Guatemala and Belize

Guatemala and Belize

We arrived in Guatemala City and found it was not raining. After Costa Rica this was a very good sign. Costa Rica is very green for a very good reason; rain and lots of it!

We arrived late on Monday and spent Tuesday sorting out what we were going to do for the next couple of weeks and going to an ethnic clothes museum which was actually quite interesting. We surprised the lady in the travel shop in our posh hotel by ordering bus tickets to Flores – all her other customers flew there!

Wednesday morning found us at the bus depot where we were searched before getting on the bus. This is quite normal for Guatemala City. Then we had a 8 hour journey to Flores.

Flores is sited on a small island on a large lake and it quite fills the island. You can walk round the place in about 15 minutes.  Because of tourism it is a prosperous place with lots of hotels and restaurants.

Our hotel in Flores, Guatemala

Our hotel in Flores, Guatemala

The main form of transport is tuk-tuks (the sound the tiny engine makes) and very useful they are too.

Tuk-tuks in the streets of Flores

Tuk-tuks in the streets of Flores

There is a very pleasant promenade all around the island which enhances the appeal of the place.

Chris sketching by the lake, Flores, Guatemala

Chris sketching by the lake, Flores, Guatemala

Many of the restaurants look out over the promenade and the lake, and one is reassured of ones safety as one eats, as the Guatemalan army, heavily armed, processes past in pick-up trucks at regular intervals. There is a lot of drug smuggling trouble in Peten, the province of Flores, and the army is very evident. Most of the trouble is between the drug gangs – they are not very interested in tourists.

Flores is the tourist town but the big town of the area is just across the causeway on the mainland – Santa Elena.

The causeway to Flores - sponsored by Gallo, the beer of Guatemala

The causeway to Flores - sponsored by Gallo, the beer of Guatemala

It is to Santa Elena that one goes for cash machines and the larger shops. And one uses the tuk-tuks to do it.

Chris in a tuk-tuk, Santa Elena, Guatemala

Chris in a tuk-tuk, Santa Elena, Guatemala

The main reason we were in Flores was so we could visit Tikal, one of the largest Mayan ruins in existence. It is about an hours drive from Flores. As Tikal gets crowded when visitors fly in from Guatemala City, and it gets hot and humid in the Tikal jungle setting, it is best to start early. So at 4:30 (!!!) one morning we folded ourselves into a mini bus and set off for Tikal.

Tikal covers a vast area and has lots of big temples. Unfortunately it is built of the local limestone which is easily weathered and so all the carvings have disappeared over the centuries. Only some barely decipherable remnants let us know what we are missing. This is in contrast to Copan, in Honduras, which we visited in 2006. There the temples are built of sandstone and the carvings survive. So for the lay visitor Tikal is impressive but not interesting. Copan is slightly less impressive but very interesting.

But Tikal is certainly impressive.

Temple 1, Tikal from Temple Q

Temple I, Tikal from Temple Q

The Tikal ruins are built in a dense jungle which has covered the ruins. The whole area is naturally flat but it is scattered with steep hills. These are temples and building which have not yet been excavated.

Temples I, II and V from Temple IV, Tikal

Temples I, II and V from Temple IV, Tikal

The Temples are huge structures but, apparently were built very quickly, often within one year. They are simple structures – essentially pyramids with a temple on top. Some have a “comb” of masonry on top of the temple.

Temple V, Tikal

Temple V, Tikal

When you get close to them their size becomes evident.

Temple V, Tikal - the tourist route

Temple V, Tikal - the tourist route

The centre piece of Tikal is the Great Plaza with Temples I and II at either end.

Temple I and the Great Plaza, Tikal

Temple I and the Great Plaza, Tikal

Temple II faces Temple I

Temple II and the Great Plaza, Tikal

Temple II and the Great Plaza, Tikal

There is a lot more to say about Tikal but I will leave that to people who are better informed than me and to the people who believe the world will end when one of the Mayan Calendars runs out in 2012. No doubt much will be said. I don’t think you need listen to the latter group.

So after our pleasant stay in Flores we headed for Belize. It was a five and a half hour journey. The country around Belize City is extremely flat and low lying and very susceptible to hurricanes. The capital has been moved to higher ground at Belmopan but no one wants to live there. All the life in the country is in Belize City.

We passed through to catch a speed boat to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye to the north east of BC. Then a taxi to our casita.

We stayed a week at Bella Vista and did not do very much. A couple of days we took the kayak out to the reef – a twenty minute paddle – and snorkelled. The water was warm, the coral beautiful with lots of purple sea fans, and the fish abundant.

I don’t have any pictures of Belize because I didn’t download my rather few pictures to my laptop before we left Belize and my camera was stolen en route to our next destination. They would only have been pictures of dazzling white beaches, palm trees and blue seas and we have got lots of that here in the Yucatan. That will be the subject of the next posting and you will see some photos from my back-up camera.

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