I showered to the sound of howler monkeys calling in the forest behind us. We left our thatched accommodation early.
It had rained overnight and grey clouds glowered overhead. Despite the hour, the young lad with his board of trinkets was out and helpfully set up his stall just as we descended to the rivers edge to provide us with a useful aid to ridding ourselves of the odd Mexican pesos in our purse. Enterprising or what? More likely a canny young lad doing his best for his family……..
We took off by boat again, this time to go up river against the tide. Once again there was rich vegetation on either bank. We glimpsed a church tower over the trees on the Guatemala side, near a thatched hut settlement. A group of women and children were washing themselves and their laundry in the river. The motor of the boat engine purred the journey away.
To say our arrival in Guatemala was low key, was an understatement! It took us perhaps 30 minutes to travel up the river to Bethel where the border post is. Leaving our boat we clamboured up a steep, muddy and very slippy riverbank covered in gnarled tree roots. Helping hands were extended from above to haul us up the incline and eventually we were landed like beached whales on the jungle path.
A much smarter bus than we had been led to expect waited for us with the lovely Oscar as driver. Strong young lads retrieved our luggage from the boat and helped load our cases on the roof, Oscar covered them with a tarpaulin and we set off. First stop the Guatemalan immigration office. An interesting blue and white building, with a sign outside saying ‘Welcome to Guatemala’ – surrounded by ducks and chicken. It was all pretty rustic……….
We then set out on a very bumpy two hours. The sandy road was not made up and covered in pot holes. We were travelling in the lowlands of Guatemala. The area used to be owned by the state of Chiapas in Mexico (the area we have just left) and resentments still cause some tensions apparently. Guatemala was invaded by Spanish in 1534 and had 300 years of Spanish rule before independence. The majority speak a variation of the Mextic language, although there is a rich culture of the indigenous people who continue to speak in their mother tongue.
We were heading for the island location of Flores capital of the Departnent of Pepen. On the way we passed farms and homesteads that looked much more prosperous than those we had left behind in rural Mexico. There were plantations of banana and papaya. Modern farm machinery was neatly parked in barns. Some of the land was quite waterlogged.
A single horseman appeared looking like a stray extra from a cowboy film, complete with lasso and hat. There were also a lot of pigs. These were black and bristly and are apparently the result of interbreeding between the local wild pig and the pigs the Spanish introduced to the country.
Having completed the bumpy road section(!) we continued on through several large towns, with motor showrooms and farm machinery factors, until we were eventuallydropped off at a supermarket to obtain provisions for a picnic lunch for our big archeology ‘fest’ on Thursday, when we visit Tikal one of the most famous Mayan sites.
A road bridge led us to the man made island of Flores, a very pretty town of narrow streets and colourful houses. Apparently the area used to be a ‘no go’ area over run by a mafia type group. The local business men, fed up with the situation, appealed to the government for help. No help came so they commissioned another mafia gang to wipe out the original Flores mafia. They did. Sorted! It is now very jolly. Colourful buildings line the narrow roads and little red ‘tuk tuk’ three wheeled cars are the local transport.
After lunch, once again with a lovely view over the water, we had a bit of free time before taking a boat trip to explore our surroundings. We chugged along, with a reed canopy over head to keep the sun off and were able to look back over the colourful buildings on the shore and the little white church on the hill on Flores town square. We stopped a while for some of the party to swim and eventually watched the sun go down over the water. I have to say, once the sun has decided to set in these parts, it does it very quickly!
We had supper in a nice restaurant, steps from our hotel. I had some wonderful garlic prawns with rice. They were scrummy although I have to say I have found all the food fine. A good place to come if you like avocado (which I do) and refried beans (not so much!).
Tomorrow the big one. Tikal.