Wow, what a couple of days I’ve had since my last entry to the blog. As always I have a lot of exiting stuff to write down but believe me, this blog entry is going to be particularly semi-legal, spectacular and adventurous! But let’s start from the beginning, as far as you guys know I’m still in Belize. Ha! Whaddyaknow!
In the last entry I wrote I would leave Caye Caulker tomorrow. That was the the 17th of November. Well, the 18th things looked differently: The day was just too lovely. The sun was shining just too brightly and my compañeros from my hostel, namely Katharina, a german girl, Jolyn, a girl from the Netherlands and Chronos, an american dude from LA, worked hard on me to stay one night longer in paradise and to then go see the Garifuna festival at Hopkins with them the day after.
I guess it was not very hard to convince me as I had already seen a recommendation in my guidebook about the Garifuna Celebration in Hopkins and Gangría and had thought about going there anyway to see this once-in-a-year settlement day celebrations where creole, african, spanish and indigenous cultures mix. So, yes, I spent yet another day in Caye Caulker and as every other day there it was simply fantastic. We bought delicious cinnamon rolls and coffee from the local bakery in the morning, had breakfast under palm trees and spent the day fishing from a small house-boat which is part of the accommodation the hostel offers. We cleaned the fish, baked them on a grill and had them for lunch. Then we welt to snorkel, played cards at the beach and in the afternoon I took a canoe for a trip around the island to see the sundown – what an incredible experience! (the canoe, by the way, is provided for free by the hostel!) A perfectly relaxed, peaceful and slooooooooow day in Caye Caulker. Belize time they call it and it’s true really: clocks tick slower in Belize and it’s infecting!
The day after we got up relatively early to catch our water taxi which would bring us to Dangriga. After about 1hr of speeding over the flat sea we arrived in Belize City where we had to get onto a bus which would bring us to Dangriga, our next station on our way to Hopkins. After a quick walk through the relatively uninteresting quarter of the city I found a nice little market where bought some fruit and heard spanish for the first time in 4 days from a guatemalan priest that was preaching over a megaphone.
Around 13.00 we took our Bus to Dangriga where we arrived around 15.00 and promptly met some dutch guys we had learned to know in Caye Caulker. They told us that the real party supposedly was going to be in Dangriga and not Hopkins, so we took off to the city of Dangriga to look for possible accommodation. Unfortunately there was not a single hostel room left in the entire city – every hostel and hotel had already been booked out since weeks – and we had to give up and take a bus to Hopkins where we had already reserved 4 places in the hostel Kismet.
We took one of the so-called chicken busses (ex american school busses) to go to Hopkins, a small little town south of Dangriga right next to the beautiful caribbean sea. Great plus: Our bus driver had already gotten from really-friendly-mode into party mode and, when everybody else had gotten out of the bus, waited for us to buy some beers and cigarettes, and then drove us and our party-bus right to the entrance of the far-off hostel Kismet in Hopkins.
Kismet is a great choice. If you can afford to spend 25 Belize Dollars for a night: do it! Also spend the 22 Belize for dinner and 6 for breakfast: Food is great and always comes with delicious home-made bread! The owner, Stacy, is a really friendly new york expatriate who, back in the days used to run restaurants and night clubs, and now runs this extremely hippy hostel (Stacy is married to five different husbands – or was it seven?). The place itself is an old school wooden house right next to the blue ocean. There is a beautiful orchid garden, white sand and huge triton sea shells everywhere, even the shower head is made out of a big sea shell.
I put up my good ol’ tent next to some fisher boat, right next to the sea as always and spent the rest of the evening with my travel mates Katharina, Jolyn and Chronos and two german people who I learned to know at Kismet, Lena and Sebastian. Oh, and had one of the best barracuda dishes in my life – Stacy is an incredible cook!
The day after we got up relatively late, sat down at the beach with coffee and Stacy’s delicious home-made bread and watched celebrational Garifuna boats with drummers passing in front of us on the ocean. Celebration had started.
Around midday I left Kismet with Lena and Sebastian. We had decided to quickly see the celebrations in Dangriga and then take off quickly, direction Guatemala. Not that I wouldn’t have loved to stay even longer in Belize but it was simply getting too expensive there and also I had already adapted too well to Belize’s incredible slowliness. Moving, thinking, everything takes sooo much longer there and the combination Caye Caulker plus Hopkins had been sufficient and maybe even too much relaxation for me already!
Our plan was: Hopkins-Dangriga, Dangriga-Guatemala Border and from there to Tikal, the mother of all Maya Ruins.
We most probably would not be able to make it in one day but on the way are some nice towns where we could spend the night.
So, around 11am we took a rusty old pickup truck back to Dangriga, the town we had passed through yesterday. Everybody already was in party mode here, there were colorful stands of food and drinks everywhere, huge parades and hardly anybody could walk in a straight line. I went to see some of the pom-pom parades with Sebastian and _____, checked out the stands, had a bite to eat and then returned to the bus station to leave Belize. After a 3 hour chicken bus ride we arrived in Belmopan, one of Belize’s biggest cites from where we then took a taxi to the Belize-Guatemalan Border. I was lucky again and not only found not only a great price (80 Belize, 40 US$, for the three of us) for the 3 hour-ride but also the coolest taxi driver ever.
On our way to the border me and the taxi driver had a great conversation, I smeared breads and opened a bottle of rum and as a thank-you got a mahogany boat from our taxi driver. As a gift! I believe that was the first time a taxi driver ever gave something to me for free, what a nice guy!!
When we arrived in Guatemala we quickly got through customs but had to learn that the last bus to Tikal or Flores had already left quite some time ago. Luckily enough there were some young guys who offered us a taxi service to Tikal and we could get there for 150 Quezales each – around 15 Euros. Seems like a lot of money but if you consider that it’s a three your ride over incredibly bad roads and that this way we didn’t have to pass through Flores with a bus and change to another bus to get to Tikal – it seemed like a very good deal and indeed it was!
We finally arrived at Tikal after a staggering 230 Kilometers and some 10 hours of traveling it was deep night already. We found shelter in the nearby Jaguar Inn where Sebastian and Lena rented a tent in the hostel’s garden for good money (80 each I believe) and I put up my tent for even less money (20Quetzales = 2 Euros) right next to them.
There we were – in TIKAL, the mother of all Maya Ruins. An incredible feeling and another real highlight of my journey through Central America.
The next day at Tikal was simply incredible, in every imaginable way. This day turned out to be one of the best days of my trip so far, but let me tell you step by step. Our plan was to go to Tikal and stay there overnight in the ruins. Of course, this is not legal but our taxi driver from last night had told me that there is always a way into the ruins at night. Just bribe a guard and nobody will notice you. “Just watch out for aggressive monkeys and jaguars” we were told. OK, that sounds appealing…
We woke up around 10, packed my tent into Sebastian’s backpack, some food and water and other things we would need overnight and headed to the national park’s entrance. I didn’t even want to but as soon as I got into the park one of the guards took me to the side and offered me to get us into the park for a small tip. We ended up paying 100 instead of 150 Quetzales entrance fee and were accompanied by our corrupt guard and his accompanée, both of them with huge shotguns.
Tikal itself is simply beyond words. The place is simply magnificent, staggering, beautiful, magic, holy. In difference to all the other Maya ruin sites this parque natural really lies in the deep, deep tropical jungle. While Chichén Itzá and Tulum are well-kept touristic spots with “Don’t cross” lines and guards here there is almost nothing. Also, the entire area of Tikal is about 17 long and wide and there is nothing but some small paths or dirt roads that connect one ruin complex to the other. In between the incredibly well preserved ruins you walk through the jungle, sometimes up to 20 minutes, half an hour. There are jaguars (didn’t see one unfortunately!), spiders, scorpions (I believe), all kinds of beautiful parrots, falcons, occelated turkeys, eagles and spider monkeys all over the place – the entire jungle is alive and you can hear animals almost everywhere!
The ruins itself are amazing. Read about details in Wikipedia, all I can and want to tell you here is that there are 6 big temples and we climbed all of them. There is a huge acropolis which can absolutely compare with the roman pendant and you can discover, climb, touch and walk all you want! Well, not all you want obviously, there are some chords and signs that prohibit access to certain areas but it’s rather rare and there are hardly any guards.
We went so far as to enter in one of the pyramid’s pathways (pyramid III) and had to take out my flashlight to walk through the pyramid.
Around 4 in the afternoon the park started to close its gates and we were promptly found by a guard who must have deduced from out big backpack that we didn’t have any intention of leaving the park overnight. He took us aside into the bushes, 250 quetzales changed their owner (each) and that was it: we were in! Well, we were already in of course but we could stay, you knowwhaddamean…
Our corrupt guard was even so friendly as to give me some tips where we could camp when I asked him what a nice place could be. He offered us the ceremonial chambers, the antigue guest house, an especially well-preserved part of the ruins where in the late 19th century the famous archeologist Teoberto Maler had camped when he was excavating the ruins and he also offered to accompany us to Temple IV, the highest temple in all of Tikal from where the sunset supposedly is breathtaking. We chose latter one (of course!) and climbed the 64 meter high temple.
Imagine a maya temple sitting on a small hill in the jungle and then peaking out of the dense treetop-carpet by around 30 meters, dominating all the space surrounding it. Done? Now, add some monkey screaming and bird twittering, some fog over the treetops, and then the three of us, sitting on the highest point in the jungle, overlooking the mighty scenery to our feet. There we go, that’s Temple IV. We watched the sun set and the tops of Temple I and Temple V who also peak out of the jungle slowly disappear and put up the tent on top of the pyramid, on a small 3*7m platform. Getting in and out of the tent was not of little risk because there were only 30 more centimeters to the falloff of the pyramid’s sides. Once we had our feet in the tent we put our heads out and just watched the incredible star ceiling hanging over us, accompanied by roaring monkeys. During the night I heard some of the most unreal noises, screaming, rattling, hushing and felt like a little kid, camping for the first time in his life.
After only 4 hours of sleep we got up around 5 o’clock in the morning to silently brake down the tent. Flashlights had to be kept down also, because there are guards patrolling deep down in the jungle. There was thick fog, so thick that we could not see from one corner of our platform to the other (and from side to side it was only about 7m!). The sun rose around 5.45 but unfortunately there was just too much fog to see the actual sunrise. But what we saw was probably just as beautiful:
When the sun started to rise we could slowly start to see over the jungle and see the fog disappear, starting high up with our platform and then slowly descending to our feet into the jungle. For about one hour we were sitting like on clouds, with only our temple sticking out of the dense fog that covered the jungl. Everything was accompanied to the sound of the monkeys waking up and oiling their vocal chords.
Around 7pm came a group of tourists with headlamps but left soon because of the little visibility. We stayed on our camping round until around 8 and then descended to find something to eat and drink and to continue our expedition through Tikal’s ruins.
It was around 3pm when we left the Parque and returned to our Jaguar Inn’s campground where we had left our belongings in one a rented tent. After a quick wash and a huuuuge meal for our grumbling stomaches we took a bus to Flores where we then said goodbye around 7pm. Sebastian and Lena were obviously really happy and thankful to have found a spanish-speaking german guide who showed so little scruples when it comes to bribing or bargaining. My pleasure, hope to see you guys again soon!
I left Flores around 9pm with a Guagua which would bring me directly to Guatemala City. Arrival time 7am.
Although my bus was of the worst kind (cheapest company), had hardly any springs left and literally every seat was broken, I fell asleep right away and didn’t wake up until a 50 km before Guatemala city. When I woke up it was already 8am, the bus was parked and apart from me and an elderly man in the front there was nobody left in the chicken bus. Slightly panicking I asked the man where everybody had gone and he explained me that the bus had just broken down for the 5th time and most people had gotten fed up and taken taxis for the rest of the way to the capital.
Apart form the two bus drivers who laid under the truck, hammering against the motor, him and me, the german dude at the back of the bus who had slept like a stone there was nobody left.
With a lot of time on my hands I sat down in the gas station’s small shop with a coffee and started writing this blog entry.
Hope you liked it, here come the pictures: