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27. Flores/Tikal

Guatemala

Crossing the border from Belize to Guatemala was a breeze. Exchanging our money was not so fun. We asked around a few of the dodgy-but-only-way-to-get-money street "vendors" about rates but they were all the same. We lost a fair bit of money in the process but when you need change for a bus, you take what you can get. 

 

Our bus took us to Flores, a charming little island in the middle of giant lake. It was extremely touristy but still had some character, and we loved it. On our second attempt we found a hotel with a spare room, and thankfully a manager who spoke English. We would not be so thankful later on.

 

Once we had organised tours and buses with the hotel it was time to hit the streets. A minute later we stopped. At a bar. It was a hot day so wine and frozen margaritas were in order, along with the staple guacamole and corn chips. With our stomachs satiated, we attempted hitting the streets again. More successful this time. As we wandered around the island we noticed that one end was underwater, and looked as though it had been for a while. The road continued on as if nothing had changed, but a lot of shops and homes were suddenly inaccessible on one side. Nothing like a sinking island to ruin your business. Souvenir shops were everywhere, selling popular t-shirts that read "Guates up!" and "Guatever!" (and other assorted dad jokes). Beaches were non-existent but plenty of locals were swimming. I would have relished the chance to cool off, but there was no way I was getting in what was probably highly polluted water.

Road to nowhere.

Classic.

Dinner was pizza. Our first night in a new country and we choose Italian food. We learned our lesson quickly - the toppings were okay but the base was dry, cakey and semi-sweet. New rule: no more pizza in Guatemala. Luckily there were lots of market stalls along the water, selling all sorts of tasty treats. Our dessert was much better than main course. 

 

It was an early start the next morning to catch the minibus to Tikal, over an hour away. Tikal was ENORMOUS! It was located almost entirely within a jungle and was spread out over several kilometres (why did they want to live so far away from each other?). It took us over five hours to see it all, and that was using our supreme power walking skills. Plus there were many structures that had not been excavated yet - I couldn't imagine the size once it was fully uncovered. I came away thinking that these were the best set of ruins I had seen yet (although this was not the first time I had said this).

We left Tikal at lunchtime as we had to make it back to Flores in time to catch the bus to our next destination, Rio Dulce. The bus had been paid for yesterday through our hotel, at the same time we booked the bus to Tikal. At the designated time we were out the front waiting. And waiting. And waiting. After an eternity we found a taxi driver who spoke English and he took a look at our receipt. Straight away he identified it as a fake, with no contact information and only a company name on the piece of paper. The manager of the hotel, of course, was nowhere to be found. His wife, who did not speak English, couldn't/wouldn't help us. We walked around town for a while, unsure what to do. We then came across a tourist policeman (who also didn't speak English) but decided to try our luck. We relayed our predicament and he came to talk to the manager's wife. That got us nowhere. Next we all marched up to the office of the company name on our receipt. He confirmed it was a fake and reported that this happened all the time. After speaking to numerous people on the island (I have no idea what about) the big boys, complete with military-style uniforms and weapons, arrived to sort out the problem. Through a translator we understood that we could go to the police station on the mainland, make a complaint then go to court in the morning, or do nothing. Either way, we wouldn't see our money again. They told us repeatedly that when the manager returned they would put him in jail, which we didn't believe for a second. We said goodbye to the police, all the townsfolk who had helped us and our Guatemalan quetzales. 

 

We didn't have much choice but to stay another night in Flores (which didn't bother us that much as it was such a beautiful town). On the upside we still had the key to our room, so we replaced our bags and scored a free night's accommodation (making up for some of our lost money). Our dejected moods were partially healed by more wine, frozen margaritas, tacos, and writing one exceptionally negative review on TripAdvisor. 

An extra night in Flores let us watch this sunset across the lake.