After a relatively quick 6 day trip through Belize it was time to pack up and head back to Guatemala. If you’ve been following our blog then you will know that we had previously visited both San Pedro la Laguna and Xela in Guatemala about five months prior. So that morning after meeting our friends, a British couple, the four of us hopped into a taxi which would take us from San Ignacio to the border and onwards to see some more of beautiful Guatemala.
The border crossing was easy and after we had our passports stamped we bartered with some money changers before exchanging the remainder of our Belize dollars into Quetzales. The next step was to find transport to Flores. The ever so helpful taxi drivers told us the only way was by taxi, typical. We were pretty doubtful about this and walked off in search for a bus. As per usual the taxi drivers started drastically lowering their prices the further we got from them. A helpful kid (probably after a tip) asked us what we were looking for and showed us where the colectivos were located. As we thought there were plenty of options and they were much cheaper. Tom was relishing the chance to start speaking Spanish again and I think our friends found that useful as they hadn’t been to Spanish classes yet. So with a very unstressful border crossing behind us we were on our way to Flores.
Funnily enough, two hours later upon our arrival to the island of Flores we ran into three couples we had met while in Belize. Everyone had different ideas about accommodation and the hostel which seemed popular was expensive (for a hostel) so we set off to find something cheaper. We found this in the form of a budget hotel which overlooked the lake giving us beautiful sunset views from the balcony of our room. The people we met around this point in our travels were all following the same path as us so there’s no wonder that we kept bumping into each other. This would continue throughout Guatemala and in a few other countries for some as well.
So what do you do when you meet friends? You organise drinks! Once we had all settled in to our respective accommodation and explored the island we met up at a bar. As more friends arrived we kept having to add chairs and tables to fit everyone in, eventually there we around 12 of us (a few others were invited and so our group grew) sitting at a table and the bar staff were looking puzzled and wondering if there would be any further people turning up taking over their establishment. After a few beers we all headed towards the edge of the island where a group of street food stalls were located. We asked the ladies serving the food how often they were there, to which we were told every evening. The food was delicious and we all ate far too much but there were just so many options. It was a very different style of street food than we had experienced before but tasty none the less. After trying a few things our favourite was definitely the tostadas. They are a crispy circle of corn tortilla covered with a choice of mainly vegetable based toppings such as beetroot salads, mince and vegetable, potato and chorizo or guacamole amongst others. The stalls also had an assortment of cakes but I’d save that for the following night when I wasn’t full of tostadas.
From there we were all pretty tired and many in our group had booked a sunrise tour of Tikal which picked them up at 3am! We had booked transport to Tikal as well but opted not to go on the sunrise tour as it was very early, an extra 150Q each and the weather didn’t look promising. So we farewelled them and headed back to our hotel with two of our friends who were also staying there picking up some more drinks along the way. We sat on the hotel roof watching out for lightning and feeling glad that we hadn’t booked the early trip to Tikal but having an earlyish night anyway.
The next morning we grabbed a quick breakfast before heading via shuttle on our way to Tikal. This would be archaeological site number 41 (I think) or maybe 43… I really can’t remember, but we were excited about seeing one of the major sites in the Mayan region as well as the biggest and most well known in Guatemala. After the hour or so trip to the site where we made some more new friends we set off as a group of four into the ruins as we had all opted out of the tour.
Tikal is a huge site, it was built in the classic period which is between 200 and 900 AD and the area was home to an estimated 10,000 to 90,000 people depending on the source. There are a number of different plazas, pyramids and temples to climb or gaze in awe at as well as some alters and stelae with Mayan writing still discernible on them. On the site there are areas which are still under restoration so we were able to climb pyramid 4 but only by means of a huge set of stairs which scale the side of the pyramid to protect it. From the top our friends sat to watch the sunrise that morning but it was unfortunately too cloudy for much to be seen other than a glow through the mist. Although on a clear day I imagine it would be one of the most spectacular places to see the sun rise. We arrived at the top of this temple around midday and sat to catch our breath and de-sweat a little as well as contemplate the other pyramids rearing out of the jungle around us. Tikal was quite special in that it has a number of tall pyramids measuring from 38 metres to 70 metres, Pyramid 4 is the tallest pre-Colombian structure in Central America. During the day we also got to see some spider monkeys staring at us from in the trees, heaps and heaps of ants and some cool birds such as toucan. Overall it was a very memorable site and with only one more to go in Honduras we were a little sad to be finishing up in the Mayan regions.
On the way back to Flores we made plans with Sam and Jazz our new friends who we had spent the day with to continue on to Lanquin and Semuk Champey together the next day. Tom and I had found a company who would charge us 50Q each for the shuttle to Lanquin which would be an 8 hour trip from Flores. We were very happy with that price knowing that other companies seemed to be charging 125Q. But once we had returned to Flores the store was closed! As we had one of their flyers Jazz and I settled back to wait in hope that they would return while the boys headed back to the hotel to call the company. When the boys arrived back they had managed to get hold of the company but they were all fully booked for the following day. While we sat down to think a sales person from the company across the street came over, he offered us 60Q each for the shuttle. After spending a bit on the trip to Tikal we were all feeling cheap so we managed to collectively barter him down to 55Q each, only 5 Q more than we would have paid with the initial company. Looking back I have realised that this was literally one dollar each that we were arguing about, a bit silly really.
As the shuttle was booked for 6am the following morning we all said our good byes and headed off for a bite to eat and an early night. This evening was the scheduled Blood Moon had been forecast so as soon as the sun began to set we made our way to our room which looked out where the moon would be rising. It was quite spectacular but unfortunately we had a handy powerline across our view (as you can see in the photos) and the weather soon closed in so we lost sight of it. I really wasn’t getting any sleep ins in the last week with our early mornings due to border crossings, heat/humidity and tours. Again we headed to the street food market stalls where we had a couple of tostadas each and a piece of cake to finish off the day. Back at the hotel we stuffed all our things into our packs and called it a day.
The next day would be long, uncomfortable and warm as we were driven a very arduous 350km to Lanquin via minivan. At least this driver wasn’t crazy.