After a week in Belize, I was ready for a Latin reunion. Something was missing in Belize. When I entered Guatemala, I found it again. Not being able to completely describe it, there is something about the charm and happiness of the Latin culture I have come to endear.
David and I crossed into Guatemala with little problems or dealing with government bureaucracies. Another simple crossing, which took less than two hours.
We rode on to Lago Peten Itza. The main attraction there is the town of Flores, which is a man made island on the lake. David wanted to check out a smaller town El Remate, which was smaller village on the other side of the lake.
We stopped in El Remate which had a few hotels and restaurants. After checking out the town, we stopped for lunch at a lakeside restaurant. During our meal, David got word that his wife’s vacation time was finally set. Only David would now have to be in Panama by late April. We talked about the situation, and decided that we would have to part ways because I prefer to move at a much slower pace. I was already contemplating moving my sailing on the Stahlratte to July, and I wanted to stop in Honduras to take diving lessons. After lunch David said his goodbyes and I went on to Flores.
Flores was more than I imagined, and I probably found one of the coolest hostel called Los Amigos, thus far on my travels. Yes, yes, the Green Monkey will forever be burned into my mind, but this place was labor of love. A beautifully decorated garden was the centerpiece of this establishment where you could simply relax, read a book, catch up on your internet, or a have meal from the restaurant. Each bed had it’s own outlet with USB ports and there were outlets at every lounge space. Beyond the restaurant was a bar, isolated from the sleeping area.
(The Garden in Los Amigos)
Flores itself was a quaint and magical little town. Cobble stone streets loaded with restaurants and shops adorned the island. This was also my first introduction to Tuc-tucs! Little three wheeled taxis that buzz around the island and the mainland city of San Benito.
What started as an idea of staying a couple of nights turned into almost 5! This place was fun, and I bumped into quite a few people, I met at other hostels. Even the couple from the Earthship in Belize! Dubbed the “Gringo Trail”, it’s a commonality to see the same people over and over as you travel from one destination to the next. For me, I have the flexibility because I’m on the bike, but the people I’ve been meeting are subject to buses. I also made my plans to visit Tikal through the tourist desk there. Tikal is the main attraction and one of the most famous ruins in Maya history.
I spent the next few days in Flores, catching up on tales from the road with other travelers, drinking to the wee hours of the night, and pretty much being a complete juvenile.
(Beer pong - serious stuff!)
A group of Canadians who were riding Guatemala on a self organized tour called Freshline Moto Club stayed at the hostel for a couple of nights. They were super nice guys, and part of their journey was to enrich their marriages. Now, I know that sounds contradictory, but the idea, is that they can go on these short adventure tours, have memories of a lifetime, and return to their normal lives becoming better spouses. (Not a word Mare!)
For me Flores became something special. Every morning, when Ithoughth “today I will move on”, something kept me there, and I would end up staying for another night. The people I had been meeting were wonderful. People from all over the world, and locals alike. I would spend my last few days with some new local friends who showed me the inside of the city, and the hidden beaches of the lake.
The City of Tikal
Tikal was a huge city that flourished between 200 and 850 AD. It has the tallest temple, reaching 70 meters, and could have been seen for miles. Our tour guide Miguel was was excellent at teaching us about the city, the culture, and what events around the world would correlate to events in Tikal. We (Caela and Lilly, who I met originally at Lake Bacalar, Mx) explored the city for hours, listening to Miguel tell the story of the people and the history of the city. It is hard to imagine, that at one time, these ruins were open from the forest. That the people had cleared miles of vegetation so that the city could be seen. Another fascinating fact is the at all these structures were once adorned in a red / orange clay making it a beacon for pilgrims to find in the jungle. After a long day of exploring the ruins and viewing wildlife, we ended our day atop one of the more picturesque points to watch the sunset. By the time we reached our tour bus, it was dark and we were all tired.
Moving on from Flores, I made my way south towards Semuc Champey, another destination on the Gringo Trail. The ride there for the most part was pleasant. One thing I noticed was whenever I passed through a small village, even in the poorest of the town, the people had ear to ear smiles and always waived. Riding on I kept in mind something the guys from Freshline Motor Club had told me. That the last 40 km was going to be interesting. Steep climbs, loose rocks, and ruts awaited me. I kept following the track on my phone, as my Garmin map from Cenrut was once again proving to be inaccurate. I kept thinking as I reached the last 40km, that they guys were over exaggerating. Then, I turn the corner and knew exactly what they were talking about. Steep climbs, loose rocks, ruts, and well, a bit of rain too.
The road was in horrible condition. 1st gear, 2nd gear, 1st gear, 3rd gear. I stopped for photos, but the photos don’t offer justice as to how bad the road was. I did however congratulate myself in my choice of transportation. My WR250R was handling everything perfectly, and I knew that anyone on a 1200 would have been in for a long and painful day. I continued along the dirt tracks which offer no relief. Buses use this route, and I can’t imagine how long it must take to get through this section of road. Here, this is the daily norm, and life moves forward at 4kph.
I finally reached my hostel in San Agustín Lanquín near Semuc Champey. This hostel (Zephyr Lodge), like the last one, was a haven for travelers. Only this hostel came with a pool, hot tub, and a stunning view of the Guatemalan countryside.
The next morning I set off on my tour that was organized through the hostel to Semuc Champey. I opted in for the cave tour which included a guided candlelight tour through the caves, and a chance to jump into the river from a swing or off a bridge. This also included a 40 minute ride in the back of a pickup which doubled as a spinal dislocation device.
My tour group reached Semuc Champey. Getting off the truck were were immediately ambushed by local children selling home made chocolate and drinks. I say children lightly because these were shrewd entrepreneurs. They certainly did not take ‘no’ for an answer, and somehow had you committing yourself to making a purchase later in the day. Even writing your name down and taking your order for later! I have to give credit to the young girl that haggled me for chocolates, as she broke my will to say no. I really didn’t want to chocolate, but I did end up buying from two children because I know this is money into their community. I also didn’t want to be the tourist who snubbed the locals giving them animosity towards gringos.
(El Hefe - The Boss!)
Meeting up with our guide, he prepared us for the tour. The cave tour takes you through the waterways. It was recommended to wear trainers or sports sandals. Since I didn’t want to get my trainers wet, I opted for my sandals. We entered into the cave system and we were given candles to light our way. It was a very interesting tour, but also very challenging. It really turned into a group effort making our way through the waters which in some cases were slightly above our heads. Climbing over jagged rocks, and climbing up steel ladders were all part of the adventure. I could only think to myself that back in the United States this would never be possible due to lawsuits and safety laws.
(Lunch after the cave - The black stuff is soot used to paint our faces)
Reaching the end of the cave, the highlight was to climb up the cliff wall and then jump into the pool 4 meters below. Thinking to myself, this is crazy, I went for it anyway. After everyone who was brave enough made the jump, we made our way back out to the entrance taking a slightly different route which included some rock slide and a funnel tunnel in which you dropped 3 meters through the rocks into the waters below. Making our way out of the cave we collected our things and moved on to a swing that would rocket you out over the river in which you then released yourself into the waters below. Foolishly I went for the challenge knowing full well that I could not afford to injure myself. There was a definite risk to this. Landing in the water wrong, or releasing yourself at the wrong moment could lead to certain peril. I swung out over the river which easily put me 5 meters over the water. My guide yelled jump, and I hesitated a second more. This brought me another ½ meter higher before falling into the waters below. I made a perfect entry into the water. Straight as a pencil. Then, I felt my feet hit the bottom of the river bed. Hard. For the next week I would have bruised feet. Greg, you idiot!!! Live and learn; no more high risk challenges! Our final trek on the tour was to climb the hills for an aerial view of the calcium pools below. The view was fantastic and the waters looked amazing in with the white calcium pools in contrast. We spend the last few hours swimming in the pools before calling it a day and returning to the hostel.
(A view from above)
I would spend the next day relaxing around the hostel before packing up and heading to Antigua. Semuc Champey is definitely one for the books, and is listed as one of those places you should go before you die. Check AND Check!