Our trip through Central America is now complete! You can see our final few stops below.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record with the phrase ‘we had a long day’, referring to our travels from one point to another. Well, I’m afraid I can’t change my tune today as last Saturday was one of our longest trips in one day. And as with most of our bus excursions, the air con has apparently been 'broken', resulting in a permanent condition of what I like to call artic blast. Unfortunately we had to endure this in Asia as well and if you've backpacked you'll probably relate to it. Worry no more my friends, for I have found the solution. And it involves dressing up as the modern day offspring of Mother Teresa and Bin Laden.
We left Honduras just before midday and we didn’t reach our destination in Flores until 2am. We were so unsure of whether we’d make it that far we didn’t even book a place to stay. A taxi driver had the honour of driving us from hotel to guesthouse and hostel at silly o’clock, in search for a bed. ‘Is there any room at the Inn?’ we pleaded, to which we were told ‘At this time? Absolutely not. Come back tomorrow’. Or something to that effect in Spanish. I was starting to consider the possibility of a night on the streets. Flores is considered quite safe, and it would only be hours before dawn. It could be do-able? Thankfully that reality never came to fruition and we managed to find a room. A room not even fit for a dog that is. Run down, dirty, mosquito central. Say no more. Alberto slept with his clothes on and I closed my eyes, thinking of a happy place. The next morning we couldn’t log onto Booking.com quick enough to arrange new accomodation. And off we went. Flores is a little island linked via a bridge and situated in Northern Guatemala. It’s a beautiful spot and with Petén Lake in full view it’s a great place to stop by and visit for a couple of days.
Flores also provides access to Tikal, labelled as the superstar Maya attraction. We spent Monday at Tikal. The site towers above the rainforest and is dominated by six giant temples and steep-sided pyramids that rise up to 64 metres from the forest floor. There are thousands of other structures, many covered by giant roots still hidden beneath mounds of earth. Tikal is also home to all sorts of wildlife, including the toucan (the national bird of Belize). If you’re in Guatemala, I would strongly recommend taking the time to visit. A tour guide is a must. Unfortunately ours was rude and obnoxious, but we had a really cool group and that evening we went out together for dinner and drinks.
The next day we took a bus back down south and stopped off at a little town called Rio Dulce for one night. Our guidebook informed us it’s ‘not a place you’ll want to hang around long’ and I couldn’t agree more. When I think of Rio Dulce the first two things that will come to mind are trucks, and fried chicken. There isn’t a large motorway nearby which results in an endless amount of congestion caused by trucks travelling through. And regarding the fried chicken… well I’ve never seen so many stalls that just sold fried chicken (and chips). And all the locals are eating it. I hope the town will re-educate itself regarding healthy eating or they could end up like Tonga. You can see some fruit and veg in the shot below, but most of it is exposed to constant CO2 emissions.
Our hotel in Rio Dulce also left a lot to be desired. There are only a couple of places to stay so we were limited on options. We had another dirty room and a number of cockroaches paid us a visit from the ceiling, dropping onto our bed! I kid you not. The staff reacted with little emotion and unfortunately with nowhere better to go we accepted a room exchange. It was in slightly better condition and thankfully no cockroaches. So you might be thinking, why stay at Rio Dulce at all? Well, it mitigated the need for another day of 12+ hours of travel, and the town is also home to Izabal Lake. Before we left on Wednesday, we had an early 5am start to take a trip through the lake, past the Rio Dulce gorge and down to Livingston. The town is primarily inhabited by the Garifuna (the native Caribbeans). Therefore it’s a really interesting place to visit, if only for an hour or two.
That brings us to our final destination on our fourteen weeks of travel, Antigua. We read great reviews about the town during our research and opted for four nights (cutting out Guatemala City as a destination as reports are poor and it's deemed unsafe by many). We also booked a really nice boutique hotel to compensate for previous mistakes and to finish our trip on a high. Antigua is nestled in a valley between three volcanoes and has a very strong colonial vibe to it (similar to Grenada in Nicaragua). There are plenty of trips you can take to the volcanoes, or nearby lakes or villages but after all our sightseeing we’ve been happy to just wander around the town, visit some of the many old cathedrals and enjoy the facilities at our hotel.
As with Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras, we've had a great time in Guatemala and it may even be our favourite country of the four. Guatemala is loaded with natural, historical and cultural interest. Tomorrow morning we’ll take a shuttle to Guatemala City, and from there our flight back to Dublin via Washington D.C. It’s been hard not to get sentimental about the entire fourteen weeks and wonder where the time has gone since we arrived in Beijing on the 3rd September. I’m not going to talk about highlights just yet. I have one more blog post left to write.