Those with a keen eye will have noticed that our recent blog posts have been later than a Central American bus. Now that’s because of an unfortunate incident involving a Chromebook, a cracked screen and a country absent of laptop repair facilities. All of which will be revealed to lucky readers in a later edition of Emerald Terrier.
For now, however, we move on. In the last instalment of our blog, we were enjoying the laid-back Caribbean lifestyle in Caye Caulker, Belize. The next stop upon leaving Belize was Guatemala, perhaps our first ‘proper’ taste of travelling. Whilst Mexico and Belize had been amazing, they were both very Westernised and we never really felt too far away from home. Guatemala would be different.
When we reached the Belize-Guatemala border the difference was stark, one side was Western, clean and slick and the other felt like a dirty, chaotic slum, but we were in Guatemala and that was all that mattered.
Our first stop in Guatemala was the small town of Flores, a man-made island set upon a great, sprawling lake. We arrived late in the evening and went straight to our accommodation, Hotel Lacandon. Still needing time to acclimatise to travelling life we opted for a budget hotel instead of a hostel. We were greeted by the owner, a German named Oliver.
It might seem like lazy stereotyping, but German’s have a certain way to them don’t they? An almost militaristic, matter-of-fact approach to life. Well, Oliver had all of these traits, after checking us in he insisted on lecturing us for 25 minutes about the pros and cons of life in Guatemala. Filling us in on a brief history of the country, the state of the plumbing infrastructure and the natives reliance on cash instead of card.
Once the lecture was over we were on our way to our room, stopping briefly to admire the stunning view from the hotel balcony. Inside the room, it was like a scene from Platoon. I hopped, skipped and jumped around the place in a frantic bid to destroy a seemingly endless horde of enemy cockroaches.
Finally, the battle was won and it was time for bed, although sleep was hard to come by as I kept having PTSD flashbacks to ‘Nam (Cockroach-gate). In the morning we went to explore the island, and whilst it was lovely it was very much ‘meh. It’s pretty and quaint, but so is Whitby and that’s only a short drive from home, not thousands of miles away.
We then discovered a top-tip for all travellers, one that seems to be omitted from every single travel blog in existence. Your card will not work in a normal Guatemalan ATM. I repeat, your card WILL NOT WORK in a Guatemalan ATM. I have no idea why other travel blogs don’t mention this, but upon finding this out, I began to hate every other travel blogger in history.
You see, in the UK we use chip and pin, the most secure and safe method of card payment, however in Guatemala they rely on magstripe technology. The small magnetic strip on your card. Now, this isn’t safe and means your card can easily be cloned or stolen, so British banks typically disable this type of security verification. So before you go, contact your bank and ask them to allow magstripe withdrawals when you’re on your travels, or spend £20 on a f*cking frustrating phone call, like me, to sort it out. Rant over.
So we decided to have a relaxed day after arriving in cockroach and firework heaven (BTW turns out Mexicans and Guatemalans let off empty fireworks constantly to scare off the devil and wake up the angels… Lovely idea except this happens 24/7 so sleeping is a slight problem when it sounds like the blitz).
Anyway, we headed off on a taxi boat to Jorge’s rope swing which is exactly what it says on the tin, except we did not meet Jorge and the rope is very frayed. We did meet a bunch of freshly graduated, high school Americans and a random group of no fear madmen who gave us the courage to swing ourselves into the lake. It’s amazing but use your common sense if you go there as the rope is clearly very worn out and has probably seen better days. Still, you can go here and chill with a picnic while watching the sunset and it’s lovely so it is definitely worth a trip. 10Q entry.
Now Flores isn’t all doom and gloom, boredom and weird Germans. It’s actually quite fun. You see 65km away is the ancient Mayan site of Tikal. A lost-city paradise of Mayan pyramids, theatres, houses and government buildings dating back to the 4th century BC.
Now I’m not just saying this with my biased Archaeological hat on, but this site is absolutely, mind-blowingly phenomenal and a real must-see. Set deep in the jungle and far from civilization, Tikal gives a stunning insight into the lost world of the ancient Mayans.
If you are an Archaeological Geek like me, then the site poses some interesting questions regarding the Restoration vs Conservation debate, as much of the site has been rebuilt (restored) and little has been left in its original state. But sod all that, go and see it anyway, it’s awesome.
Added to the historical intrigue, you’ll stumble across a plethora of wild animals including, Jaguars, Tarantula, Monkeys, Racoons and Snakes. Also, if rumour is to be believed, there’s a rather rotund 5-metre crocodile that used to prey on unsuspecting Archaeologists.
The day after Tikal we hopped on a bus bound for Semuc Champey, a jungle-based river/cave complex. En route we bumped into a Scouser with a drug addiction and an aversion to personal hygiene. Aoife will keep you abreast of that in the next edition, which hopefully won’t be too long.
Hotel Lacandon: Basic ‘Double Room’ with A/C – £28 Per Night.*
Do not book this hotel, it’s quite literally a slum, there’s cockroaches, petulant Germans and dog sh*t everywhere. Oh, and you can get somewhere nicer for cheaper on the island. Although, if you’re ever bored, read the TripAdvisor reviews for this place, comedy gold.
Trip to Tikal: £10 P/P through Marlin Espadas travel agency.
Belize City- Flores bus | Marlin Espadas – £25 P/P
£10-15 average for a meal for 2 people
Daily Budget-Excluding Accommodation
*We found Flores to be exceptionally expensive for Guatemalan standards, so if you go, make sure you do Tikal and then get the hell out of there ASAP. Okay, thanks.