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Tikal or Bust! – Antigua to Flores, Guatemala | We're Not There Yet

Our last visit to the Minisitrio Publico was a total bust and we had resolved that it would be the final one, not matter what. When we informed the prosecutor that we were at the end of our rope and planning to leave, he asked us if we could possibly stick around until next week, when he would try to get us a date in court. The upshot of this is that we’d have a chance to present more testimony (from Maibely, the manager of the hostel, and Adriana, the horrible witch of a vendadora who is now lying in her testimony- but more on that later) and more official evidence from the banks. Last time, the judge agreed to release my 3 cancelled credit cards, but declined to let us have the 50 Euro note or any of the artisanal goods, claiming that we couldn’t prove without a doubt that they were purchased using my cards. This, despite the fact that we had credit card statements printed directly from our bank’s websites. Basically, the judge decided to be as conservative as he could possibly be and in the process totally burned us because, as tourists, we simply don’t have the time or access to resources that we would in our home country. Our banks refuse to email any info and can’t fax internationally or call internationally. They also won’t provide us with a specific Spanish speaking point person so that the prosecutor can call them, but insist that the police (who don’t speak a lick of English) have to request these types of records and that they can just go ahead and call the regular 1-800 number for customer service. No one who has the power to help us seems inclined to do so and, once again, we have done nothing wrong and been nothing but reasonable. We are frustrated and sick of being in Antigua and sick of dealing with this farce of a case when we are supposed to be on vacation. So we decided to go away for the weekend again.

I had wanted to visit Tikal from the get-go, along with plans to hit Belize, Semuc Champey (which we were lucky enough to be able to visit the weekend before last), and maybe even the Bay Islands of Honduras. All this was nixed when we had to make some decisions about the scope and style of our trip. Since we are on a bicycle trip, we decided that cycling is a priority and, since these locations are far flung, often over mountain ranges or oceans, we had decided that we just couldn’t swing every place on the typical tourist to-do list. I was crushed to miss Tikal because it’s kind of a big deal and had captured my imagination years ago when I saw an article about the Maya in National Geographic. So the silver lining of this whole circus of a trial is that we decided to get on a bus and just go!

The same afternoon that we returned from the Ministirio Publico with no resolution and yet another date with justice (ha!), we decided that we wanted to leave that same night for Flores, the jumping off point for most visits to Tikal. Maibely, our wonderful hotel manager, wrangled us up some expensive tickets (although she knocked off a few bucks for us) for an overnight bus. We had just enough time to pack small weekend bags and clear out our room before the shuttle came to take us to Guatemala City for the transfer to the big 1st class (as opposed to the much fancier, double decker VIP class) bus. We made the transfers, boarded the bus around 9:30pm and even managed to snag two seats each to ourselves. Sadly, these buses weren’t made for comfort, so we both squirmed into various positions of repose that weren’t very reposing and tried to snatch a little bit of sleep before our 6am arrival in Flores. The good news is that we arrived safe and sound and even had a fairly nice hostel lined up, which we had called ahead for reservations.

Cobblestone street in rainy Flores

When we got to the hostel after almost 12 hours of sleepless bus travel, we were told that there was no room available at the price we had been quoted. We weren’t sure it the room had been given away or if no such room ever existed in the first place, but their solution was to show us to a room for slightly less than we had been quoted. The only drawback is that there was no door. I don’t mean that there was no door in the doorway- there was no doorway either. The only way in and out of the room was to crawl on top of some plastic buckets stationed outside the room for this express purpose, then slide in a little shuttered window that sat about 4 feet of the ground. This got you onto a counter inside the room, which you then had to slide off using the same bucket method, and then, voilà! Imagine trying this routine in the dark for a middle of the night bathroom run. We declined. In the end, we were led to a room that was a bit more than the original price we were quoted, but seemed palatial after the crawl-space (which had once been a commercial kitchen, by the way)- turned bedroom. After a little haggling and a little sweet talk, we were given the original price for the room and happily settled in for 2 nights.

The first night was kind of a blur- there was some kind of typical dinner, maybe a beer, and we were in bed by 8 o’clock. This was all well and good, though because the next morning we had a hot date with the most important Mayan ruins in all of Central America. Tour agencies try to push the 4am guided tours on most visitors to Tikal because you not only get a supposedly spectacular sunrise view, but you also avoid the crowds, the heat, and have a better chance of seeing the exotic wildlife that hangs out in in the surrounding jungle. Since it had been raining for about 5 days straight and the sunrise was scheduled for 5:30- a half an hour before the park even opens- we decided to sleep in and take an 8am shuttle, minus the tour. This meant that we didn’t get the insight of the very knowledgeable guides, but that we also paid about a third as much and we were free to explore at our own pace, not herded from site to site like in the field trips of our childhoods.


And I quote: ‘…they like to defecate on the heads of people below..’

And this is a little one

A huge number of pyramids are still unexcavated, although they are hard to miss


I was very disappointed to find out that this furry thing in the tree was not a monkey at all, but a Coati, a member of the raccoon family. Oh well, you take what you get.

We actually totally lucked out because it seems that the shuttle only option actually includes a mini tour; basically, a guide rides with you in the van, buys your tickets for you (and probably skimps a little off the top, but that’s another topic), then leads you into the park up until the main plaza. The whole process from van to plaza is about an hour and he spouted information and answered tons of questions the whole time. By the time we got to the plaza, we felt we had a good enough grip on the place to run around by ourselves, climb some pyramids, and take photos, which we did with gusto. The day was gray, although the rain held off until just before 3pm, when we were to catch the return shuttle anyhow.

Tikal is crowded with ruins that are still untouched

The tops of the pyramids in the central plaza peek out over the treetopsNot too shabby

Between the two of us, we have seen Machu Picchu, Ankor Wat, the Egyptian pyramids, and various temples in Mexico, not to mention ruins in Europe and China. I can’t say that Tikal was more impressive than any of these other places, but we were not disappointed. It is all lush jungle, partially exposed temples, noisy, exotic animals, and, lucky for us, no crowds. It would have been nice to have a guide with us the whole way to point out the details and the history that we undoubtedly missed, but I get the feeling that to really get to know the place, you’d need days, if not years, and maybe some reference books or a degree in anthropology. But we enjoyed it nonetheless. It is a magical place that doesn’t feel like anywhere else I’ve been before and the semi-exposed nature of the place left lots of mystery and created a maze-like environment as opposed to the wide-open grandeur of Teotihuacan, which we visited earlier in this trip. It is the kind of place that I can imagine going back to with my kids and maybe grandkids to marvel in the changes and what new discoveries about the culture have been made. But we settled for an afternoon of tromping around in the mud and the rain and happily piled into the shuttle once the rain started coming down in earnest.

The rest of the evening was spent at the same cheap restaurant that we had discovered the night before- there wasn’t much else going on, since the rain continued non-stop and in force for the rest of the night. But after our amazing day that fulfilled a long-held fantasy of *someday going to Tikal*, I was pretty easy to please. Besides, getting stuck in the rain just about anywhere beats spending another day just biding our time in Antigua.