After a rather debaucherous Christmas in Belize, it was time to focus on more cultural pursuits in Guatemala. First stop, Tikal.
After crossing the border, we drove for a couple of hours until finally we reached the ancient Mayan ruins. Quickly grabbing a much-needed coffee at the tourist information spot, we raced to catch up with Locho, our tour guide for the day, who’d already headed off to start the three hour trek through the grounds.
Set against a beautiful rainforest backdrop, the architecture was incredible and we listened eagerly as Locho recounted tales from the Mayan culture and explained how the settlement had come about.
Tour complete, we then hopped back in the bus and headed to our home for the night, the beautiful lake-side town of Flores.
Quickly dumping our bags in the Hotel Petén, we grabbed a refreshing welcome drink from the bar and skipped across the road just in time to catch the most stunning sunset over Lake Petén Itza.
Beautiful as it was, we had more pressing matters to tend to, namely our grumbling stomachs. Luckily for us, the street stalls were already set up and so we strolled along the waterside, snacking on the tasty tortillas and sampling their various toppings as we went.
Unhappily for me, all of the food was cold and as someone who likes their food piping hot, I needed something to warm my belly. Natalia had just the solution for me…more tequila shots! By now this was becoming a regular feature of even the most chilled nights out, but that was no problem for me as I tipped my head back and felt the fiery liquid warming my throat and finally settling in my stomach. Chased by a couple of Dorado’s and lime, my hunger was soon forgotten.
Flores seemed to be a rather sleepy town though and as our group’s numbers slowly started to dwindle, we decided to call it an early night.
By now, (day 8 of the tour) we’d been through a fair amount as a group and although we’d all cemented pretty firm friendships, strains were beginning to show against one person in particular. (By this, I don’t mean that anyone was being in any way nasty, but tolerance levels were starting to wane). You see, there was one girl in particular who just couldn’t seem to embrace the fact that we were travelling in a different country as part of a group and so whilst everyone else was making the most of every day and seeing the positives in even the most frustrating situations, she just couldn’t seem to stop whining. Of course everyone has their moments of negativity but her constant complaining and the subsequent effect on the rest of the group served as a reminder to me to always keep a positive attitude and look on the bright side of life. I just hope for her sake that she can learn that too.
That aside, the rest of the group were having a ball! My roommate Natalia and I felt more like old friends than two people who’d met just over a week earlier. Her bubbly personality and positive attitude was like a beacon of light in comparison to Little Miss Negative and we couldn’t have thanked her enough for that. Then there was ‘Mr America’ aka Greg, a source of knowledge on everything; Phillip the joker and my fake ‘husband’ (he was Aussie after all!). Lovely Sam who I could have talked to for hours, bubbly Carina and the adorable Danish couple, Morten and Jeanne. Boston-born Kayla kept everyone entertained with her hilarious anecdotes, whilst the two Max’s could drink all of us under the table. Then there was the lovely Anthony and of course, Whally – a 66 year old German lady who had the spirit and energy of a 20 year old! Last but certainly not least, there was Kaylie, our larger than life tour leader who looked after us when necessary, but mostly got the party started.
Rio Dulce (Translation: Sweet River)
Sad to leave Flores behind, it was time to cross the lake and experience a lodge of a different kind (the more luxury kind, compared to the eco lodge in Belize at least) as we rested our heads at the Hacienda Tijax Lodge for two nights of relaxation.
The days however were anything but relaxing, as we rose early to cram in as many activities as possible. First up, we headed to Finca Paraiso, the deliciously hot waterfalls just over Lake Izabel.
It was a rather overcast day, and once we had arrived (by boat and then a tractor ride to the edge of the pathway), I was a little reluctant to step into the tepid waters below. A quick swim to the falls however and I was soon relishing the hot water cascading down my back. Scrambling up the rocks to perch under the hot jets was a little difficult but luckily Mr America was there to swing me over the rocks as if I were as light as a doll. Once I’d claimed my spot under the shower nothing would have moved me for hours if it weren’t for the call from Kaylie promising her infamous guacamole and tortilla chips.
Soon it was time to do the tractor and boat ride in reverse, before scrambling around the lodge for a quick outfit change and then on to the next excursion…
Horse-back riding in the hills
Being in Guatemala, the usual Western safety precautions didn’t apply – no helmets or riding experience required, willingness to gallop though was a must! (for our group at least).
We’d been told that the horses were pretty tame but it didn’t take long for them to wander off the beaten path. Carina, Natalia and I had all had previous riding experience and so knew a little about how to handle the horses. Phillip however had none and unluckily for him (but hilarious for us) he just so happened to choose the least compliant horse of the pack.
We took a tame trot along the gravelly pathway leading up to the suspension bridges where we got off the horses to explore.
But once we’d jumped along the bridges, daring them not to hold our collective weight, we needed a bit more of an adrenaline rush and soon we were egging the horses on to run faster and faster and faster. Natalia and I were beaming as we raced to the top of the hill, wind in our hair, no care for safety just as long as we could go faster! Phillip on the other hand was begging us to slow down as his horse dragged him through the shrubs, scraping his knees on the nearby trees at every chance it got.
He soon got a little respite as we stopped off at the Shaman tower to take part in a yoga class along with some other members of our group. The setting was idyllic and normally I would have liked nothing more than a yoga class set to the backdrop of the setting sun, but the rush of the galloping was addictive and we wanted more…
We decided to head back to Raul and the horses for more running through the hills of Rio Dulce, ending with one mighty gallop back to the lodge. We’d certainly worked up an appetite and not long after we’d each cleared the tasty lasagne from our plates, we were off to bed, ready for our early departure the next morning.
This time we were moving on to Antigua for New Year’s Eve celebrations…