Flores - Lakeside Retreat

Trip Start Aug 16, 2003
Trip End Apr 21, 2004

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Sunday, February 22, 2004

Having dragged ourselves out of bed at 5.30am ready for our 6am pick-up outside our hotel, we were slightly annoyed to find ourselves still waiting for any sign of transport almost an hour after the designated time. It later transpired that the driver had been sent to the wrong hotel and then simply went without us.

This meant that we had to traipse to the travel agency (which was initially closed) and then endure another hour or so wait while a lift was arranged for us with another tour company. Eventually we were on our way and, despite having to stop at a road block for a search of the bus by a group of armed soldiers, we ended up making swift progress to Frontera Corozal. In fact an hour after we arrived, we were still waiting for the original bus (that we should have been on) to materialise. We then began to get slightly anxious when our driver began telling us what a dangerous road the Palenque to Frontera Corozal stretch is - he explained that it is considered extremely risky to travel on it after dark. Moreover, it appears that only the day before, a bus driver was shot by bandits during an attempted highway robbery at a fake road block!

Having just heard this, it was with relief that we saw the original bus come into view down the dusty road. We soon joined our fellow passengers and were shepherded down to Rio Usumacinta where, after a baggage and passport check by more armed soldiers, we boarded a lancha (a long, narrow, motorised boat). A pleasant half hour journey down river then ensued before we were delivered to Bethel on the Guatemalan border.

Another frustratingly long period of to-ing and fro-ing elapsed while we waited for other passengers to join the group, had our baggage loaded, changed money, and cleared immigration. Eventually we took our seats on one of the oldest minibuses I have ever seen and so began one of the most uncomfortable journeys we'd endured to date. Filled to capacity, in the blazing afternoon sun, the bus trundled along the unsealed road from Bethel to just beyond El Subin. It was a bone shaking, teeth jarring experience and on more than one occasion we all went flying out of our seats when the driver failed to miss one of the thousands of potholes that he was diligently swerving all over the road to avoid. (Members of the Duff family might be able to understand what it was like if they imagine driving down the old road to Southerness for about three hours!)

Anyway, eventually, after nearly an hourīs stop at a tiny little village where one of the tyres had to be changed, and another three hours on the road, we pulled up at Santa Elena. We were instructed to use the banks here to get money out if required, as the neighboring town (more like a small village) of Flores doesn't house any at all. By the time all the occupants of the bus had been rounded up again, we had wasted nearly another hour and Dan and I were becoming a little impatient!

Finally we were driven across the causeway to Flores, which sits in the middle of Lake Peten Itza. We were grateful to be dropped directly at the Hotel Sabana and after dodging the locals who were falling over themselves to sell us tickets for all sorts of trips and tours, we got ourselves checked in to a room with a great view across the lake. It had been a pretty stressful day, but arriving at a decent hotel in such a tranquil setting made all the difference and we soon began to relax and unwind. After watching the sunset with a much needed beer, we headed out to eat and found a superb restaurant called La Luna.

The following morning we caught the 9am shuttle bus to the ancient city of Tikal, which nestles deep in the jungle. Within minutes of beginning our walk down one of the trails we could feel ourselves being bitten to bits by mosquitoes, however, quickly dousing ourselves in repellent seemed to do the trick. The first building we came across was Temple IV which is one of the highest at 64m. We climbed up a series of wooden ladders and steps to the top to get a great view right around the jungle and we could pick out a few of the other ruins peeking out above the jungle canopy.

We then followed a trail to El Mundo Perdido (The Lost World) which is a complex of 38 structures surrounding a huge pyramid. Continuing onwards, we passed the Plaza of the Seven Temples and the Southern Acropylis until we reached the Great Plaza. Here the impressive Temples I and II face each other across the large square, with the North Acropylis occupying one of the other sides and the Central Acropylis situated opposite.

Although we enjoyed exploring the ruins, we now feel that we've probably seen our fair share of ancient cities over the past couple of weeks and we actually appreciated walking through the jungle trails just as much. It was quite interesting to take in the many sights and sounds of the jungle and we were certainly grateful for the shade that the canopy provided. Walking directly under the sun was almost unbearably hot and we were both ready to finish our tour just a few hours after we had set off.

We spent the majority of the afternoon securing tickets for a flight to Guatemala City the following day. Eventually, having walked to the airport and back, we established that it was actually cheaper to get a flight through one of the travel agencies, rather than by booking with the airline direct.

After a very late lunch, we chilled out for the remainder of the day, making the most of the cable tv in our room.

Our flight wasn't until 4.15pm the following day, so we had a very relaxing morning. A short walk around the cobbled streets of the tiny, sleepy town of Flores told us that most the restaurants were closed until lunchtime (it was Sunday). So what better excuse for breakfast in bed. In between watching more films, we began drawing up a rough itinerary for our travels in South America and then packed up ready to move on again.

Andrea and Dan
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