Everybody knows now is dry season. But we enter Peten District in Guatemala. A zone of rain forest. With a very strong emphasis on rain. Not continuously, but at least 20 times a day. And every day.
A journey to San Ignacio and Caracol in Belize, on to Guatemala: Flores, Tikal and Yaxha. Again, a different world.
San Ignacio, 14th January
After the hike in the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve we need an evening to recover from the heat. Well, a couple of beers help to cool down.
The next morning we’re on the way back to San Ignacio. Our initial plan to give snorkeling another chance vanished immediately once we’ve seen the rough sea.
On the way a short stop in Dangriga. The spiritual center of the Garifunas in Belize. A town giving a somewhat desperate and sad feeling. Maybe it’s simply because it’s a Sunday and everything is closed.
Then we’re again on the Hummingbird Highway to Belmopan – Belize’s capital.
A short hike to see the Sleeping Giant. A formation on a hill resembling a pretty tired Maya.
A short, but step’n’hot climb to the viewpoint …
… then we’re on the road again to elegantly bypass Belmopan and to reach San Ignacio in the afternoon.
San Ignacio. Despite its location in Belize it really looks like a small town. Not just a few dispersed houses. It even has a certain atmosphere. Something we were definitely missing in other cities in the country.
Their old iron bridge connecting with neighboring Santa Elena, the tiny center of the CBD, …
… people coming from the nearby settlements for shopping or diversion from constantly enlightened life, …
… wooden houses in narrow alleys, and …
… the chaotic traffic on the main road.
Of course, we also have to see Belize’s biggest Maya ruins: Caracol. Some 80km away on a bad dirt road.
Intensely we’re thinking about how many hours we’ll have to drive and how much damage this could do to Prado’s wheel bearings. Finally, we come to an exceptional decision: not to drive ourselves, but to make a tour. Even ignoring its prohibitive prize.
As usual with tours we start early morning. This allows us to pack the whole day with all kind of cool things. At 7 am we’re on the road. In a slightly antique American van. Together with 2 proud US citizens and a driver-guide-cook knowing exactly how limited time is for odd tourists.
On the way some Tukans to admire. The conservative 1s in a tree, the more innovative’n’modern 1s on the electric line.
The road: muddy, a lot of potholes.
We enter the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve. a popular recreational area for Belizies in the hot months. And the place where the well-heeled tourists spend their precious time in forest lodges adapted to their financial expectations.
A stop at the Rio Frio Cave. Exactly 30′. It’s not really a cave, it’s more a kind of tunnel thru a hill.
Another 2h to reach Caracol.
On the way a military check point. As the area is known for some border related incidents normally the visitors even drive in a convoy accompanied by a military escort. Well, currently not – as their car has broken down some time ago.
At 11 am we finally reach Caracol.
The site surrounded by lush jungle. In-between the ruins. Many still uncovered. Others overgrown by vegetation. A few 1s slightly over restored.
A huge square, on 1 side a sparsely restored pyramid, …
… a famous sculpture at the bottom. As in Lamanai covered with a layer of fiberglass for protection. Makes it a little strange.
On the other side the famous Caana Pyramid – the highest 1 of Caracol.
Quite a steep ascent. Fabulous for your knees.
Whatever, who cares considering the view from the platform.
Anyway, on top of the platform you may climb even higher up. There are 3 smaller pyramids to choose from.
And then, finally you made it. The ruins and the jungle at your feet.
Of course, Caracol has more to offer: e. g. the Observatory, …
… their playground and many other structures.
As usual, on an organized tour you never have time to see it all. You need to rush, to experience more adventures they prepared for you or …
… simply participate at the most important ceremony of each tour in Belize to justify their prizes: munching. Well, they offered some chicken with rice’n’beans and a glass of a sweetish drink they call rum punch.
Then we’re on our way back to San Ignacio. A short break at the shores of Rio Frio. For a swim together with all other tourists having visited Caracol today and to have the opportunity to get into a closer relationship with a great number of sandflies.
Then on. Back home. About 1 h before reaching San Ignacio the car starts shaking. A bad smell. The tour-guide-driver stops. A front wheel is smoking. Shortly later we know it: a broken wheel bearing. No way to continue. Whatever, it’s a road used by many different tour buses. After some 15’ a guy is nice enough to drive us back with his car.
Hopefully, the poor driver is not still waiting for the rescue service.
We’re back, just on time for a sundowner. Well, in our all beloved watering hole in San Ignacio. Looking outside the sundowner rather looks like a down pourer.
Well, we made the tour to Caracol. The site is definitely worth a visit. Going with a tour? We’re not too sure about it. Of course, the 100 US$ they ask are pretty hefty for transporting you to a site some 80 km away, to feed you a cold piece of chicken and some beany rice and to have a guide telling you some stories or pushing you from 1 place to the other. Probably next time we’d drive there. Of course, more careful than our tour guide to give more respect to the wheel bearings.
Flores, 15th January
We leave San Ignacio on the way to Guatemala just some 15 km away. A drive thru a park like landscape.
The border. We don’t expect it to be too complicated. And so it is. On Belize side a stamp in the passport, a visit to customs to have another stamp to proof that Prado has left the country. We get it even without showing Prado. And we’re out.
Just some 20m further Guatemala bureaucracy. Car disinfection. Looks like a car wash, but it just sprays some water on the car. Costs 3 US$. Then to immigration. Nobody queuing up to enter the country. Hence a matter of 2’ and we’ve our 90 days allowance.
On to customs to get Prado’s immigration documents. We give the guy all documents and a copy of each. Fine, only the system is down. We use the delay to practice some Spanish with him. Consequently, the system immediately resumes. Some 10’ later it’s mostly done.
Only we have to pay a fee for Prado’s TIP. And that can only be done in the nearby agency of Banrural – the Guatemalan development bank. So, we sneak about 1 km to the bank in the border town of Melchor de Mencos. There we get some Quetzals out of the ATM, wait a little in the bank and pay. On to a shop making a photocopy. You need a copy of the page where immigration put their all-important stamp. Finally, we find a guy doing that.
Back to customs, showing the success of our efforts, some more small talk and we’re off. On the way to Flores some 80 km away. On the way some roadblocksof the police – don’t want anything else than seeing the international driving license.
We’re approaching Flores. Just entering the urban area of Santa Elena, Monika gets somehow nervous and restless. Martin just feels something will happen within the next seconds. Suddenly the situation clarifies. She discovered the only restaurant in this world really worth a splurge. Forgotten are rice’n’beans, tortillas and chicken moles.
We leave Santa Elena, cross a pretty busy bridge – and arrive in Flores.
The town: The proud capital of the State of Peten, just 11 000 souls lost on this island in the Peten-Itza Lake. Famous for its colorful houses and cobblestone alleys. Today a hotspot of Guatemala’s tourism with all kind of accommodation, numerous muncheries and even more watering holes.
A walk up to the central square. There the opportunity to buy whatever you never wanted – heavily secured by dozens of brave policemen
A stroll around the island – done in 1/2h. Time to admire the black clouds late afternoon.
Tikal, 17th Jannuary
Just some 50 km north of Flores are Guatemala’s most famous Maya ruins: Tikal. So famous that many backpackies from Mexico or Belize even make a rushed tour to visit.
Notwithstanding its somewhat negative reputation due to tourist masses and even despite the rainy weather we’re on the way to admire this archeological site.
The last km a drive thru lush forest. As they claim to be a zone with very rich fauna they restrict the speed on the road to 45 km/h. Ok, nevertheless a bit strange how they check it: you get a piece of paper at the beginning with the exact time. At the other end a guy controls how many minutes you’ve spent on the road. Thus, should you drive with 200 km/h and then stop 20′ in front of the 2nd guy you’re ok. Well, it’s the same system the Chinese apply in Tibet. In China, we sometimes had to wait an hour or so before passing the checkpoint.
In Tikal we learn that entrance tickets used in the afternoon are no longer valid the next day. Thus, no way to see the sunset on the high pyramid without paying twice. Anyway, rain is pouring. Not continuously, but at least 20 times this afternoon. Between the showers the opportunity to observe some of the animals in the vicinity.
The next morning weather has not really improved. So, no reason to get up at 5 am to see the early morning sun over the ruins.
Later we just take the chance that there’s not much rain for a few hours.
So, we sneak on a slippery’n’muddy path to the ruins. There’s next to nobody visiting the site.
Soon we arrive at Templo 1, surrounded by a number of other structures.
Some fog, a kind of mystic atmosphere.
Many structures still covered by all kind of veggies, difficult to imagine what it was, …
… others carefully restored a few years ago. Already starting to be overgrown again.
We reach la Plaza Central …
… and discover 1 of these backpacky tours sneaking on the Acropolis. Some 20 – 30 poor guys rushing thru the site, guides allowing them 5′ here, 5′ there and from time to time another minute for the greatest selfie of their life.
We wait a minute or 2 – and they all have disappeared. Time to climb the Acropolis.
Then Templo 2. A stair leads up to the top. Presumably too many tourists fell to death.
A glimpse of another Templo and …
… the nearby structures of Plaza Central.
Another climb; Templo 4. The highest 1 in Tikal. And the dream destination for all participants of a sunset tour – despite the strict limitation of 100 guys up on the platform for the same sunset.
Then it starts again: the ultimate rain. Just some 10′, but enough to get pretty wet. Maybe for this reason this site is called La Plaza del Mundo Perdido.
Of course, no reason to discourage. Yet there’s another climb. Up to Templo 3. Also pretty high, thus for many tourists a kind of overflow for Templo 4 to admire sunset.
After that it’s enough. There’s much more to discover in Tikal. Nevertheless, we made our stair climbing exercises for the day. Back to our accommodation.
Well Tikal somehow doesn’t have the best reputation. Too many visitors, too expensive, too much trouble with real and wannabe guides, etc. Maybe we’ve been lucky enough to visit on a really rainy day without the masses of tourists. Hence to discover some of the mystic of this overgrown Maya site.
Flores, 18th January
We move on. Hopefully leaving the rain behind us. To Yaxha, some 79 km to the east. Just some more Maya ruins. Recently a little bit restored, less famous than Tikal and much fewer visitors.
We find an accommodation along the nearby lake. Well, it’s quite an exclusive place. We even have our own crocodile greeting us in the lake. Imagine they provide us a barman, just for us – nobody else. A cook exclusively cooking for us, etc. Surely you rarely had something like that. Nor did we – but we’re the only guests.
The next morning, we head for Yaxha. Of course, still rainy weather. A huge, empty visitor’s center to pay some entrance fee and then we’re ready to sneak in the rain’n’dizzle.
While many places still remain overgrown, ….
… are others carefully restored,
… offering more opportunities for stair climbing exercises. A pretty slippery issue on the wet stone steps …
… or the moss-grown wooden ones.
Nevertheless, from the top some nice views on Yaxha’s famous Templo 216 – another sunset point – and the eponymous lake.
Unfortunately, currently you’re not allowed to climb Templo 216 as the wooden stairs have broken into pieces. Anyway, doesn’t matter. there’s neither sun, nor sunset.
Thus, we stroll thru some smaller structures and …
… then we’re on the way back to Flores.
Well guys, enough for this post. More adventures and stuff definitely more exiting than rain and Maya ruins soon – in the next post.