Ahh! You Want a Bribe?

Trip Start Oct 22, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Thursday, March 15, 2007

Regretfully saying goodbye to Caye Caulker we boarded the water taxi back to Belize City, onwards to catch our mini bus to Guatemala.  At the border crossing we got off the bus, exchanged some money with the local money changers that you always see standing around border points and proceeded to the customs guy, in his office, behind the glass.  Megan went first and got her stamps, followed by Rick, but when Carlie went up he refused to stamp her exit form until we all paid him the "Fee".  When we questioned this supposed fee that he was charging foreigners but not locals he pointed to his computer screen where there was a windows error message implying that we had to pay.  There were no signs stating the entrance fees and a number of people had previously entered without being asked for money.  Here we go again, we thought, a dodgy customs officer wanting some cash to do his job.  We questioned him repeatedly, but of course he didn't speak a word of English as we were back in a Spanish speaking.  After fifteen minutes of arguing with him and refusing to pay, the line got sufficiently long that he handed back the passports without money changing hands and we were free walk across the border.  Asking around we found out you don't even need the second stamp which Carlie was missing so we knew it was all a ploy for some extra cash.  From our mini bus alone the guy made a nice profit as he charged all the other travelers $5 USD each.  Now that doesn't sound much but when you think about how many people cross the border daily he would be making a killing.  Why should we help a corrupt customs guy, especially when we're near the end of our trip and are basically broke!
On the Guatemala side of the border things changed.  The road went from being fairly well kept to majorly bumpy with massive (I mean massive) pot holes we had to slow down and drive around.  Outside there was jungle and it was stinking hot.  On the outskirts of Flores we had to change bus because evidently the bus we were comfortably in couldn't go the 500 meters into town.  We all stuffed, like sardines, into the new van and were taken, not surprisingly, to their preferred hostel.  We checked it out to see the price but decided to pass on the two single beds the three of us would have share.  Around the corner we found another place and after having lovely spaghetti for lunch, were able to ditch our stuff and relax.  We wanted to see the Mayan ruins of Tikal and organize our bus down to Antigua.
Flores was a really nice place to visit, being an island on the Lake Peten Itza.  We wandered around town and chose a place to have dinner.
We chose Flores as a base to see the Mayan ruins of Tikal as it was only 45 minutes away.  Getting up at 3AM we headed out for sunrise at Tikal.  Our mini van only had eight people in it so we figured it'd be a small group.  This was until we arrived at the ruins to see another five or six mini vans.  We'd be spending sunrise with about fifty other people.  The hardest part of seeing sunrise with this number of people is that there is always someone that won't stop talking and enjoy the tranquility of the moment.  Our guide was forever asking people to stop talking so we could hear the jungle coming to life, as the animals woke up.
Surrounded by darkness we headed straight to the Grand Plaza, people tripping and falling on tree roots (who figured we'd need torches in the dark!).  Once there we walked across to the IV Temple, after climbing the steep ladders to the top we stopped and watched the sunrise.  You could hear Spider Monkeys screaming and hundreds of birds chirping.  It was great.  Surprisingly everyone was pretty quiet until one girl suddenly jumped up screaming.  No one knew what was going on; later on we found out she got stung by a scorpion as she sat down on the temple's steps.
We spent the whole morning wandering around the magnificent ruins.  Rick climbed all the temples he could, some of them very very steep, while Megan and Carlie relaxed on the grass.  At one stage Carlie almost disappeared as the guide came out the jungle holding a massive furry tarantula.  She doesn't like spiders.  The Tikal ruins, although heavily restored were definitely a highlight of the Mayan ruins we've seen in Central America.
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