Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
Flores and Antigua, Guatemala 1st – 6th August
Felt sad to be leaving Caye Caulker, but looking forward to adding another country to my list! Took the 7am boat to Belize City (which looked very dodgy when I ventured out of the port in search of an ATM), Got on our “luxury bus” which made the Mexican buses seem wonderful. The air con turned out to be the window being slightly open. We took ages to get going as one of the young backpackers had lost her ticket and another woman had lost her glasses – I honestly don`t know how these people manage to get themselves up in the morning, let alone travel around the world (am I beginning to sound like a veteran traveller now, or what??). So the first half an hour was spent in a stationery sauna.
We made it to the Guatemala border in good time, and again, I was through in about 10 minutes, waiting at the bus on the other side. The border guards even said I was so tanned I looked like a native (or maybe it`s because I`m beginning to look ever so slightly scruffy and have a chipped tooth?). It took over an hour for everyone else to get through; God alone knows what they were doing. Most of them were Dutch, so maybe a bit of drug trafficking???
Anyway, another 2 hours later down mud covered roads, we were all turfed off to get on another smaller minibus into town and our bags were slung unceremoniously onto the roof. I kept nervously looking in the rear-view mirror with visions of seeing my rucksack flying off and being run over by a tractor. When we arrived in Flores, we got the hard sell from the driver to stay at his friend`s hotel and book our tour to Tikal (the local ruins) through his friend`s travel agent. I`m proud to say I stood firm and insisted he take me to the hotel I`d chosen from the internet. It turned out to be a good move, as the hotel was great – my own room, shower and fan (air con was £3 a night extra)! And I can see the lake if I stand outside on the balcony, look sideways and squint. And I managed to get £3.50 knocked off the tour. Every little counts.
Flores turned out to be a very pretty little town on a lake, much like San Cristobal in Mexico but without the music. They even have half decent veggie food (if only my constitution was fit enough to take it). Bean soup probably wasn`t the best choice, the state I was in, but I washed it down with a couple of glasses of Chilean wine and hoped for the best. I felt so comfortable there, I decided to stay another night and have a day catching up on e-mails, updating my blog and after several hours of defragging, deleting files, running scans – I finally sorted out the problem I was having with Skype (basically the new version doesn`t like my laptop).
Booked a very early trip to the famous Tikal ruins for the next day (5am start) – and guessed I would be pretty ruined myself by the time I got back, but hopefully tired enough to sleep on the overnight bus to Guatemala City and then on to Antigua.
The next day got off to a bad start, when I discovered that the only ATM in town had run out of money and I didn`t have quite enough to pay for the entrance fee to the ruins. How bad must it be when I `m having to borrow money off a Guatemalan (the very kind man at the hotel offered to lend me the difference)! The bus that was supposed to collect me at 5am failed to show up, so I ended up hanging around for an hour and getting the 6am bus, which didn`t include a guide. It worked out OK in the end however, as there was an excellent guide on our bus who offered his services (I even ended up having to owe him his fee and pay him back later!) – he was amazing and managed to spot all kinds of wildlife in the park including luring a tarantula out of his hole (well, I did have my suspicions it was a fake one on a piece of string!), coati mundis, spider monkeys and my first ever toucan. The ruins weren`t half bad either – kind of a Mayan version of Manhattan with some of the tallest temples I`ve ever seen. The jungle setting made the view from the top (via some very rickety wooden stairs) of one of the highest temples, absolutely incredible. The early start and the persistent rain saw me returning to town by lunchtime, for a quick snooze.
After my experience with the tour, I felt a bit apprehensive about my seat on the night bus being booked, and was having major worries when it turned up half an hour late. It turned out to be a fairly comfortable, if cold, journey and I woke to a very wet, grey and quite frankly, depressing Guatemala City. Feeling relieved that I wasn`t staying there, we caught the shuttle to Antigua where we just about arrived (bar Saigon, the drivers here win my vote for worst in the world) at 9am. Found my hostel, a lovely little place owned by a Dutch lady, and settled into my home for the next 3 days.
Antigua has one of prettiest settings – cobblestone streets (which turned out to be very difficult to cross for all sorts of reasons) and colourful houses, overlooked by a majestic volcano and green hills. In fact, the town is a UNESCO World Heritage site (did a quick tally and make it the 15th on my trip so far). Guetemala seems to have the world`s biggest collection of vintage US school buses, which have been “pimp-my-bus-ed” to extraordinary lengths. They do make an amazing sight when they are almost running you over as you try to make your way around the city, and are usually packed to the brim and the roofs are covered with baskets of fruit and vegetables and assorted hardware.
The hostel had a very well stocked kitchen, TV/DVD room and roof terrace with stunning views of the volcano (when it wasn`t covered with cloud), so I spent a fair bit of time there chilling out and trying to sort out my plans for Costa Rica. I badly needed to get my hair cut and highlighted and after scouring the town for Antigua`s answer to Trevor Sorbie, I chanced my luck at “Dorka`s Salon”, and hoped I wouldn`t end up as distressed as the walls of the crumbling little shop. I needn`t have worried (although I came equipped with my Spanish Hairdressing Phrase book just in case things got lost in translation) – and was delighted with the finished look and the bill – £20! Feeling boosted by this experience, I also had my ear syringed (blocked since diving) at the local hospital, and now feel as good as new.
It was quite nice to be somewhere slightly cooler, where you didn`t need a fan or a/c – although unfortunately it was the rainy season, and we were treated to several torrential downpours each day. At least there was no seismic activity while I was there (the volcano had erupted only last May) and evidence of the huge earthquake that destroyed the city in 1773 was everywhere. I visited the ruins of several large churches and the convent, which were gradually being restored but proved how powerful the forces of nature can be.
The rain really set in tonight, but hunger forced me out (there`s only so many nights in a row you can eat pot noodles and cuppa soup). Decided to blow my last few Quetzals on a curry (it`s weird using a currency that sounds like a savory snack) – I had discovered Antigua`s Indian restaurant while wandering around today. Got myself hopelessly lost and soaked in the process, but needs must, and I eventually enjoyed a vegetable thali – Guatemalan stylie. I wondered if I would be craving a veggie burrito when I finally make it to Mumbai??? Damp, but happy and full, I hopped home (when it rains here, the cobbles become stepping stones in the rivers they call roads) in my trusty blue rain cape. An early start tomorrow for my flight to Costa Rica.