Guatemala

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As much as I could have spent another week chilling in Belize it was time to move on and Guatemala was next on the agenda. I took a much more pleasant water taxi back to Belize city where I jumped on a bus to Flores, Guatemala. Laura, the Swiss girl I met in Belize had decided to travel there with me which was great for company and the fact she also speaks Spanish! We jumped on a bus and headed for the Belize/Guatemala border.. I haven’t really had to do many land border crossings in my time so naturally I was quite intrigued and a little nervous.

I’d read a lot online about bullshit “fees” or “taxes” that almost everyone will try to charge you. Some people’s blogs had said you could simply refuse the “fee” to enter Guatemala and the officer wouldn’t argue it.. Pffft! If they asked me for money I would gladly hand it over to avoid any trouble. Anyway, we arrived at the border where there are 2 sheds set up; one to depart Belize and one to enter Guatemala. It was fairly painless going through the Belize immigration.. You then walk out into the open and make your way to the next shed. What surprised me is that there is literally no one controlling anything there! I could have walked through the pedestrian gate through the Belize immigration and into Guatemala without stopping once. Of course there is no reason I would want to do that, but I’m sure some people may! Getting through to Guatemala was almost as easy and I wasn’t asked to pay anything, thankfully. We got back on the bus and eventually made it to the little island of Flores (island on a lake, not the ocean, for those who don’t know.) We checked into one of the most awesome hostels, Los Amigos which had an amazing vibe, beautiful garden area and lively bar. We took a private room again as I was taking advantage of having Laura still with me so I could afford it! Again, we each had our own double beds which is heaven compared to a bunk. We’d met an English & Irish guy on the bus so we had a few beers with them and went to Tikal with them the following day.

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Tikal is supposedly one of the best ruins in Central America.. I wouldn’t know as I hadn’t been to any others (lazy backpacker alert) but it was pretty bloody amazing! It was the day of the World Cup which I was definitely not missing out on, so it meant a 4.30am start to go to the ruins to be back in time for the game. We missed sunrise, but at least got to walk the ruins in the morning before its unbearably hot! We followed around a tour guide for the first half an hour, but although I’m sure he was providing great information I got extremely bored and we decided to walk on our own. The view from the highest ruin was absolutely gorgeous! We saw spider monkeys and some other weird animal and an abundance of birds. It was definitely worth going and I enjoyed it, but I must admit I probably won’t visit any more ruins in Central America. After 3 days inland Guatemala I was ready for the beach again!

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I didn’t quite make it back to the beach just yet though.. At this point I was tossing up whether to go direct to the Bay Islands in Honduras or to see a bit more of Guatemala. I’d heard so many good things about Guatemala, but was running out of time and the bus journeys anywhere from Flores were lonnnng. The English and Irish guy were going inland to a town called Lanquin where you can then visit a place called Semuc Champey. I decided it was better to travel with people rather than alone so I went with them, despite there being a 9 hour bus ride to get there. When I say bus I mean minivan which is what picked us up the next day. Obviously without air conditioning as that’s asking a bit much in Guatemala!

So after a few awesome days chilling in Flores it was time to waste an entire day sitting in a minivan for 9 hours! The distance is actually not that far, but there are always unplanned stops (like if the driver wants to go do shopping or talk to his mate on the side of the road), the roads are absolutely horrendous and there’s always some kind of delay. For example on this trip we reached what I would call a puddle, about 30m x 50m and in any western country they would have built a quick bridge so everyone could pass it. But no, not in Guatemala! They had built a flat floating ferry like thing that fit about 12 cars/trucks/vans that would be loaded, unloaded, loaded, unloaded and went to & from each side of the river all day long. The funniest part was that it was powered by 2 little Yahama motors! Haha.

The only other amusing part of the day was seeing a little pig fucking a huge pig on the side of the road and the fact that our driver was falling asleep while we were driving alongside a giant cliff! We finally made it to lanquin where we taken by Jeep to our hostel which was just stunning! It was set on a mountain with an infinity pool, wooden thatched bungalows and even toilets with a view! (The toilets were set on the side of a cliff with only half a wall on the cliffside meaning an amazing mountain view while taking a shit.) It was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen and cost about $10 a night for a dorm! The first night was pretty quiet considering we’d spent the whole day on the bus and the next day we were booked to go see Semuc Champey.

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I barely knew a thing about Semuc Champey except that there were some rock pools and waterfalls. Anything water related has my name all over it, but I couldn’t have prepared for how amazing it was actually going to be! We were picked up in a big ute where the tourists are piled into the back, you are standing in the tray, hanging on for dear life and taken through some windy mountain roads to reach the park. Occasionally the driver would pick up some local hitchhikers or sometimes they would just jump onto the back and then jump off (the moving vehicle) when they reached their destination!
And actually sitting on the roofs of trucks or backs of utes is actually how all the people from the surrounding villages get around.

We reached the entrance of the park and took about a 45 minute hike to the viewing point of the rock pools. It was a pretty steep hike and definitely the most exercise I’ve done in a while, but I rocked it and loved every sweaty minute. When we reached the top I think I said “wow” about 30 times when I saw the view below! There is a strong flowing river and then 6 huge, calm rock pools all alongside each other with crystal clear water and Forrest surrounding. I couldn’t get down there quick enough!

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We swam around the pools for a few hours.. To get from one pool to another you basically had to slide on your arse down the rocks and waterfalls or dive off the little cliffs. The rocks were so slippery it was impossible to walk on them, but sliding was amazing! It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever swam and the 9 hour bus ride was now just a distant memory! The day only got better though.. We went for lunch to a little roadside BBQ where a little old lady sets up some plastic table & chairs, cooks on her BBQ and sells cold beer & soft drinks. It was probably the best chicken I’ve ever had!

After a beer & a feed we went off to go to the caves. I had no idea what to expect and honestly caves bore me a little, but boy was I in for a treat! We were each given a candle to take with us through the caves and our guide had about 40 strapped to his head for back up. We were just a group of 7, but basically besides me & the English & Irish guy the others would be afraid of their own shadow, so we went ahead with the guide and did all the optional crazy activities! The water in the caves was freezing and even with your candle is pitch black so you’re either walking or swimming through,  trying to avoid rocks and trying to keep your candle above water. The first obstacle we came to was a choice of either climbing a ladder (boring) or pulling yourself up a rope on a rock face with an insane waterfall smashing you in the face! After a bit of doubt I went for the rope climb and it was intense! I had so much water pumping into my face & mouth I thought I was going to drown, but I persevered and made it and it was awesome!

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The next was a jump from a cliff into a tiny pool below. Natural human instinct is to be concerned about doing such a thing (and this would never be legal in a western country!) so I was positively shitting myself. But again, I did it and it was awesome! The last obstacle turned out to be the easiest but for me, was definitely the most scary! There was a small opening in the rock walls with a waterfall gushing through it and nothing but pitch black darkness on the other side and no idea how long or where it leads to. And the guides like “We go this way.” I thought he was joking, but apparently not. I had to climb into this tiny hole in a sitting position while clutching his hand and then him pushing me down! I was shaking like a leaf, but actually I was through the hole and in the water in a few seconds and laughing my arse off at my fear of the unknown! It was such an awesome experience and I was on a total high coming out of there, that 9 hour bus ride becoming even more of a distant memory.

We then went to a rickety old bridge which was a 13m jump into the water. I love jumping off things, doesn’t matter what it is, so naturally I got right up there and leaped into the water. Such a rush! While we waited for a few scared people to do the jump there were little Guatemalan boys selling beer & locally grown chocolate. I bought a beer and chatted to a few kids who told me I was “loco”! And I had a 10 year old boy trying to pick me up!! Haha. I told him I’d be back for him when he finished school 😉 (that’s if he even goes to school.)

Such a great day ended with a few too many vodkas back at the hostel and an early rise the next day for a bus to Rio Dulce. I tell you, though these buses are long, there is never a dull moment! The roads are windy and bumpy, the driver spends half the time driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid potholes, there are chickens and pigs running wild everywhere, the driver picks up local hitchhikers as you go along and the most impressive is seeing how much the local women can carry on their heads! It’s just insane. One of the most bizarre parts of the whole journey that day was when we reached a point on a dirt road where the road was blocked with 2 huge logs laid across. A guy approached the window of the car and the driver slipped him some money so he would move them.. Wtf?!

Sweaty & dusty we finally reached Rio Dulce where we were taken by boat to a hostel called Kangaroo. It is literally on the river, like a floating hostel. It was beautiful, but super quiet. Randomly I ended up talking politics and foreign affairs for the rest of the afternoon/night with an American mum & daughter & French guy. Definitely not my strongest subjects but I nodded and pretended I knew what was going on. It was my final night in Guatemala and it was a restful sleep, despite the Mosquitos. I’m always bragging that they don’t like me, but they must have some giant fuckers out there because a week later I still have the biggest bite in my damn armpit! Cheers giant mosquito.

If only I had more time I would have stayed longer & explored Guatemala! Such a fantastic country, super cheap and despite the rumours I found it fairly safe. But time was ticking and Honduras wa calling! I will always remember one of the best days in my travel life, in Semuc Champey, Guatemala!

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