Three Days in Paradise

Trip Start Jun 09, 2010
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Trip End Dec 31, 2015


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Saturday, January 15, 2011



This past weekend, my intrepid spirit took over and I escaped the doldrums of Missouri winter to enjoy three days in paradise. Well, that’s a bit of exaggeration, I suppose. I was gone from Missouri for 3 days; that’s a little more accurate. The decision to attempt a trip to Guatemala over a three day weekend was pretty ridiculous if I’m being honest. Why on Earth would I make all that effort for so little time? I knew that in the end, I’d be spending more time getting to Tikal National Park in Guatemala than I would in the park itself. What the heck, I figured. It’ll be worth it. And I couldn’t have been more correct because ultimately, the act of getting there and home was actually a big part of the adventure. So, here’s a basic rundown of my past weekend getaway.

Friday, January 14th

After putting in a full day’s work at school, I made the 2 hour drive to St. Louis Airport to catch a flight to Miami, Florida. The rest of the evening was pretty uneventful. In Miami, I basically just went to the hotel and went right to sleep.

Saturday, January 15th

I awoke early in the morning to catch the hotel shuttle back to Miami Airport. By 11:00 AM I was touching down in Belize City, Belize. I’ll be honest, I didn’t get to do all that much in Belize country. I was only there for a few hours between flights, but it was enough to make me want to go back for more. I knew heading into this weekend that I wasn’t on an extensive sightseeing trip, it was a one stop thing. My goal was simple, get to Tikal National Park and see and do as much as I can there. So, I had no expectation to really experience Belize, but those few hours really intrigued me. It’s a fascinating country. The official language is English. The culture on the coast is decisively Caribbean rather than Central American, with turquoise waters, the world‘s second largest barrier reef, and a plethora of marine wildlife (like the endangered manatee). The interior is classic Central American jungle, with Mayan ruins, howler monkeys, jaguars, and tropical rainforest. It’s definitely a country worthy of exploration, certainly worth more than a 3 day weekend to get the full scope of things. So, for me, it will have to wait for another trip. But, I’ve put my feet on the ground, got a stamp in my passport, left the airport, eaten a full meal (a delicious pulled chicken burrito), and so I can add it to my list of countries visited with an asterisk that I must come back to really make it count.

After my quick layover, I made my way back to the airport for the my next flight to Flores, Guatemala on Tropic Air, one of the domestic airlines of Belize. When I booked this flight, which was really cheap by the way, I had no idea what I was getting into. After a little pre-trip research, I discovered that the airline owns a fleet of 11 planes. Digging a little deeper I discover that their entire fleet is made up of Cessna Caravans, ranging in size from 7 to 14 passengers. Okay, this is going to be cool. This is not just going to be another flight, this is going to be part of the adventure. The 1 hour 15 minute flights was amazing. On the way to Flores, I was on the larger 14 seat plane. My seat was right behind the pilot, which was really cool. The view during the flight was amazing. It seemed like we just skimmed over the jungle the whole way. At the time, I thought it couldn’t be much cooler than this (I would discover on the return flight that it could!).

Upon arrival at the Flores airstrip in Guatemala, we were ushered out of the plane and went through customs. I’ve rarely experienced an easier border crossing. Since there were only actually 8 of us on the flight, the line went quickly. I had no baggage (only my trusty green Jansport backpack that I’ve had since 6th grade and has been with me to all 65 countries I’ve visited), so after getting the stamp in my passport, I walked right out and met my driver for the next leg of my trip.

From Flores, Guatemala, it is about an hour drive to Tikal National Park. The trip is pretty easy, 2 lane blacktop the whole way (even if there are lots of potholes that make it slow going). It was neat to pass through several small villages along the way. I could quickly recognize the poverty level in Guatemala while passing through. I’ve been through lots of villages in lots of countries over the year, and in many ways, poverty looks the same anywhere you go. The refreshing thing, however, is that the people never seem to act like they’re poor. Smiling faces, children laughing and playing soccer, pigs and chickens and donkeys and cows grazing along the road and in the village, the buzz of local markets. A simple view of people living a simple life that is the same in Guatemala as in South America, Africa, Asia. Once we’d passed the last of the villages, the jungle crowded the road a little bit more. I could feel the heaviness of the jungle pressing in. Once we reached the gate of the park, we had about 10 miles left to go until we reached the National Park visitors center, which is surrounded by the three in-park hotels, a few comedores (local restaurants), and the Tikal museum. One of the interesting things about this last part of the drive was the caution signs. Here in the US, it’s not uncommon to see signs for people crossing the road, or deer, or cattle. But in Tikal, there were signs to watch out for jaguar, turkeys, snakes, and coatamundi (a raccoon-like creature). The only of these we actually saw along the road were turkeys, which were the coolest turkeys I’ve ever seen; more like a cross between a peacock and a turkey.

Once I arrived in the park, I checked into my jungle bungalow for the evening, dropped off my bags and went out to explore a bit before the sun went down. For today, since the park was already closing, I simple got a lay of the land and made arrangements for the next day. I made a deal with the security personnel at the front gate to allow me to enter the park before the 6AM opening time so that I could hike in to Temple IV (the highest temple in the park), which is the best place to view the sunrise. I knew that in order to make the 1 mile hike to the temple in time for sunrise, I would have to leave well before the park opened. After a little negotiating, we agreed that $10 would get it done. Some might call it a bribe, I just call it a tip. Simple as that, I just had to meet him at the front gate at 4 AM. I also made arrangments to hire a private guide for the rest of the day in the park. For $45, I was able to hire an English speaking guide to take me all through the park from lunch to sunset, about 6.5 hours. Not bad! Knowing I would have to rise extra early, I decided to have a quick meal (the best Pollo al Mole I’ve ever had- chicken with a spicy-chocolate sauce that sounds strange but is really, really good!!), and then head to bed early so I would be fresh for the next day.

Sunday, January 16th

I’ll describe this day in much more detail in my next entry, but basically, I spend the entire day exploring the Tikal National Park. Check back tomorrow for the story, but basically it was AMAZING!!

Monday, January 17th

I once again awoke quite early (about 5:45) in order to make the drive back to Flores airport for my flight. The drive was the same, but being a Monday morning, there was a lot more going on in the villages. Children walking to school, women setting up their roadside stalls, farmers leading their horses into the fields. I arrived at the Flores airstrip at about 7:45AM for an 8:45AM return flight. Once again, checking in was really easy, I was the only one there! Security was easy since there were no annoying people holding up the line. Once in the “gate” area, which really was just a large room with seats and a bathroom and nothing else, I sat down and dove into my Kindle for some reading while I waited for my plane. Suddenly, I realized that it was 9AM. After a moment of panic that I’d missed my flight, I went back out of the secure area to ask what was going on (there were not airline staff inside the secure area, like I said just chairs and a bathroom), I learned that fog in Belize had grounded all the planes and my flight would be 2-3 hours late. I had plenty of time in Belize, so I wasn’t too worried about missing my flight, just so long as I knew I’d get there by 3PM. By then two other people were also waiting for the flight, so I passed the time with lively conversation about travel, school, and other things with my fellow plane-mates. When the plane finally arrived, I was both stunned and excited. This time, we would be in the smallest of the fleet: a 7 seater!!! When we got out on the tarmac to get in the plane, I noticed that there was just one pilot. I asked if there was no co-pilot, and he said “You’re it!” So, I jumped into the co-pilot’s seat, strapped in, and we were off! No, I definitely didn’t fly the plane, in fact I’d promised not to touch anything at all. But sitting in the co-pilot’s seat was awesome. This plane didn’t fly nearly as high, and I had a complete view in front and on both sides. It was one the coolest things I’ve ever done. Seeing the stunning landscape flowing less then 5,000 feet below was amazing. For over an hour, I was in awe. Fortunately, I took lots of pictures and even took video of the take-off and landing (see below).

Once we landed in Belize, from there things weren’t that spectacular, just a regular flight to Miami, and then on to St. Louis, a 2 hour drive home, and I was back in my house in Columbia, Missouri, ready for work the next morning.

It was quick, it was an adventure, and when I got home I felt like I’d been gone forever. But, that’s exactly what I needed. Refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready for the next big adventure!!

Thanks for reading. I’ll post my 3rd and final Guatemala trip blog tomorrow which will recount in depth my adventures at the Mayan Ruins of Tikal!!
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Comments

Mom on

Wow, this is great. The videos make us feel like we are there with you and makes your stories more real in our mind since we can actually see where you were in motion! You know what I mean? I can't wait for the Tikal entry! Keep on travelling and blogging. It's awesome!!

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