It took around nine hours to get to Flores. Trips can be easily arranged through any travel agent on the island, and it costs around 34US all in for a quick water taxi, bus transfer, and shuttle to the island combined. Our bus was spacious and filled with good company. We each sat cozily, two seats to ourselves, and began our journey onwards from Belize City. The city was quieter this time around, as it happened to be a Sunday; most of the shops being sealed shut with metal sheathing. Buildings were plentiful, colourful and closely grouped. Some more important buildings were lined with barbed-wire fences, but none had actual windows not covered by metal rods. Though the border was heavily guarded with armed security, assault rifles in hand, it didn’t take long to get through. In fact, it was kind of dodgy just how easy it was compared to other Countries I have previously travelled. You are required to pay around 25 US for departure and arrival fees combined, and you simply walk through the border, handing your passports to both parties required. They even have hagglers happy to change your currency into Guatemalan Quetzals (or pretzels as Jac would have us call them). We were neither searched, nor scowled for any reasons, which made the process extremely relaxed. I Bought a bag of chips for 20 cents and headed back into the bus to further our journey westward to Flores. One thing I did note however, was the lack of English spoken in the area. Virtually no one could communicate outside Spanish, which was contrary to Belize, as most Belizean’s could speak, or at least understand English. About a half hour past the border, and a quick hold up and search by the military with their largely intimidating weapons, the scenery dramatically changed. We winded down the roads, surrounded by mountainous fields of green, both blue and yellow shades. For miles you could see only lush vegetation, and voluminous jungle hillside with the odd tiny house, colourful still being the trend this way south. A larger than you’d expect family would be seen in the front yard, in traditional Guatemalan clothing, men in cowboy boots, women wearing many different colours of similar clothing. This was Guatemalan countryside at its best; I sat there, staring longingly out the window, inquisitive to seeing more of Guatemala’s natural beauty. I knew we were close when the buildings became more frequent, and soon enough we were dodging traffic again, back in a city. We caught a shuttle to Lanquin, as the only bridge connecting the small island its sister city couldn’t handle the weight of an oversized vehicle. Though it was busy here, it was still beautiful and full of smiling children wielding colourful kites. Locals dressed both in casual wear, and traditional Guatemalan clothing were centered around different food vendors. What I quickly learned that on November 2nd Guatemala boasts one of the biggest kite festivals known to Central America, it was truly a beautiful sight.
By the time we got our rooms sorted, and food in our stomachs, the sun had already set. We signed up for a tour of Tikal for the following day, and as the 4:30 am start seemed the most logical choice (don’t ask me why), headed to bed early after a few beers with our friends. We pushed our beds away from the walls because we saw a few critters crawling about, and left the light on just in case (because lets face it I was spooked). Cheap digs make for some weary nights, but it’s all part of the journey. I put my bedbug sheet down on the mattress before dozing off into a Gravol induced slumber. Woke up the next morning bed bug bite free! The first night in a new dorm I’m always a bit apprehensive to what new bites i’ll have come morning, but was pleased to wake that morning without any itching. Slowly but surely, we made it to the streets side to catch our van for the hour or so trek to Tikal. It was still dark, so sleeping would have been easy had it not been for the amount of people stuck in the same shuttle. Nevertheless, we were more than happy once we arrived.
Bring a lunch with you to Tikal, and buy yourself something to eat for breakfast as well the night before. This is one thing we neither had the knowledge of, nor the time for the night prior. There was nothing to eat other than a ham and cheese sandwich upon arrival, and quantity limited. If we hadn’t happened to be the first ten people in line wishing to eat, which wasn’t the case for our entire group, we would have been shit out of luck. Though the guide tried to scare us with his gruelling tales of the poisonous snakes and spiders that loomed ahead, eager to share that he was also exclusively carrying anti-venom, Matt and I opted to skip the tour and explore the ruins alone. Half due to our ever growing tighter budget, but also because of our shared love to explore. What better way to do something never before experienced, then diving right into it? Then we walked, without fear, deep into the jungles core. I’ll admit I was nervous, I had never wandered into a jungle quite like this before, without guide, following signs only written in Spanish, but I was to excited to let it ruin the day. It was still early, around 6:30 am, and everything was still soggy from the night before, the animals all wandering about. We heard many unfamiliar sounds, screaming birds, creepy critters, spider monkeys and even the occasional howl. My head was nearly taken off by a coconut that had been thrown by a howler monkey way up in the trees, and then I saw my first Mayan Ruin. I wont lie, at first I thought “This is it?” but we were at the back of it, and it was mostly covered by moss, vines and overgrowth vegetation. Heading around to the front, I was truly mind blown as to how this amazing pyramid came about. The Mayans didn’t have the technology we do, no cars, no machinery, yet here they were standing as tall as, and just as strong as many buildings do today. Its pretty amazing to think about. Because I didn’t take a tour, I’m afraid I have no interesting stories to tell you about the Mayans, that wouldn’t be stolen from a quick Google search. I do know one thing: they were wrong about 2012, but got definitely got some things right when building those pyramids. We zipped through the jungle from ruin to ruin, climbing the ones we were able to, and simply gazing upon the rest. It takes around 4 hours to do the whole tour, and we quickly understood why the 4:30am start was the best option. By 11am the crowds started to come in, I can’t imagine how hectic it must get in the afternoon.
We were back in Flores by 1pm, and spent the rest of the day exploring the city of Flores. I feel regretful to the amount of time we had to spend there, but happy that we had the afternoon to explore, as the entire city can be seen within that time. The islands landscape consist of an outer circle, and a second inner circle of cobblestone road, with random adjoining roads inwards to its core which holds its Church, basketball court and is basically the city’s square. All of the buildings are brightly coloured,and give off a really happy vibe. Restaurants bars and other hangouts are incredibly artistic, with funky decor, and chilled out hammocks to lay about in. A favourite spot of mine was Cool Beans, that’s what it basically was, really cool. You walk in to the bar area, with seating suitable for good conversation, board games to the right, infusing a really social drinking vibe. Then through a door frame, into a cinema area, with a couches, hammocks movies and instruments at your use. Following through becomes its restaurant area, with low seating, hammocks about, neat lighting and artistic fixtures, and the back wall is completely open to the Lakes shore. If you have the pleasure of making it to Flores, don’t hesitate to eat every breakfast here, its amazing. Also, try and get a full day in, there are so many cool spots to check out and the vibe leaves you feeling naturally right at home, just remember to bring a Spanish-English dictionary with you!