7 May – Lanquin to Tikal
5 am. Ti-riiii-riii-riii! Ti-riiii-riii-riii! I hate that noise! I really do! Stupid alarm clock! Another early wake up call. If there’s one thing the Guat Squad learnt about me on this trip is that I’m not a morning person and I consider sleep a sacred ritual that should not, under no circumstances, be messed with. But we got up, against our will. We got ready and packed our things and made our way to Coban to have breakfast. McMuffin is not a breakfast. Its poison. But we had no other options. With ‘breakfast’ had we asked for directions to head to Tikal and this time we listened carefully. We didn’t need to get lost again. Again. We really never got the hang of this directions thing. It would be recurring theme for us on this trip.
So there we were. Ready for another long drive through central Guatemala heading north. I would be taking on driving duty. Off we go. The central Guatemalan countryside is beautiful, lush and very green. The roads were great. I really didn’t have any preconceived notions of what Guatemala would be like but the infrastructure surprised me. It seemed organized in comparison to Libya. Road rules were followed. People were friendly. Apart from the car being broken into, the horror stories about crime in Guatemala seemed to be slightly exaggerated. Despite the stunning landscape I was starting to tire from the driving. After a while I just gave up, I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. ‘Olivia take over!’. She did so.
I went to the back and fell asleep almost immediately. I only woke up when we got to a river and the only way to cross it was by barge. We waited in the car queue for our turn to get onto the barge. I fell asleep again. The driving, the jetlag, the time difference and the early mornings were starting to catch up with me. I felt exhausted. But there was one thing which kept waking me up. Speed bumps. Tumulos, in Spanish. The seemed to love these in the Peten. But they also seemed to like surprising drivers with them. There would be no signs indicating speed bumps and the warning paint on them was faded, which made them invisible. I lost count of the times Olivia and I hit these without seeing them sending (and ourselves inside) bouncing like tennis balls in a box. The one time Drew did try and warn me, he did so in Spanish or tried to do so in Spanish, all that came out was a hysterical Drew shouting “Cuida! Cuida! Tulolo! Tulolo! Tulolo! Tulolo!” and BABANG! How that wheel axel survived the trip was beyond me.
After almost seven hours on the road we arrived in Santa Elena. The town on the banks of lake Peten Itza. We were close to Tikal, only an hour away now. We decided El Remate, another town on the banks of the lake, would be our base for the night as it was the closest town to Tikal. We found a cheap hostel for the night, dropped off our things headed straight to Tikal. We got the gate of Tikal national park and realized we were famished! So we had some food in the restaurant at the gate. I have to say that every place we ate was fantastic. The food was always good and I never felt bad afterwards! So after the good food we made our way into the park and arrived at the main gate to the Tikal Ruins.
We bought our tickets and walked through the forest to reach the central plaza with two big temples facing each other. Again I went silent. I was in awe. The size of the temples, the sheer beauty of it blew me away and this was made even more impressive by the setting sun. I was here. All the hours of flying, planning and discussions came to this. I was among the temples of a once great civilization. It was no Machu Pichu but it was something of a milestone in my life. I’ve seen the pyramaids, the great wall of China, Roman ruins in several countries. I can now add Mayan Temples to that. I was so absorbed by my surrounding that I ended up wandering on my own. I completely detached myself to the group. I tend to do this in these situations. My first visit to the Haiga Sofia in Istanbul ended up with me wandering the whole thing on my own until I remembered my friends who came with me.
I was completely consumed by the place. I wandered around until I lost the rest of the group, then I suddenly came to myself and realized that they didn’t where I was and I didn’t know where they were. We had no way of communicating with each other. Now I got worried. So I decided to head to the car and wait until they came back. Which they eventually but it was already dark. We would come back the next morning for a guided tour. So we headed back to El Remate but Olivia noticed something about the night sky. The stars. It was stunning. The dark sky was filled with stars, more stars than I’ve seen in a very long time. At this point Guatemala knew we were impressed but decided to go a step further… It deployed fireflies… So there we were in the dark with a blanket of glittering stars above and fireflies dancing around us…
As we appreciated this moment, I suddenly remembered were alone, out in the dark and the stories of bandits slipped into my mind. ‘Right guys, let’s get out of here!’. Back to El Remate we went to clean up and have some dinner at the pizzeria in front of our hotel. During dinner the issue of colonization came up and while we were discussing this two tourists came into the place and ordered some beer. They came in just as we mentioned the British and they immediately looked at us and said ‘Careful what you say about the Brits lads!’. Turns out these two were British Army officers based in Belize and had come to Guatemala for a short trip with their families. We chatted for a while before heading back to the hotel for some sleep as the next day would require another (yes another) early wake-up call!
8 May – Tikal to Rio Dulce
We’re up early again. Can’t remember what time though. Too many early days. Regardless this is one day I don’t mind the early wake up. We were going to Tikal again! We also decided that we would be getting a guide to get as much as we could from the experience. The guides congregate at the gate of the information centre and that’s where we found Beto, our guide. The tour would be four hours long and would take us to all of the areas of interest in Tikal.
Beto seemed well prepared as he had a file full of pictures, photos and all manner of information. Not only did he give us information on the ruins and the Mayan, bue he knew everything about the plants, trees, animals of the forest. It was impressive. No matter what we asked him, he had an answer to (in all fairness he could have been making it all up). With lake Atitlan being my favourite place in Guatemala for its beauty, Tikal was becoming another favourite due to its history and significance to the Maya and obviously the beauty of the Mayan temples!
The four hours whizzed by as we listened to Beto, climbed the temples and wandered in the ruined acropolis. It was awesome and measured up to everything I had expected of the place. I could feel the mysticism and magic in place and longed for a time machine so I could go back in time and see how this amazing civilization lived their daily lives. After our tour we did our bit to the local economy by spending some money on souvenirs. With that done we were back on the road down South towards Rio Dulce where we would meet the Techeros for the weekend.
We arrived in Rio before sunset and met up with the Techeros at the Backpackers Hotel. Papito, Angie and Karl led us to a jetty where the shisha made an appearance for the last time on the trip. It was another spectacular sunset sitting on the jetty with the river flowing behind us and the bridge reaching over to the other bank. While we were sitting there two guys wandered over. Another Israeli, called Nir, but he was joined by a… Palestinian, Sami, who had grown up in Manchester and had a strong Northern accent. They were in Guatemala on holiday from Costa Rica where they were volunteering. It was odd pair who Oli affectionately called her ‘little Gaza Strip’. They joined us for our sunset shisha and later joined us for drinks as well.
Later on that evening I was chatting to Nir, Sami and another Brit, Matt about colonization again (don’t ask why this topic kept coming up) and then Sami said something about the British approach to colonization which had in me stitches (in the laughing sense as physically I did have stitches. “The British approach was to go everywhere and plant flags and anyone protested they replied ‘Do you have flag?’”. Why was this funny? Well Olivia, Leo, Drew and I are MASSIVE Eddie Izzard fans and that ‘Do you have flag?’ skit is from Eddie Izzard. So it was hilarious to see someone else outside the Guat Squad mention Izzard was brilliant. Poor Jacqui who had no clue about Izzard was left to tolerate our numerous Izzardisms.
The varying degrees of tiredness meant that some people went to bed early while others stayed out until much later. Karl for instance was completely inebriated and thought it perfectly fine to wake up Papito and Angie so that he (and those who he coerced in joining) could go out for more drinks. It was funny to see a guy who’s English is near perfect when sober, barely get out sentence in English when drunk.
Night over. Tomorrow we would be exploring Rio Dulce and the lake Izabal.