My first trip to the South Pacific, centuries ago, when I was 18, I quickly realized the difference about planning your trip, as opposed to being prepared. It is necessary to have a direction, but rarely, when travelling or planning a big trip such as this, does anything go even close to plan. Here we were, on the first stop of the trip, and it was looking like we already might be parting ways.
Steve received some news about a couple loose ends, and coupled with a special opportunity back in Playa, it was looking like he was going to be returning to Mexico. I however, had no such ties and even less desire to return to Playa del Carmen and would be continuing south, without the services of Angelica, on my lonesome. We decided, being in Belize, and in San Ignacio, which we had really taken a liking too, we would enjoy another few days here before he went north and I went south.
The next few days were relaxing and fun, but passed quite quickly, and before we knew it, we were loading up the car, and as my taxi to the border waited, we said our goodbyes and Winston, the world’s best co-pilot hopped into the passenger seat, confused at to what was happening, and my two buddies scooted off. No time to really dwell on the fact that the trip had changed as fast as it had started, I hopped into my taxi and sped away to the border to cross into Guatemala for the 2nd time in a few years.
There are certain taxis in San Ignacio that are pretty much designated for runs to and from the border, and 5 Belize Dollars, 10 minutes and a beautiful drive along the river later, I was at the Melchor de Mencos entrance to Guatemala.
Upon leaving Belize, you have to pay an exit tax of $37.50 BZ which is $18.75 USD and as usual, hand over your passport a couple times, walk to a few desks, but a very uncrowded, straightforward border, then cross a bridge over the river separating the two countries, and done. Guatemala!
My first destination in Guatemala was to be the little island town of Flores, and in order to get there, I had to take one of the local busses, not to dissimilar to the collectivos I was accustomed to taking on the Riviera Maya. As I crossed the bridge into the town of Melchor de Mencos, a driver yelled at me “Flores?!” and I gave him a thumbs up, and he proceeded with a wave, implying that is where he is going. I was the first person on the little bus, put my big bag on the floor and placed my feet upon it, opened the window, and we zipped through the little town and waited for more people heading in the same direction. Once filled up, we finally got moving and in seconds, were out of the town, and into the countryside and rolling fields of Peten, Guatemala.
The difference between travelling as a passenger and driving became extremely evident as I was peering out the window with the breeze in my face. Even though our driven journey was very short, and as exciting as driving through Mexico and Belize had been, you cannot fully relax often during the drive, as we had experienced. Any noise from the car, any shudder, any police car on the side of the road, a poorly marked turn off, a stretch without a gas station, all created a stressful situation as you, yourself, are in complete control control of your journey and outcome. With my feet relaxed up on my bag, some strange latin music playing, an empanada in hand, I felt a sadness that the trip had gone as such for Steve, but at the first time in awhile, I felt fully relaxed and I could rest assured that I would end up at my destination with no issues.
Closing my eyes, I felt the road get very bumpy, as I opened them again, I saw a straight line of completely unpaved road filled with potholes for as long as I could see before it rolled beyond the hill in the distance. I felt quite certain, being as the driver must do this route a few times a day, that we were on the right path, but instantly hypothesized how Steve and I would have reacted and doubted ourselves, that we were on the right road, if we were driving this in the car! I laughed to myself, rolled up a sweater to use as a pillow against the side of the van, and closed my eyes again.
Never fully reaching sleep, we made a few more stops, to accommodate more people than the van could hold, shuffling our positions, putting blocks of wood on the ground to make seats and like a packed like a can of sardines we rolled into a dusty car park, a short ride from the island of Flores.
One thing that was an instant surprise coming from Mexico, was the honesty of not only the bus driver, but the Tuk-Tuk driver as well. Half asleep, and with a new currency in hand, I had given a few Quetzal’s (the Guatemalan currency) extra, to the bus driver. He flagged me down as I walked off to give me my changes. I stood a little bewildered at his honesty and told him to keep it but I thanked him, and asked him, being a third party, how much the cost is for a ride to the island of Flores. He said 5 Quetzal’s or about 80 cents. Being a tourist, I expected, and had no problem paying 10 as I knew the drive was about 10-15 minutes. As a habit, I always ask the price before hopping into any transportation and heading off, and without hesitation, the driver said “cinco (5) Quetzal’s amigo.” That instantly put a smile on my face and we sped off weaving through the minimal traffic, over the arched bridge, to the small, circular island town of Flores.
I thanked my driver, hopped off and walked the cobbled roads through a narrow path leading in the town of Flores. A gentleman sitting on a lawn chair next to his rather empty “Tour Agency” asked me “Hostel?” I nodded and with a smile, he pointed up the road and said, “up there, first right. Los Amigos Hostel. If you need any info while you’re here, I’ll be right here.” He smiled, and pulled the newspaper up in front of his face, continued reading, and I really believed him that he would be nowhere, but there.
Los Amigos Hostel is one of the only real hostel’s on Flores and is all you really need. Run by a very relaxed Dutch guy, Los Amigos is full of character. You walk from outside, and feel like you have … walked outside. The inside is open, full of nice rock, plants, great seating areas and a very, very delicious and relaxed restaurant at the back. The privates rooms, and dorms are wooden huts, surrounded by garden, and you feel like you are in the jungle, especially when it rains! There is no kitchen, but the restaurant is well priced and the hostel is equipped with good wifi, relaxing areas, comfy beds, and good bathrooms, making sure you do not need to look any further when staying on Flores.
For the first time in a long time, I had been able to put my things down, gather my thoughts and relax. It was also the first time, in a long time, I had been completely alone. Living the past 18 months with Steve and Winston, making the first part of the journey to Belize together, and now being alone and situated in Guatemala, I looked around to discuss with someone how impressive this little town was, and there was no one. The feeling of being a little alone was quickly overshadowed by my excitement to be in this place, and also my appreciation for two great companions like Steve and Winston, wishing they were there with me.
A couple days enjoying Flores, then off to Antigua.