How do you get to Flores from Tulum? You spend all day in a shuttle – a shuttle that would prove to be conducted by the first of many poor drivers my brother Kevin and I would encounter over the next week.
See that pothole in the road? Well, let me just steer into that!
Wide open road with the exception of a motorcycle…we’d best cut him off and nearly run him off the road!
When we arrived on the little island paradise of Flores in the middle of Lake Petén Itzá, it was a welcome sight. Exhausted and sweaty from spending all day in a minibus, Kevin and I went for a swim, the first of many as Flores can get quite hot in the afternoon. I suppose I should mention we later learned that the water in the lake may be mixed with the water you send down the shower drain and toilet which is likely the same water that comes out of the shower head, with little or no treatment so it appeared. Such are water management practices in the developing world (not that Canada is much better, take a look at page 21 of this report for the “green” city of Vancouver).
The possibility of swimming and bathing in our own filth lead to some convoluted decision making.
It is so very hot…. so do we swim?
If we do go swimming, we could just shower afterwards… but isn’t that the same water?
It is okay because we’ll use soap… right?
Though Flores is beautiful in and of itself, the reason most people go to there is as a jumping off point for Tikal.
While many people have heard of the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico, few have ever heard of Tikal. Tikal is a much larger site. Pyramid IV, standing 70 meters tall, towers over nearly every other pyramid in the Yucatán. The only pyramid in the region which is larger than those found at Tikal is the Sun Pyramid of Teotihuacan in Mexico which stands 75 meters tall.
In all, Tikal boasts more than 7,000 structures that have been found to date, although only a mere handful of which have been excavated. While the primary reason for lack of excavation and restoration is funding, there are also mandates set out by UNESCO, the world heritage body, to ensure the protection of Tikal from deterioration. For the reasons above as well as its location in Guatemala , many have never heard of Tikal, but believe it or not, you’ve seen the pyramids before. I can almost guarantee it, just take a look at this scene from Star Wars.
Our Trip to Tikal started at 3:30 a.m. the day after our arrival in Flores when a minibus picked us up for the one hour journey there. Following a walk through a dark and noisy jungle and a climb up a staircase, you find yourself sitting on Pyramid IV staring east and awaiting sunrise. The idea is that you watch the sunrise over Pyramids I, II, III, and V. In our case the highlight was listening to the jungle come alive with howler monkeys (check out the sound clip below) followed by a host of Tikal’s several hundred species of birds. Even if you’ve never heard howler monkeys in the wild, you’ve likely heard them before – their sounds are used in Jurassic Park among many other films.
After our extremely long day exploring the ruins of Tikal, a small group of us crashed in the mezzanine of Frida’s restaurant snacking and enjoying some drinks. This wonderful little place has a great vibe, an excellent selection of vegetarian and regular food all at fair prices. I highly recommend eating there at least once if you find yourself in Flores.
Though there is much to explore in Guatemala between Flores and the Pacific coast, Kevin and I ignored nearly everything save for Antigua on our way to find surf.
Our night bus to Antigua was a behemoth of a double decker on which we were situated on the top level directly over the driver. I’m told the route from Flores to Antigua is one of the few night trips that are considered safe in this country. Though I suppose safe is a relative word as we spent much of the first hour in the bus wondering if the whole thing would tip over as it swayed back and forth as the driver passed (or attempted to pass) everything on the road whether it was necessary or not. The only thing that seemed to limit the sway was that the driver simply preferred to drive on the wrong side of the road for much of that time.
I wouldn’t be surprised if more than just the first hour would have been a terrifying experience, however unknown to us as Kevin and I opted to close the curtains that were conveniently available. Thankfully it was a premium bus, however I use the term loosely (very much so in terms of the call of nature), but the seats reclined almost in their entirety and provided ample room for us both to pass out for the majority of the night.
Much like San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico, Antigua has a very colonial feel to it as much of the town center is composed of single storey Spanish style structures. Either due to the large expat population, the raft of language schools, or perhaps Guatemalan entrepreneurs, the city has a host of cafes, upscale dining, and live music venues. Kevin and I found ourselves here not once, not twice, but three times as we passed through to various places in search of surf.
We spent our first time in Antigua wandering through the local and craft markets admiring the variety of colourful fruits, vegetables, clothes, bags, and other garments. We also spent part of an afternoon wandering though the ruins of a church called La Recoleccion which was destroyed in 1773 by an earthquake.
We often found ourselves spending a fair portion of our days sitting in the park, talking to locals and travellers alike, and watching life go by.
I really can’t say it enough, I love the town square layout most cities in Central America seem to have. The squares are a place to play, to relax and to meet people regardless of your background. North America take note, our suburbs got nothing on these town square.
On our final evening of our first trip through Antigua, we wandered into the Rainbow Café for open mic night and enjoyed a good bit of music and drinks. The following morning we were off for El Paredon, on the coast of Guatemala in search of surf.
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