The Last of Guatemala

Trip Start Feb 03, 2006
Trip End Jun 20, 2006

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Wednesday, April 26, 2006

We didn´t find a sailboat to take us to Belize (slow time of year), so we got on a bus yesterday to Flores. The guy at the bus station told us that all busses were full, that we would have to stand for the four hour trip. Fortunately, an Australian couple was in the office at the same time, and we all decided to negotiate for a shuttle bus. The shuttle operator started off at 700Q, but in the end we were able to get the trip for 400Q, exactly double the price of the bus, but with no standing, and faster.

Also, the driver decided to take his extended family on the road trip, so the bus was actually pretty full.

Flores is nice, an island on the edge of Lago Petén, connected to the mainland by a causeway. Cortes stopped through here on his travels and left a sick horse. The locals decided that a diet of flowers and turkey stew would be just the thing to cure it. By the time the next Spaniards showed up (about a hundred years later), the locals were worshipping a statue of the horse as a manifestation of the Mayan rain god, Chac.

Flores is nice, though everything is geared toward the tourist industry. Lots of travel agencies, hotels, and non-typico restaurants. We are staying in an okay hotel, and perhaps for the first time on this trip, the cost is actually lower than what our guide book lists.

Today we woke up at 3:45 to eat breakfast and catch a shuttle to Tikal. Numerous places say that they open at 4:00 am, but nobody opened until at least 4:15, and the first place to open had basically no food. I asked for cereal and was told there was no milk. I asked for toast with butter and jelly, and was told there was no butter. I said that just jelly would be fine, but then there was no jelly. We decided to move to the restaurant next door, where I was able to procure my banano y corn flakys.

Tikal was, of course, great. We were not aware how different it would be from Copán--you go to Copán to see the fine details, but you go to Tikal to see the SCALE. Everything is great and grand, and they have very rickety ladders going up the sides of many of the temples--very scary indeed. Andrew rocked them back and forth as he made his way up and down. Patches of rot were evident.

We met our first Slovenian of the trip, Katarina, who was very interested that I have family there. She spent the day with us, as the guides tell you that Tikal can be very dangerous alone (robberies and such). It was fun to talk with her, but we are tired of explaining guns in America to Europeans. They can´t understand that, especially for Andrew and I (growing up in rural areas), guns are pretty much just a fact of existence, normal and useful tools. They think that Americans are insane, and they have very specific ideas that everyone runs around with an Uzi in his or her pocket.

The reasons we went so early: (1) to beat the tour-bus crowds, (2) to beat the heat, but mostly (3) to see the wildlife. The wildlife was definitely a highlight, as good as the ruins themselves. We saw monkeys, a fox, many oscellated turkeys (which make a booming noise like a sage grouse), lots of green parrots as well as smaller blue parakeet-looking things, yellow-tailed oropendulum montezumas, chachalacas (as noisy as monkeys), as well as many other birds. The highlight for me, though, were the flocks of toucans (see picture). While Andrew´s trip goal was to poke lava with a stick (done), mine was to see a toucan, which had evaded our peering eyes until now. They are really stupid looking.

We also went to the Museo Tikal, a small display of artifacts. Andrew was especially impressed by 16" long gray obsidian ceremonial implement. They don´t allow photos, so we´ll have to explain it better when we see you, if you are interested. They also had an interesting display on the bats of Tikal--16 species have been identified.

As it got to be afternoon at Tikal, the temperature began to rise precipitously and the hoards of fat tourists descended, so we decided to get back to Flores. We have booked tickets tomorrow to Belize City (English-Speaking Land!), so we only have a week or so before we are out of Central America and in to Mexico.
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