Before we were even in Guatemala, I felt like we were. As our passports were being checked by the Belizean immigration to exit the country, Guatemalans were sticking their hands through the cracks in the walls asking us to hire them as drivers or use them as money changers. It’s a good thing that my initial introduction to the country was not an indication of what our time there would be like.
We drove in a small bus packed with other gringos from the border to the city of Flores, in the northern part of Guatemala that juts into Mexico. Flores is actually an island that lies in the middle of the second biggest lake in Guatemala. According to Lonely Planet, 30,000 people live there, but you can run around the outer most edge in about 8 minutes without trying hard, so I don’t think that’s possible.
We stayed on the top floor of a hotel that had unbeatable views of the lake and the sunset in the evening. Within the first five minutes of being there we were driven out onto our terrace by a commotion in the street below. To our delight, a lively parade was happening, complete with a band, costumed people dancing, and bystanders lighting off firecrackers. Finally, we discovered it was just New Year’s parades that continued throughout our stay there.
The first full day we were in Flores we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at a cafe called Cool Beans. They had good food, great coffee, and a wonderful garden, complete with several chickens who were more than happy to peck at my left over toast.
We walked across the bridge from Flores into Santa Elena. The two are essentially the same city, just separated by the short bridge. We walked through the central market, but our search for fruit was met with stall after stall of clothing and knock-off belts that were somewhat difficult to distinguish due to the throngs if people squeezed into a tight area to avoid getting run over by chicken buses.
Zak enjoyed lunch at Pollo Campero, Guatemala’s version of KFC (which he claims is much better). Apparently they have a franchise in Maryland. Who knew? We spent the rest of the afternoon figuring out how to get to Tikal the next day before going on a hot and sweaty run around the island.
The next morning, we headed out of our hotel before 6am to wait for our shuttle to the ruins. In typical Guatemalan fashion, it showed up a few minutes passed six thirty. Having now been to 4 Mayan ruins on this trip (more to come), I can easily say that Tikal is my favorite and definitely the most impressive.
Walking through muddy paths through the jungle is also the best approach of any of the ruins. The Tikal complex is so huge and there were so many walking paths, that we hardly ran in to other tourists, making it feel like your own unique experience, and allowing your mind to run wild with thoughts about what it would have been like to have lived there as a Mayan. In a few hours we were able to see and explore most of he complex. The Grand Plaza is stunning, as is the view from the top of Temple IV, which provides a breathtaking view of the temples of the grand plaza rising out over top of the jungle’s canopy. Equally as breathtaking is the climb up to the top of Temple IV, consisting of several staircases up the backside of the temple.
I’ve always been fascinated by history, and the Mayan People have certainly left their mark in this part of the globe. It is hard to imagine the time and labor it would take to produce those temples and buildings today, much less two thousand years ago when so much less technology was available.
Back in Flores later that evening, my mid run thoughts were focused on the Maya and how impressive the empire they built was and how little we still know about it.