10/3/17. (Sorry for the delayed posts over the last week – wifi has been very hit or miss! And, if truth be known, also the blogging motivation has taken a back seat!)
It was another long and not particularly comfortable bus trip from Lanquin is Flores. We woke to heavy rain but it gradually relented as we got under way. The first 11 km were back up the steep gravel track that we had descended 2 days earlier and then it was back to the main town in the area, Coban, where we waited at Mcdonald’s for a 25 minute coffee break that turned into more than an hour because the bus went off somewhere for some undefined running repairs.
The driver was a bit of a lunatic with some ritzy overtaking manoeuvres on blind bends and summits. At one point we were held up for half an hour while the debris from an earlier accident was cleared. All the time that we were waiting we could sense the driver itching to be moving and he slowly wormed his way to the front of the queue and then past the accident site despite the police presence.
The countryside gradually became less mountainous and more cultivated. The road surface improved a little but there was still the occasional pothole which gave the driver the opportunity to try the left hand side of the road for a change! At one point we crossed a river via a chain ferry which looked to be simply a large sheet of metal on top of a small boat with a simple chain the only safeguard between the vehicles and the water.
Nearly 10 hours after we left Lanquin we crossed the causeway to Flores – a lovely town set on a small island in a lake. It has a real Mediterranean feel and look to it. On arrival we were plagued by men trying to sell tickets for transport to the Mayan city of Tikal but we were tired and wanted none of it so they got short shrift although it took a while for the message to penetrate.
We were dog tired and settled down to sleep – at which point someone decided to park his car right under our bedroom window and play disco music at top volume while he chatted with his friends. After about a quarter of an hour Stephen went out onto the balcony and mimed turning down the volume saying “Por favor” in his best Spanish. If looks could kill! But the level was reduced by about 10 decibels so that was a success.
In the morning we had a leisurely breakfast and were then ready to sort out our tickets to Tikal. The sharks were nowhere to be seen so we went into a small office a couple of doors along from the hotel and sorted things in a much quieter and more pleasant manner.
[Warning: next section in italics is a rant irrelevant to the main thrust of the story! Skip over if you wish!]
On the bus the hard sell started again for those of us who were spending the night in the park (most people on the bus were on a tour and returning to Flores that evening). Entrance to the ruins costs Q150 (about £16) per day but if you enter the park after 3.30 the ticket is valid for the day after as well.
We were getting there at about 2 o’clock so were expecting to have to pay for 2 days. The guide claimed that, for Q50, he could arrange a ticket that would be valid the next day as well. We, and the other 3 people staying the night, were not comfortable with his proposal.
At the ticket office at the entrance to the national park (17 km from the ruins and the hotels) we tried to buy tickets for the two days but were told that we could buy them for that day only. We would have to return to the gate from the hotel in the morning to buy another ticket and there was nowhere to buy them at the ruins or the hotels. (We discovered later that this latter piece of information was #FAKENEWS!)
We let the bus go and settled down to wait for an hour or so and then take a local bus into the park. Collectively we agreed to hire a local guide with whom one of the others, a Canadian lady called Chloe, had been in contact (a recommendation of a friend) for the sunset tour.
He certainly knew his stuff and yet was understated. He took us on a route which showed us interesting places, but also, on 2 or 3 occasions, made our jaws drop when we turned our heads.
It was a real Indiana Jones moment the first time it happened! There was this enormous building appearing out of the trees with birds squawking as we disturbed them as they settled down to roost. The sound of the howler monkeys added to the eeriness of it.
It has to be said that we were slightly unsure about the ethics of clambering all over buildings of historic significance made of (soft) limestone. We just hope our visit did not spoil the experience for future generations.
As sunset approached we tried to find the best place to sit. Where we could see the sun going down? Or where we could see the sun reflected wonderful colours on the limestone? We settled on the latter.
Returning to the hotel, we had a most enjoyable evening chatting with Mark, a guy from Berlin who we had seen but not spoken with on both buses from Pana to Lanquin and from Lanquin to Flores. (This was symptomatic of our journey across Guatemala to Belize – we seemed to be on a similar travel plan to a number of other people as we bumped into them at various points.) Mark only served to confirm our desire to go to South America – his tales of Argentina and Buenos Aires were irresistible!
Our ticket for the next day was valid from 6.00 am. However, it was gone 7 o’clock when we were compos mentis so we were locked into the previous evening’s decision of an “early” breakfast followed by a morning walk – not a problem! We may have been missed the dawn light on the buildings but we still “hit” the cooler and quieter part of the day which confirmed the decision to stay in a comparatively expensive hotel on site rather than take a day tour.