Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Inland Travel

Note: Kevin and I are now on the second leg our our inland travel and will be away from the boat for the next two weeks or so, and someone left on the boat the cord that allows us to get pictures off our camara and onto the blog...and I'm not naming names, but it was Kevin...of course, someone else agreed to pack Kevin's bag and forgot the shoes he'd wanted...and I'm not naming names, but it was me....So, this means that our blogs won't have pictures until we get back to Cielo and when we do post our pics, Kevin's shoes won't match the rest of his outfits...but I'm sure, dear reader, you'll find it in your hearts to forgive us on both counts...

Because we've mostly been visiting islands, it hasn't really been necessary for Kevin and I to do much inland travel. However, since there are so many amazing sites scattered throughout Guatemala, we've decided to spend most of our time here off the boat, exploring the country by bus, and basically living as backpackers. Though our first three day inland trek to Flores and the ruins of Tikal was pretty fantastic, I was reminded why it's been such a luxury to date to travel in a way that has allowed us to make our own schedule, eat food from our own fridge and sleep in our own bed.

Sardine Buses

Guatemala travel guides wax poetic about the experience of taking the "chicken buses", which is the mode of transport used by locals to get around the country. The buses were so named because in decades past, riders would often share their seats with just about anything that could be crammed onto the buses, including, you guessed it, chickens. Our Lonely Planet gushes that these buses will, "leave you with some of your most vivid memories of the country." Sounds kinda romantic, and like a do-not-miss, right? Not so much. In fact, after having ridden a "chicken bus" for a total of nine hours between Rio Dulce and Flores, I humbly submit my suggested edits to the Lonely Planet section on bus travel...

"Traveling via chicken bus in Guatemala will expose you to how locals here are forced to travel. Inside these buses it is hot, (and by hot, I mean, add 15 degrees to the warmest you've ever felt waiting in a NYC subway station in August), there are no toilets and people are packed in like sardines, with four in a seat meant for two, and aisles crammed with the poor folks who got on too late to snag a seat. The buses themselves are old and rickety and probably wouldn't have passed US safety standards when they were 15 years younger."

That said, the prices are exceedingly cheap, and if none of these things bothers you too much, it's not a bad way to go...assuming you can grab a seat, don't have to pee, and aren't concerned about whether you live or die.

And we thought it was hot on the bus...

The town of Flores is where most people stay in order to visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal. Though one can stay in Tikal itself, the hotel rooms there are considerably more expensive and since we'd heard Flores was charming, we decided we'd give it a try. Once dropped off, we found a serviceable budget hotel towards the center of town for $12/night and a great late lunch spot where we enjoyed chicken, rice, tortillas, and several margaritas. All was well, except for the fact that it was approximately 100 million degrees when we arrived and cooled off only to about 99 million degrees by the time we were ready to go to bed. Evidently, April-May are the hottest months of the year in Guatemala and things tend to get pretty unbearable starting in late March...who knew? Obviously, there is no air conditioning at a $12/night hotel, so we basically passed the night lying awake and sweating, getting up occasionally to re-wet the towels we'd draped across ourselves in a lame attempt to stay cool.

Tikal

The next morning at 4:00 a.m. when we awoke to catch the shuttle to Tikal, it was mercifully much cooler, and seeing the fantastic Mayan ruins nestled in the jungle made the prior day's bus ride and long night at the hotel absolutely worth it. We arrived at the park just as it opened at 6 a.m. and were thrilled to see that we pretty much had the place to ourselves--in terms of humans anyway. We were definitely not alone in terms of animals as evidenced by the cacophony of bird songs that were punctuated at intervals by what sounded like the roaring of lions. Kevin and I had been told that the howler monkeys that inhabit the park make an unmistakable yell, but even so, I wasn't prepared for just how loud and ferocious they sounded. We have pictures of the monkeys and the ruins that we'll share once we're back at the boat, and I'll hold off on writing more about the experience until I can provide some visuals of the absolutely amazing things we saw.

By noon, we'd gotten to see of the major ruins at Tikal, and since it was starting to become unbearably hot, decided to head back to Flores and spend the rest of the afternoon catching up on our reading while enjoying the delicious licuados (fruit shakes made with fresh fruit and either milk or water) that are sold in just about every restaurant all over Guatemala. The rest of our time in Flores was uneventful, and our bus ride home, much better than on the way up, since we were able to get seats and the weather had cooled a bit by Monday morning when we left. All in all, a pretty great trip...except for the one souvenir I hadn't planned on bringing back.

And then there's the Revenge

So...remember that licuado I just wrote about...well, I ordered mine with water and Kevin got his with milk and I forgot to ask that it was "water purificada". Most restaurants, especially those in tourist areas do this automatically, but evidently not so at the one we visited the night before we left Flores. I will spare you the details on what happened to me on Monday evening, but merely mention that it was incredibly unpleasant and that I have yet to shake it completely...no pun intended.

Posted by: Lizz

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