Into Guatemala and Tikal

Trip Start Jul 27, 2004
Trip End Dec 13, 2006

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Monday, October 11, 2004

We were leaving Palenque early Thursday morning to head for Guatemala and soot up early to catch the 7.30 collectivo (shared minibus). We just about had time to pick up a cup of rice pudding from a street vendor for breakfast. When we got to the collectivo office however we discovered that for some strange reason they use Guatemalan time which is an hour behind Mexico time - could have had another hour in bed! We paid 50peso´s for the 3hr journey to Frontera Corozal and it was a very comfortable ride. I got the front seat with loads of room while Mandy had the seat behind next to the sliding door and spent 3hrs opening and shutting the door and letting people on and off. Amused the locals I think they thought she was the drivers mate! At Frontera Corozal we took a short taxi ride to the docks (20 peso´s) and the hard sell for a boat began... the driver stopped at ´the boat office´ which looked suspiciously like his brother/friend´s house and said we had to organize a boat there. The price, we were told, was 300 peso´s to take us the 40mins down river to Bethel on the Guatemalan side. We declined to arrange the boat there and the taxi took us further down the road to the Mexican Immigration office where we got our ´stamp out´ in our passports. It was at this point that I noticed the guy from the ´boat office´ frantically pedaling his bicycle behind our taxi, he had obviously not given up on a sale to us yet! When we arrived at the river there were several other boat owners and amazingly whenever we took a step towards them the price dropped.. we eventually settled on 200 peso´s (20 us $) for the 40min ride. The river was wide and flanked by jungle on either side, looked very similar to the Mekong river through Laos in S.E.Asia. Once we got to Bethel went to the Immigration office for Guatemala and got ourselves a 3month stamp for free (if you go with a tour company from Palenque you have to pay 5 us$ which is a bit of a con). We had just about enough time to change our remaining peso´s into quetzals and grab some burrito´s to take with us and then caught a minibus to the ´Island´ of Flores (50 quetzals - expensive but saved us a 5hr wait for the local bus).

Flores is a small island on a beautiful lake although it is linked to the mainland by a road/causeway. We found a lovely place to stay called Casa de Lancandon which was 80q (about ten dollars) and we had a large balcony with great views of the lake. The next day we walked around the island and then in the late afternoon we rented a couple of kayaks for an hour (35q for two) and went to the other side of the lake and around a couple of islands. By the time we got back I was sat in about six inches of water but I think that was my paddling technique rather than any leaks... We went out for dinner in the evening and I had a lovely steak with salsa, guacamole, beans, rice & tortilla´s while Mandy had pork chops with real gravy! A local woman was having a birthday party in the restaurant and so there was lots of singing and laughter and it was a fun night.

On Saturday we walked across the causeway to the town of Santa Elena and from the market we caught a collectivo to the little village of El Remate (15q / 35mins). Posada Eden lived up to it´s name as it had lovely little bungalows with views of the lake for 60q a night (7 1/2 dollars). After a tasty lunch there of fish, rice and salad we walked through the village and round the lake to the Parque Ecological. We spent an enjoyable hour walking through the jungle where we saw numerous lizards & birds, leaf cutter ants (with leaves) and a giant spider hiding down a handy spider-sized hole! We were also mainly successful in fending off the hungry mosquito´s which followed us everywhere.. The village here is very small and there isn´t much light pollution so you get wonderful views of the stars. There was also lightning flashing across the lake and lots of fireflies about so that all made for a beautiful night.

On Sunday we were awoken early but the family at our posada so we could catch the 5.30am bus to Tikal, which is a site of Mayan ruins. By mistake we were woken up an hour early (getting used to this now) but once we were up it didn´t seem to matter and we drank coffee whilst waiting for the minibus. We got to Tikal (50q entry) just as it opened at 6am and spent about 6hrs wandering around the various temples & pyramids. Temple´s I and II face each other across the main plaza and are very impressive. They are huge Mayan structures, built by the ancient Mayan Kings and very well preserved. You can only climb one of these which means you get good photo´s of the one opposite with no people on it! All the temples and complexes are surrounded by jungle and it is a truly amazing place to visit. Howler monkeys (they still sound like monsters!) can be heard all around and we were lucky enough to see a group of about 15 of them swinging their way above us through the jungle canopy. There are also lots of black toucans with colorful beaks flying across the clearings with green and red parrots too. Another of the temples (temple IV) could be climbed by a huge number of wooden steps at it´s side & due to its elevated position you can look out right across the top of the jungle and see the tops of the larger temples as well. We really enjoyed looking around Tikal there is nowhere like it! Back at the entrance near the road we looked for some of the Peten Crocodiles in the lake but couldn´t see any - but we did see lots of ´Jesus Christ´lizards which ran right across the top of the lake (helped by the water lily´s) !!
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