Jedi landscapes, Sketchy Border Crossings, and Familiar Territory
03.03.2007 - 06.03.2007 10 °C
So, in the last week Jay and I have manipulated our way through three different countries. Three different currencies. Two Languages. In only a few days we´ll be headed to our fourth... mixed feelings! On one hand I´m extremely excited to be returning back to my family, friends and I´ll be bearing all these gifts and stories and I can´t wait to share everything in person. Not to mention, getting the wedding planned out and moving into new accomodations and looking for a good paying job (hopefully teaching positions too!)... things will be very busy, and very exciting.
On the other hand, we have done so much in our two months here, learned so much (I can speak four languages conversationally now! Hah! I even learned how to say Hello in Mayan!), experienced so much. I know that I´m going to be missing out on so many enriching experiences that I would have received from my time spent further in Belize, Guatemala, and any other country we may have reached. However, this does present the necessity to return to these countries, and hell, I´m not even 25 yet; I have lots of time.
What have we done so far? Let me recap the highlights:
1. The San Diego Zoo - checked off the lifelist!
2. High-fiving a wild adult Gray Whale in Guerrero Negro
3. Observed ancient cave paintings in the middle of the Desert
4. Watched Jay catch his first fish - and release it
5. Observed Jay consume his first donkey - and not release it
6. Slept overnight in a ferry and waking to watch the sunrise over the Sea of Cortez
7. Learn about the finer aspects of Soccer and how it can consume an entire populace, more than any NHL finals could
8. Eat filet mignon with my Uncle Bob in the Center of Mexico
9. Spend $6 on real silver and turquoise earrings
10. See a Dali Exhibit, and a Diego Rivera exhibit in one go
11. Witness thousands of butterflies in the middle of a high mountain pine forest float around me
12. Climb the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon, and mourn as the Sun overwhelmed and scorched my neck
13. Be present in a mayan church where Jesus lies in a coffin and families sacrifice chickens and belch coca cola
14. Marvel at the jungle-enveloped ruins of Palenque and attempt to read ancient mayan inscriptions
15. Get ENGAGED! underneath a thousand waterfalls in Agua Azul
16. Participate in the exciting festivities that is Carnaval in Campeche
17. Explore rivers of Flamingos and gorge on stuffed squid on the beaches of Celestun
18. Explore rivers of Fat Americans and gorge on jam sandwiches on the beaches of Isla Mujeres
19. Delight in the all-inclusive snorkelling and food eating and hammock lying in Xel-Ha
20. GHOST RIDER in Chetumal!
21. Witnessing crocodiles and Jabiru storks and hiking up pyramids off the New River in Lamanai, Belize
Tikal... Well, before I get to Tikal, let me share the border crossing firstly. After leaving the internet cafe in San Ignacio, we hopped in a shared taxi cab to the border crossing, and once we got there we realized how we had forgotten to take out enough money in San Ignacio because we spend half of it on Rum instead. How dumb is that? Anyway, we had just enough to make it over the border (after paying the exit fees, etc.) to Guatemala. Immediately upon crossing the border we went to get our passport stamped for entry and the man behind the counter asked for 10 Quetzals (the Guatemalan currency) as a fee. My book said that there were no official fees but they tend to charge anyway, and I asked for a receipt. The man hesitated, and put the books in reach after stamping them. I grabbed them both and took off without paying the fare - what was he going to do? Immediately we were bombarded by 6 year old children hawking taxi rides for 40US to Flores... can these kids even be allowed to drive? Anyway, it was a ridiculous fare, so we told them no, many many times (they continued to follow us anyway) and we walked across a bridge over a beautiful river where it appeared the entire border town took to swimming in in the middle of the afternoons, it was full of people playing in the waters.
We were continuously offered rides to Flores from everybody, and we continued to ignore them, and began to resent border towns and the people who prey on the ignorant. Case in point - We finally found a collectivo that would take us to El Remate (halfway between Flores and Tikal, we were trying to get to Tikal to be in the site at the first opening of the gates) for 20 Quetzals each, which was all that we had left. They picked us up and a couple of other tourists and other Guatemalans and nicely let us hit an ATM as well, providing some well needed money. Jay and I sat in the front of the Collectivo, and good thing too, because in Guatemala the 1 seat 1 person rule doesn´t apply, they will stuff in as many people as there is volume in the minivan, regardless of whether people are hanging out the windows or on the roof or whatever.
We were finally dropped off in El Remate, and the other english speaking couple was too. They asked me how much we paid for the ride, and they told us they had been cheated, and paid 100 Quetzals. They tried to argue with the Collectivo guy but it was no use and the van sped off. Who knows, perhaps the locals only paid 10 Quetzals each?
Anyway, Jay didn´t want to stay in El Remate, he wanted to find a more expensive room right outside the gates of Tikal, except there were no more busses headed to Tikal (we missed the last one, according to the local trinket selling children). However, there was a woodcarving artisan shop right across the street from us that I wanted to check out, and I went and left Jay briefly, and was informed by the shopkeeper that there were 5am collectivos that travelled to the ruins site, that didn´t open until 6am anyway. I went back to inform Jay and meanwhile he had been discovered by a driver who was selling Jay a room in a nearby hotel for 50quetzals (approximately 7$). Jay was leery, but I insisted that rooms in Guatemala were cheaper than the $40US he wanted to spend in Tikal, and convinced him to let us check it out, to his dismay. Luckily for both of us though, the room was actually quite nice, so we agreed to take it, and we were then also informed about a sunrise tour to Tikal that allowed one to enter the gates before the official opening in order to watch the sunrise. After interviewing the guide directly in his home across the street, we agreed it would be a good idea.
That night was one of the colder nights we have experienced, and it rained and poured and we were convinced that the sunrise tour would be nixed due to the poor weather (we were supposed to be up and ready to go at 4am). At 3:30am we both got up to go across the street to let our guide know we were cancelling, and when we got out we realized the sound of the rain had been amplified by the roof, and it wasn´t that bad after all, and we actually did want to go. So, we made a mad dash, quickly got our gear packed, changed, brushed our teeth, and made it out in time to greet our guide who was none the wiser.
The tour was fantastic! The whole group (about 20 of us) made a mad dash to the other side of the site and the top of Pyramid 4 in order to watch the sun rise. Well, due to the precipitation there was no sunrise, but it was still awe-inspiring to watch the mists clear over the forests and the ruins that served as the backdrop to the landing in the Ewok planet in Return of the Jedi. We were surrounded by towering forest, pyramids, howler monkeys, toucans, parrots and our guide was excellent, giving us insider information regarding the history of the area, the local flora and fauna, and the excavation process. We spent over 4 hours there but that is definately a site we will need to return to, we did not get a chance to see enough, in my humble opinion.
Our guide nicely drove us to Flores (where we went to another ATM to pay him), and found a great hostel (again 50Qs) to sleep in. Flores, Guatemala is a beautiful little colonial town set in the middle of Lake Peten Itza, connected by a bridge to the dirtier and more commercial Santa Elena. We found a company that would take us to Mexico (Palenque) the next morning, and I enjoyed walking around the town and buying crafts and knickknacks. I always enjoy shopping.
The next morning at 5am we were picked up by a bus who promised an easy 8 hour journey by bus and boat across the border to Palenque. Well, it wasn´t that easy. The lancha boat driver apparently wasn´t paid, and the bus driver on the Mexican side hadn´t been paid either so the group was stranded at the border for over an hour, the man at the immigration office enforced an unofficial 45 quetzal exit fee, we didn´t have enough time to convert our quetzals into pesos so we were yet again with no money, and we arrived in Palenque exhausted and beaten. But we were back in Mexico! Hurrah!
Tomorrow, I will post up the pictures from the last few posts, and recount our final adventures in Mexico. Until then, Tess