Yesterday we left San Ignacio and took a “chicken” bus to the Belizian town of Benque Viejo del Carmen, that closely borders Guatemala. The “chicken” buses of Belize are the same “Blue Bird” variety used for elementary students in the U.S. In fact, they are old, used school buses bought in the US. The bench seats and blinking red lights make one feel nostalgic for the days of sack lunches and playground bullies. The bus system itself operates as a kind of rouge network, with no posted schedules or official offices. Apparently, the former official bus line “Novello,” went bankrupt years ago and is now operated by a loose-knit group of renegade bus drivers. Most of the time one only has to stand on the side of the road to flag down a bus going in either direction. Fairs are paid directly to the bus driver’s henchman, and the amount is dictated by the destination you’re headed to. Overall the bus system is an incredible value, and a trip around three hours will only cost you $4.50 USD.
After getting off the bus we took a quick cab ride to the Guatemalan boarder. The process was pretty straight-forward and, basically, consisted of paying a mandatory fee and getting our passports stamped before walking through no man’s land, then repeating the process on the Guatemalan side. We exchanged a small amount of money with some quasi-legitimate money exchangers, and were shocked when they approached us a few minutes later and admitted they had accidentally shorted Eric 70 Quetzal ($10). We hadn’t noticed the shortage at the time, of course, so this single act of good-natured honesty served as a calming welcome to country 45, Guatemala.
From the border we took a minibus to the island city of Flores in the Lago de Peten Itza. The minibus was equipped to seat about eight people. In the fashion of most buses in Central America, we ended up picking up everybody that flagged us down and, at one point, we had 29 people stuffed inside what was, in reality, a minivan. The bus driver’s six-year old son served as the conductor, collecting money and telling people where to sit or stand. About ten minutes away from the border, the weather became moody and we saw the first few drops of rain on the trip. I became immediately concerned, remembering that our backpacks were strapped to the roof. Images of my soaking wet backpack being pulled from the bottom of a bus in Sumatra played over and over in my head. I shot Eric a look of desperation but before he could open his mouth, the bus driver had pulled over and was throwing a tarp over the bags, another act of reassurance.
Flores is a charming little town, situated on a small island. We are staying in a super posh room with a private balcony, HBO Latino, private bath, and A/C (for the first time). The town itself is basically a tourist destination full of hotels, restaurants, and tour agencies.
Today we woke up at 5:00 am and took a minibus to the Mayan ruins at Tikal. It proved to be a fascinating place to visit. Tikal is comprised of several massive Mayan temples that rise above towering jungle trees that are filled with howler monkeys and exotic birds. It reminded me a lot of Ankgor Wat in Siemp Riep, Cambodia. I have to say it wasn’t quite as impressive as Ankgor Wat, but very few things in the world are. Overall it was an amazing destination to visit and is a must-see in Guatemala.
Tonight we are staying in Flores again and will be heading south to Grutas De Lanquin and Semuc Champey in central Guatemala tomorrow. Eric and I are slowly transforming from our everyday, clean-cut appearances back home into much more swarthy, road–wizened versions of ourselves. Our faces are unshaven and our skin is browning like Mexican leather. We put hot sauce on everything now and like our coffee black.
If anyone would like to see all the countries (and specific areas) Ive visited, please go to the following site http://www.mosttraveledpeople.com and write Jack Jowett in the travelers name boxes. Im currently ranked somewhere around 630, but that will obviously increase.