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Memories will be made of this.....

From the Carribean Coast to the Volcanoes of Guatemala

GUATEMALA | Sunday, 11 January 2004 | Views [519]

Well - it has only been a week, but we have done so much that it seems so much longer.
After leaving Cancun (couldn't get out of there quick enough), we took a bus to Mérida - took about 4 hours and was an executive one (reclining seats, TV, the works).  Arrived in Mérida and it was so much more the type of place that I was expecting to be visiting.  A nice colonial town with lots of charm and very welcoming people who were't just interested in conning you out of your money.  Our visit coincided with the 462nd anniversary of the town (I don´t know too many places that would make a big deal about an insignificant amount of years, but the locals certainly did) and there were lots of parades, dancing in the streets and general good vibes. Quickly realised that our Spanish isn't that great, but we are managing to get by for the time being, despite our first question always being, 'Do you speak English?'.
Went over to Chichen Itza - probably the most famous of the Mayan sites.  The site was relatively impressive (dates back to 800AD), however it was extremely busy and very commercialised.  Luckily, we managed to arrive at a ridiculously early time when there weren't too many people around, so managed to climb the 91 steps of the main castle unhindered - really good views as far as the eye could see.  The site pales into insignificance when compared to somewhere like Angkor Wat though (little detail in the carvings and all the best works seem to have been taken down and put in the museum - can't quite work out the logic in that).
After a couple of days in Mérida, we headed down the coastal road to Tulum.  Tulum seems to be the sort of place that will soon be far too touristy for the likes of the independent traveler.  Went to the Tulum ruins and thankfully got up very early again to go and see them (as by about 10am, the crowds of American day trippers from Playa Del Carmen had arrived).  The site dates back to 1500AD (which is very late for Maya ruins).  The nice thing about this site is that the ruins lead down onto a beautiful beach with crystal blue water leading into the distance. 
After a day in Tulum, we took the bus down to Chetumal - basically the border town with Belize, nothing more interesting about the town.  It had the feel of a ghost town.  However, a weird experience was to be encountered there.  Just after checking into our hotel, we decided to take a walk around the town and down along the beach.  Within 50 yards of leaving the hotel, an American guy came up to us (all flustered) and started asking us if we were missionaries (which I thought was a bit forward to be asking sexual preferences within seconds of meeting us - must have been the Glastonbury T-shirt that gave it away).  What transpired was truly strange; the basic story he came up with was that he was a Reverend in Chicago and had had his luggage left in Acapulco - his wife, four children and bible were in a village 200 miles away and he had no money or passport on him and begged (literally) us for $80 so that he could get back to his diabetic wife.  Decided that in order to get rid of this guy, it was probably wise to invest in this sum (he has promised to return the money, but we will have to wait and see).  After handing over the money, we were subjected to repeated phrases like 'Praise the Lord' and 'Angels don't always have wings - you guys are my angels and I will pray for you'.  That was definitely the most interesting point about Chetumal. 
The following day, we had to get up at 4am to get the bus from Chetumal to Flores in Guatemala (via Belize).  Unfortunately, after arriving at the bus station, we quickly realised that the standard of the buses was not going to be quite what we had grown accustomed to - back to the minibuses.  The first half of the journey was relatively uneventful - there were only 4 of us on it, so we could stretch out and get some well needed sleep.  However, upon arriving in Belize City about 15 people joined the bus and suddenly it was very crammed.  Upon arriving at the Belize-Guatemala border, we were told that we would have to pay a departure tax (despite being in the country for less than 6 hours) and it would be $37.50 for the two of us.  Obviously, we did not have any Belizean money and only had US$31 on us, so panicked.  Thankfully, we ended up only having to pay $30 (as we got a $7.50 discount for being in the country for less than 24 hours - must have been the prayers back in Chetumal that sorted that on out for us).
The road on the Guatemalan side of the border was basically just a dirt road and an amazing tropical downpour had just occurred, so the next issue was trying to get through what turned out to be a mud pool (with countless abandoned vehicles and people hitch-hiking their way through the swamps).  Luckily, we managed to slide our way in the minibus up the hill and after a couple of hours, we got onto a properly laid tarmac road.  We arrived in Flores at around 4pm (10 hour journey that seemed like much, much more) to be greeted by what sounded like lots of gunshots.  However, it was in fact the start of a 2 week Flores Rock Festival and the noises were a multitude of fireworks being exploded on the floor).  As an experienced festival and gig-goer, I must admit disappointment in the lack of music at this festival and really it seems that it was just another name for a funfair and pyrotechnic use.  Flores is a wonderful little island in the middle of a massive lake with views over the water from all over the island.
Yesterday, we went to visit the ruins in Tikal - about an hour away from Flores (well it would have been if the minibus had not of broke down - a kid who can't have been more than 8 years old ended up fixing it).  The Tikal ruins are set deep in the jungle and date back to c.300BC.  Most of the buildings were constructed between 500 and 900AD and the site was a lot more impressive than anything we had seen at Chichen Itza or Tulum.  Had to climb to the top of the highest temple (about 70 metres) and the views from there were awesome (I do hate that word, but can't think of any other to describe it).  We were able to roam amongst most of the ruins and it was extremely pleasant as the site wasn't too hot (about 30 degrees) and it wasn't too overcrowded.  Saw lots of wildlife there including spider monkeys, peccaries and a multitude of birds. Went back to Flores and just sat on our balcony for a few hours overlooking the water and watching the sun set.  Met a really nice guy from London who was on his first big trip - and it felt nice to be able to give some advice.
Last night, we took a luxury bus from Flores to Guatemala City - we thought we'd splash out as we saving a couple of nights accommodation by doing this (leather seats, games room and hostess).  Arrived in Guatemala City this morning and got the shuttle bus over to Antigua and it is really cold (about 20 degrees).  After being used to 30 degrees or more for the first week and a half we are now walking around in our biggest winter coats as we need to aclimatise.  However, Antigua seems to be an absolutely stunning colonial town, which is surrounded by three volcanoes (climbing an active one tomorrow).  We will be staying here for about 5 days, as we need to just relax for a while.
Anyway, sorry for the length of this mail, but there has been so much to tell about the last week.  Hope that the work is going well

Tags: I should have known better!

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