After our great couple of days on Caye Caulker we headed back to the mainland and on to the Ginger. We would have liked to stay for a while longer, but already had plans in Guatemala that we had to get to.
We caught the 10:30 ferry back to Belize city and were back in the van and on the road again just after lunch. We headed west up to San Ignacio near the Guatemalan border. We had heard mixed reports about this place, but decided for ourselves that it wasn’t great. We did enquire about doing some cave tubing the next day, but they wanted an extortionate amount of money. We decided to wait until we were in Guatemala where there were a number of other places that also offered this activity.
On Wednesday morning we hit the border to Guatemala, and again had no major issues getting all of the paperwork sorted. Though the man doing our vehicle temporary import would be lucky to complete 3 in a day he was moving sooo slow!
After the border we headed straight to Tikal Parque National, the most significant and largest Mayan ruin in Guatemala. We had considered staying here for the night of the 20th to 21st(aka `The End of the World`), but were very quickly dissuaded by the number of people, vehicles, marquees, tents, scaffolding and TV crews. It took us over an hour to figure out how to get Ginger through the mess of people to the hotel where we planned to camp. The hotel was fully booked for the following night, including every spare inch of ground space which was soon covered in tents.
Once we were settled we enjoyed a bit of people watching before getting an early night. We planned to be up early the next morning to see the ruins, and then get the heck out of there!
We were in the ruins by 8am the next morning and had a great couple of hours exploring. The overall scale of the sight was impressive, as well as the individual temples which were definitely the largest we had seen on our travels so far. And despite the crowds and chaos it is such a big place that we explored a lot of it all by ourselves, well except for the monkeys.
After leaving the craziness at Tikal behind we headed down the Western road towards a town called Raxruha, where we had heard that there was more cave tubing available.
We stopped for the night, and even splurged on a hotel room for once. Friday morning we managed to find the place for cave tubing – after a couple of misadventures down some dubious 4WD tracks. The tubing was excellent! It was quite surreal to be slowly floating down a river underground. Thankfully there were some natural windows where the cave roof had fallen in and now allowed some light in. Oh, and it was also about 1/8 of the price that we had been quoted in Belize.
We had heard of a fantastic and off the beaten track place called Semuc Champey, with limestone pool formations. We had also read that it was down a horrific 14km stretch of dirt road from a town called Lanquin. What the hell we thought, we’ll give it a try and see if we can get there. About 40km short of Lanquin the ‘National Highway’ turned from a nice paved road into a nice gravel road. 2km later this turned into a not so nice paved road, and eventually just became a very muddy one lane track, with large buses and trucks hiding behind every tree and corner. This was not fun!
On the bright side the views were pretty spectacular and the local kids seemed to take great delight in yelling “Gringo! Gringo!” as we slowly passed.
We eventually made it to Lanquin just as it was going dark, and arranged a parking spot outside of the Zephyr Lodge. This is where all of the other gringos have been hiding! The restaurant and bar was full of Canadians, Aussies and Americans. A fun night was had – especially by Dave, who still doesn’t recall drinking any blue shots…
Saturday morning we tried to push on to Semuc Champey, as we had been told that the road was no worse than those we had come in on. It had been raining all night though, which made a great difference. Less than a kilometre out of town we found a small bus reversing back down a hill towards us, with all the passengers walking along behind. Apparently the road was too steep and muddy for them to pass. We decided that if they couldn’t do it we weren’t willing to try, so started reversing down the hill ourselves. This turned into a scary exercise, as every time we touched the brake the van would start sliding, often sideways. ‘Please stop! Please stop! Please stop!’ could be heard from Dave in the drivers seat. We did reach the bottom of the hill safely, and managed to get back out to the paved road without any major incident (though a couple more scary times with Ginger sliding sideways across the road). So, we didn’t get to see Semuc Champey, but know that there are many more great sights ahead. And will hopefully be easier to get too!
Yesterday we arrived in Antigua, a cool UNESCO world heritage town complete with cobblestone streets. We have settled temporarily into the Tourist Police car park for a few nights (for free!) until we start our Spanish lessons on Boxing Day. Then we will probably stay with a local family as part of our immersion learning. Christine is very nervous and anxious about this!
First impressions of Antigua are great. It’s a beautiful little town with little markets, cafes and stalls aplenty. There are three volcanoes we can see from here – thankfully only one is active. And the temperature is much cooler with days getting to mid twenties and nights a bit chilly at 11C!
We think we will enjoy Christmas here, as well as a couple of weeks while we study. It will be nice to avoid the Guatemalan roads for a while too!
We hope you all have a fantastic Christmas and New Years with your family and loved ones. We will be thinking of you all and wishing we were there for this time of the year.