Posts Tagged With: Flores

Day 206: Flores – Guatemala – Jan 9th

By 4am, people in our dorm were rustling and bustling as they were going on their own Tikal trip. By 7am, it seems like most people were already out of the dorm, and we had no choice but to wake up from all the commotion. We were determined to give our travel agency hell, as she messed up our itinerary and schedule.

The first thing we did was to head over to the travel agency to get this thing sorted out, but she wasn’t open even at 10am. Her office hours were supposed to be 9-6, but again this is Guatemala and we were willing to wait. We headed to a coffee shop and had a decent breakfast + coffee, with a view of a nice garden and the lake. We tried again at 1pm, but the travel agency still wasn’t open, and we even asked the stores nearby and they say she opens at 3pm. Okay, great, then why you tell us 9am!! We grabbed lunch, went back again at 3pm, still nobody!!!!

Now we were just furious, but just extremely annoyed. There are many travel agencies on the island of Flores, but this was one that was recommended by our guide book. A French couple was also looking for them, but it was because this travel agency was highly recommended by their guide book and they refused to go to anyone else. The main issue was that this travel agency had an English-speaking person, while nobody else can speak English, and all our tickets are under her travel agency… We had no other choice but to wait. We waited until 4:30pm until we gave up our hope and tried an alternative.

We walked into another travel agency, explained our situation and see if they could help us. Well, turns out the lady didn’t speak English but she understood our problem and helped us out like no other.She patiently tried every number on our ticket, the yellow pages, and even the internet before finding the right ones for both our bus to Guatemala City, and the organized shuttle to Antigua. She was put on hold for 10minutes, and peeled an orange for us to eat. She was so patient, so nice, and SO SO helpful! The highlight of the day.

The problem with last night was that the bus LEAVES the island at 9:30pm, and leaves the bus station on the MAINLAND at 10pm!!! Our travel agent didn’t mention this one critical point…!!!! So with our travel itinerary back on track, we finally breathed a sigh of relief. This time, we waited at the parking lot at 9:15pm… and got on the bus =)

Weather in Flores: This topic deserves its own comment. In the mornings/evenings it gets chilly. When the sun shines above, it gets blistering hot. Storms come and go, and within a span of 1hr we had 1) comfy breeze w/sun 2) light drizzle 3) thunder showers flooding the streets 4) comfy breeze w/sun 5) thunder showers flooding the streets. The humidity was constantly at 100%, despite being the “dry” season, and we quickly realized how much we didn’t enjoy humidity!!

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Day 205: Flores – Guatemala – Jan 8th

Waking up at 4am and packing up for our day trip to Tikal, reportedly one of the most spectacular ruins in all of Mesoamerica. We were outside the streets at 4:30am in the dark waiting for a shuttle that we really aren’t sure what it looks like but were told would pick us up at the hotel. A bus did drive by, but didn’t bother to stop for us at all. 30 minutes went by and by 5am, other tourists began to show up, waiting for their 5am shuttle. Well, we got a bit upset, thinking the guy on the street who sold us the ticket may have just scammed us or something, but eventually the shuttle did come, asked who we were, took the ticket from us and made us walk 200m to another shuttle. Strange, but we got on something and sat in the front seats.

There are MANY stories of armed robberies on the roads of Guatemala, but even more about robberies that happen on the roads between Flores and Tikal, during the dark or even in broad daylight!! Despite being tired, Alan drifted in and out of consciousness, fearing every motorist or bystander on the side of the road. Seriously, who stands on the side of the road or rides their mopeds at 5am??

We arrived into Tikal, grabbed a sandwich and were on our way to a guided tour. Strangely enough, somehow things just seem to work themselves out in Guatemala (note: this will drastically change by evening).

Tikal:

The centre of the classic Mayan period, Tikal is an amazing relic from the height of the Mayan civilization. Inhabited by people from 400BC-900AD, this is probably the most impressive Mesoamerican ruin we’ve seen so far. Located within a massive national conservation area, Tikal is situated in “true” jungle setting making up 50% of the conservation area. We walked well over 4hrs without even seeing the whole complex. Some parts of the complex are still undiscovered, while others are left unexcavated to preserve the biodiversity that has grown around the ruins.

Our guide, Jose, did a fabulous job of walking us through the ruins, and also showing us some of the wildlife and fauna that grows in the region. He even found a tarantula for people to ‘play’ with! We literally walked through the jungle, and really got a sense of how massive this ruin was. And walking up to the highest temple, you get a spectacular view above the tree line, looking over the jungle with several other of Tikal’s pyramids rising above the trees amidst a cast of fog.

The whole Tikal experience, like all the other ruins we’ve been to, is difficult to describe. That being said, Tikal was definitely one of the most impressive of all the ancient ruins we’ve been to on this trip. The only problem is the location, as some people would find it difficult to be in this area!

So after our tour, we took the bus back into Flores to recoup our energy before we take our night bus. We surfed the web, drank a few mojitos and ate a nice meal at the same place we ate yesterday. We went back to the hostel, took a shower, and arrived at the front of the parking lot where were told the bus would come. The bus ticket says 10pm, so we got there at 9:45pm just in case. We waited until 10:10pm, and thinking the bus was coming at 10pm “Guatemalan time”, we went around to ask just in case. They helped us call a phone number after constant urging by us, and the answer was: “The bus already left and is in the bus station in town. It will wait for you there, just take a taxi over now.” …. WHAT? How did we miss the bus?? Problem #1

We asked what the cost of a taxi was, and the hotel concierge said 25Q. We go outside, flag down a taxi driver who’s calmly smoking his cigarette, we tell him 25Q to the bus station (which is not more than 2km away). The taxi driver, unwavering as he takes a drag from his smoke, tells us “40Q”. After a long back and forth debate, we felt like being ripped off and didn’t want to budge, but considering we were in a hurry we had no choice, so we hopped on. The moment we got onto the taxi, some scantily dressed girl from the bar across the street runs across and hops into the front of the taxi. WTF? Anyways, on the mainland (as Flores is a island), the place looks 100x more creepy and security guards walk around with guns everywhere.

We got to the bus station, run inside and asked the people where the bus was….. nobody spoke English, but pointed us outside where we saw nothing but an empty parking lot. A nicer gentleman from El Salvador helped us out by saying “They say the bus already left!” W T F. We looked for the ticket booth, but they were already closed !?!??! Then who the fuck did the hotel concierge talk to?? We felt totally gypped…. The nice man from El Savador helped us to find a phone to call, but nobody picked up at any number the phone attendant found…. A second problem arose, we had to get back onto the island…but we’re out of cash! So we though, maybe we can walk to the ATM and get some money. We asked the phone attendant if it was safe to walk outside, the response was quick and authoritative: “No”. Okay, well now we feel much safer.

Walking outside to fetch a taxi, someone runs up to us and asks if we needed a taxi. Sure enough we did and we followed this man. He walks outside, and opens the door to a red 1989 Corolla, with no taxi symbol and faded out sign on the the side. There’s a lot of talk about dangers and robberies with taxis in Guatemala, but since we knew the route and exactly where we need to go, we risked it anyways. The cab took us to Flores safely, and we had to go into an ATM to pay him back.

We ended up back at the hostel, and the owner gave us a strange look. And we headed straight off to bed in frustration. Tomorrow will be a better day…..

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Day 204: Flores – Guatemala – Jan 7th

Another early morning, we were once again picked up at 6am in the dark streets of Palenque by a 12-person van with tinted windows. We needed to get to Guatemala, one of the purportedly most unsafe places in Central America. To add to to inconveniences is the fact that we don’t understand ANY Spanish at all, so traveling is going to get much, much more interesting in the next while.

We booked our bus to Flores, Guatemala right after we got back into town from our day tour. It was 8pm, and our shuttle driver dropped us off at the central street at what could totally pass for an illegal gambling shack. We walked in, and within 1min we paid and were told to wait outside our hotel at 6am. Not much of a guarantee or ‘professional’ customer service, but it was with the same tour company as yesterday so we had more confidence than was given.

At 6:10am, a black van with tinted windows stopped outside our hostel and picked us up, then shuttled us off to a gas station next to the highway for a transfer of buses. Confused, but okay, we went with the flow. Arriving at the same national park as yesterday, we were told to deal with the Mexican customs first. Walking 50m to a poor looking building, we walked up to the booth and wanted to get our out of country stamp. Well, apparently, the computer was down and they can’t handle any of the paperwork. We handed over 600 pesos, the lady working there said she will key in all the information later! OKAY! but since they didn’t have change the Mexican government now owes us 11pesos, or about $0.9! There was a line-up 20people deep behind us, and we didn’t want to bother with the formalities over such an amount, so we went back to our van.

In this area, the border between Mexico and Guatemala is separated by a rather wide river surrounded by forests, and our mode of transport was a wooden speedboat. This whole scene was not unlike any scenes from Discovery Channel about drug smuggling up and down rivers in the Americas, and it got a bit creepy. Luckily, on the same boat as us were the European Union of tourists, a Spaniard, an Italian and a Dutch person, all who could speak fluent English!! We waited for about 2hrs on the boat, chatting and enjoying the river scenery. The best part about traveling is definitely the people you meet and the stories you hear of other people along the way!! Well, we finally got enough people to fill the boats with a troupe of Mexican archaeologists traveling to Guatemala too.

The “border” was more of a muddy beach where the boats can dock. The moment we got onto Guatemalan soil, the whole ‘feel’ of the place suddenly shifted. There were 4 people standing around waiting for us, asking if we wanted to change for the Guatemalan currency, Quetzales. The whole village looked pretty run down and dirty. FYI, the Yaxchitlan area we left was a resort, so the difference was day and night.

So we got there at 12:30pm, and we were told that the bus we were supposed to take had ALREADY LEFT at noon, and the next one is at 4pm!! W T F!?!? Didn’t we book through a travel agency to make sure we didn’t have this problem in the first place? After some furious complaining by the other people from the boat, it finally paid off. In the end, one of the locals grabbed some cash from our boat man, drove his moped out to the main road and flagged a local “chicken bus” for us. It is so named because, surprisingly, there were actually people carrying chickens into the bus. If you read the US State Department or the Canadian Travel Advisory, they STRONGLY DISCOURAGE any foreigners riding on the chicken buses, as robberies and kidnappings occur FREQUENTLY on these buses.

So with that danger in mind, the ride gets even better. The fun part starts, because they didn’t have any spots in the bus so we had to sit at the roof top luggage rack! Sure, it was fun and games for the first 10minutes but then your ass starts to feel every bump on the dirt road and the electrical wires whack you on the back of the head from time to time. Oh, and we did actually have to go through “customs” to get our passport stamped.

Eventually, we got a seat in the chicken bus, took a nap and hoped that all is well. We eventually got to our destination at around 5pm, but it got even weirder. Flores is a city built atop a natural island in the middle of a lake! It’s really cool, but The chicken bus attendant knew we were going to Flores, and we even saw the bridge going to Flores, but he just told us to sit down and wait “Uno minuto”. It’s getting dark and apparently everything goes to shit once it gets dark. Hell, you have people robbing buses and kidnapping people in daylight, who knows what happens at night! Not sure if this was comforting or what, but outside every conceivable store, there seems to be a security guard holding a shotgun: Banks, fancy restaurants, internet cafes, you name it!

So back to the bus, as out of nowhere the bus stopped with a shady looking van parked across the street. We were told to get off the bus and transfer onto the van to get onto the island of Flores where the hotels were. Okay…. and so we did but being somewhat skeptical at first, but luckily our travel-mates can communicate and help us out, otherwise we would’ve been totally lost and in fear of getting on the wrong bus! And when dropped off at Flores, the shuttle van just helped us with our luggage and said goodbye…. we didn’t even pay! Apparently it was ‘included’ in our transport with the travel agency… Seriously don’t know how these things work… but at least we’re safe and sound in Flores.

So we checked into a decent hostel, walked 50meters and had a wonderful Italian dinner with one of our boat buddies! So things turned out rather well!

Tomorrow, we wake up at 4am to catch a 4:30am shuttle bus to the ruins of Tikal!!!

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