend Christmas and we got the best gift Santa could have given us!

To tell you the truth, there were probably more fireworks that day than on Christmas Eve. The streets were absolutely lined with firework covers and wrappers. People were setting them off at all random times all day long. At one point it seemed as if we were on a battlefield with nonstop gunfire right outside of our building. There must have been 1,000 fire crackers blowing up in the alley. Hey, why not right? It’s the one time of year they do this besides maybe New Year’s. This also goes for the kids, and we’re not talking just teenagers. Oh no. We saw kids as little as about 5 years old lighting fire crackers and throwing them. No joke, some of these things were plenty strong enough to take off some fingers. We were glad we didn’t see any of that!

We went for a nice walk around the tiny island along the waterfront, checking out the different festivities and people with food and desserts to sell. We once again frequented our favorite taco stand with a view for Christmas dinner, nothing like some tacos and fruit shakes. You could really tell everyone was happy to be with their families. With another Christmas behind us, we were ready to set off again. Next stop was going to be Lanquin, but not before a super fun ride there…let’s just say Jessie would have had her head out the window puking the whole ride if it wasn’t for her new found rescue for motion sickness…Seabands. If you don’t know what they are…check them out, the most amazing invention EVER for motion sickness!

Travel Tips
Getting There
From the border of Belize- You can easily walk from the border to the bus terminal…just head straight up the hill. We opted for the 30Q each collectivo to Santa Elena. Once in Santa Elena it’s easy to get a tuk tuk to Flores for 17Q for the both of us (gringo price of course).

We stayed at Los Amigos for 120Q per night (over Christmas) and this included a double bed with shared bathroom and wifi (when it worked). We would probably recommend staying at Dona Goya since it’s a little cheaper for the exact same amenities. Also as a heads up, if you’re planning on staying at the dorm in the main building, you might want some earplugs from people drinking at night and others getting up at 4am to go to Tikal.

The cheapest place to eat in town by FAR is in the town center by the church or at the food stalls down by the water. At the small taqueria by the church you can get combos for only 20Q each which will include a drink and a combo of a torta, tacos, burritos, or tostadas. There are also combos for tacos and liquados which are cheaper.

This is definitely another place where you don’t need to take any transportation other that when you first arrive at the main shuttle/bus terminal. You COULD walk it, but it’s a hike. If headed to Lanquin most people opt for the shuttle, the bus terminal is a better choice if headed to Guat City.

Additional photos below
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10th November 2012

Wonderful place
WOW! So beautiful picture. Very nice place. I like this place. Its my dream that i see this place. Thanks for sharing.

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