Sunday, January 04, 2009

From Mexico to Guatemala.

4:30am is never a nice time to get up, it's in between time- not quite night and not quite morning. Times no mans land.

I felt surprisingly chipper despite feeling that the alarm clock robbed me.

We packed quickly and headed for the bus station en route to Flores via Belize. We were a little early for our bus and had time for one last order of Eggs Mexicana.

The bus station at Chetemul is an incredibly clean, organised and efficient place. The floor of black marble tiles remarkably spotless, the white paint fresh and the signs /timetables on wall show the correct information.

Our first stop at sunrise is the Belize boarder. We are herded off the bus into a shelter where our passports are stamped and bags searched (mine more thoroughly than most). All in all it is simple painless experience.

We drive across the country and stop in Belize City and I note that most of the people on the streets are Black and not Indigenous or Latin looking as I had expected. Afterwards I read up on Belize's history and understand why. The hours pass quickly enough, we play my favourite travel game, 20 questions intermittently and before we know it we are again at the boarder with Guatemala.

If the entry into Belize was smooth, our exit to Guatemala proved to be our first testing experience. On arrival at the boarder we were faced with imposing heat and the sweet clung to me. Tempers were fraying. It seemed that certain people were queue jumping by paying officials to stamp their documents before those that lined up.

We were becoming weary travellers and the hard part was just beginning.

A man with a machine gun was delegated crowd controller and it made it quite clear that he knew all that his job entailed.

After an hour baking in the sun, we got to the front of the line and were faced with a difficult and rude official who demanded a bribe to let us in. I had heard about this on the British travellers advisory website which said that if this happens one is to stick to their guns and demand a receipt. With my Spanish or Spantalian as we started calling my mix of Italian/Spanish, we requested the official receipt, an argument ensued and we were waved a way with a rude gesture, fee unpaid.

Things escalated further when after a few steps we realised that Ra's passport was not stamped at all and without an entry stamp we would certainly have difficulty leaving and would be in a more precarious position.

We returned to the counter and difficulties arose, the passport controller refused to stamp Ra's passport unless we paid a fee, eventually we got the stamp and hurried to our bus. It was frightening and alarming to see this happening.

Once on board the bus, hot and bothered it was not long until the next calamity struck... a flat tyre barely a mile from the border. We were hopeful of a speedy change and hopeful that we would get to Flores before nightfall.


This next passage was written on board the bus

If you asked me what I thought about Guatemala 3 weeks ago, I'd probably have given you a blank expression, on a good day I might be able to locate it on a map, name it's bordering countries and tell you that the mother tongue is Spanish.

I guess your next question is why on earth an I going here?

I guess I could answer it in part and say that I am here because my friends wanted to go, typical pack mentality but that would only be true to an extent as at heart I am a traveller, a wanderer and an adventurer who wants to see everything, smell everything and try everything once.

So here I am on a bus to Flores.

As the bus goes deeper into Guatemala I am scared, every car that approaches could be filled with bandits and it is not a nice feeling. I stare down at my worn black hardcover notebook and turn turn quickly to the most well thumbed page easily, seems I have read the British Travel Advisory warnings so often that know them by heart. I am not sure why I am bothering to re- read it, but I do.

It is there in black and white, Guatemala is dangerous, it is very dangerous and it is scary to be here on a crowded bus.

Cars and trucks overtake us rarely, feels like we are alone out here. The sun hangs low overhead and the smell of burning wood is in the air. We pass the occasional house, square, flat roofed, small and box shaped, perhaps only space for one or two rooms.

The scenery is not as I imagined, now I have had 3 weeks to dream my destination. We pass lush green fields that have the occasional palm tree but foliage is generally scarce.

Near the horizon is a mountain range blue in colour as the sun prepares for slumber and it is nice to have something familiar to gaze at.

Some fields that we pass are dotted with cows and as we pass through villages kids come out to wave as our beat up bus honks its horn.

The going is slow, we stop consistently for speed humps, pot holes and it feels like a race against nightfall.

Stupidly we have not booked accommodation in Flores our destination close to the Tikal ruins and I hope I don't live to regret it.

The window next to me is open and a nice breeze is blowing, it has subdued the tempers of earlier in the day and the smell of burning wood hangs in the air. Most people are asleep but i can't as there is too much to see, too many impressions to form.

I think we are getting closer to our destination and the cars that overtake us are less threatening now. We are just in time as the sky is starting to fill with her colours and I am confident we will beat the night.


The bus pulls up in Santa Elena, Flores neighbouring town. We are asked to pile into mini vans that will take us to hotels on the island (Flores sits in the middle of a lake).

I am uneasy, we are chaperoned by 3 men and are accompanied by 3 other people. The Guatemalans tell us they will take us to a bank. Goose bums rise on my neck and I am certain that this is abnormal and will make us a target- rich cashed up tourist fresh from a visit to the ATM. I had read about express kidnappings where people are made hostages after going to the AT and i am frightened that we will become statistics.

I check to see if they are packing guns, but i am unsure what to look for- there is nothing obvious, no bulge where there should not be. Maybe i am being paranoid but scanning the others faces tells me we are all thinking the same thing.

The drive into Flores itself is short. Thankfully our driver and his two amigo's intentions are honourable.

We catch the last on the sunset from the roof of our hotel before getting an early dinner and getting ready for our second
5:00am start.

Love KP

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