We needed an extension to our holiday visas and so instead of paying the customs guys $50 like we normally do, we decided to actually leave the country and visit somewhere cool. Tikal and Flores were our chosen destinations. More ruins set in the jungle and a tranquil little island town.
As with most of the journeys we have been on whilst in Belize, the day starts early. We were up and at them at 5.15am, and half an hour later we were making our way to the bus stop where we would witness the sunrise whilst waiting for our bus. The sunrise here is awesome and something I will miss. It appears over a great stretch of water and slowly ascends into a never ending sky.
The 6am bus is the one thing in Punta Gorda that is always on time. We boarded the bus armed with reading material and food. Beautifully crafted sandwiches, a chilli, flap jacks and chips n dips would be the fuel for our bodies on the all day road trip.
The journey would be broken up several times. Once to change buses at Belmopan, a taxi from Benque to the border, a collectivo to some junction, and finally a chicken bus to Tikal. It seems a lot of travel but our books and the excitement of being back on the road, made the time fly by.
We arrived at Tikal around 5pm and duly set about sorting out our sleeping arrangements. We decided on getting hammocks and so set them up on the fringe of the jungle.
Once camp was ready, we went to explore what we could of the ruins in what little time we had left before the park shut for the day. Due to our arrival time, our entrance to the park was allowed the following day too, and so we decided to head for Temple 5, the best place to watch the sunrise, to get our bearings for the morning.
Tikal is beautiful. A huge jungle which is home to lots of wildlife ranging from Toucans to Jaguars, and even Turkeys that look like Peacocks. The sound of Howler Monkeys greets you as you walk towards the main entrance, a daunting yet hugely exciting experience.
We walked around in awe until we eventually found Temple 5. Then we stood in awe for a while before deciding to head back to camp by a different route to everyone else in the park. The path led us to darkness and confusion. Our torch was pretty rubbish and Dom started to get scared. I was OK. I knew that all we had to do was retrace our steps, an inconvenience but nothing more. Our getting lost seemed like a blessing in disguise anyway, as we got to witness one of the best night skies I have ever seen. Millions of stars shone brightly in the pitch black nothingness of space. If I were to go to Tikal again, I wouldn’t bother paying for camping. I’d simply stay in the park after nightfall and kip in one of the ruins. It certainly was an experience I’ll never forget.
After stumbling along narrow paths strewn with tree roots, in the darkness, we finally got to camp. We ate some of our chilli and rice, which due to being in a bag all day, was fairly warm. Due to the risk of food poisoning we decided that it may be safer to go to bed hungry, and so we did, falling asleep to the amazing sounds of the jungle.
We awoke early. We had another sunrise to catch but this time from the top of a huge temple. On our way to the park entrance we stopped to talk to a tour guide and told him about getting lost the previous evening. He looked concerned and said to be careful as the last person to get lost was missing for 5 days. Some people never get found apparently. Yikes! We didn’t actually make the sunrise but the view from the top was well worth the early start.
After wandering around the rest of the park in amazement at the ruins and wildlife, our water started to run out, and as we had no cash left, we decided to head to Flores.
We got a collectivo and on arriving, looked around for a place to stay. We settled on a lovely hotel with a balcony overlooking the lake.
Once we had dropped our bags off and freshened up, we were out of the door and on the hunt for street food. We found some in the shape of tacos, and so sat in a lovely little square tucking into them and washing them down with a salty, iced lime drink.
Next up was an ice cream and a cocktail. This was followed by more cocktails whilst watching the sunset over the lake, before more, yeah you guessed it, street food. The day had been long so we headed home to bed.
An early night ready for another early start. The early night was kindly interrupted by a brass band playing outside our hotel. It appeared that someone in the family who owned the hotel was getting married, and so the trumpets and the drums turned up to serenade the people who had gathered to make the wedding decorations. Nice touch.
The morning of our last day in Flores saw us walk the ten minutes or so to the mainland town of Santa Elena. Here we would unsuccessfully shop for shoes, eat street food, drink fruit drinks, and take in the sights and sounds of a busy market.
Then we wandered back across the bridge, and took a boat across the lake where we would look at Flores from an observation tower, high up in the trees on a hilltop. The sun was hot and the lake was wet and inviting, and so after a quick stop off at the hotel, we ordered lunch and swam off the restaurants pier.
Our lunch was cheap. A bargain in fact. Three courses and a drink came to about a fiver between us. After lunch we hit the shower before taking advantage of the price of wine. It is really expensive in Belize and so was nice to buy a bottle for the normal price. We took our wine to the lake and enjoyed it with more street food. After eating more than we needed to we strolled back to the hotel to finish the wine on our balcony.
It was a great few days and gave us the thirst to travel again. But although it was fun, the border guards only stamped our passports for a week and so we ended up paying the customs people in PG anyway. We were not too disheartened though. We had an excellent time and I cannot recommend Tikal or Flores highly enough.