Sunday, December 4, 2011

Flores/Tikal and Caye Caulker

Last friday morning I finally forced myself to leave Lake Atitlán and move to my next destination. If I had the time, I would still be staying at the lake right now, but if I want this trip to be about volunteering and cultural exchange I need to make sure I don't spend too much time in hostels with the european crowd (people traveling from europe, particularly Germany, outnumber traveling Americans twenty to one -- as a matter of fact I have only met one American since leaving Antigua).

Going from one place to another in Guatemala almost always means passing through Guatemala City. This was at least my fifth time passing through, and my hatred for this city hasn't lessened at all. It's dirty, loud, and crime-ridden. I got out of my bus and hopped straight into a taxi, which took me to the next bus terminal, where I bought my ticket and went to the upstairs of the terminal to... well, not exactly hide but to be somewhere where I wouldn't attract any attention. Most gringos fly or take a first class bus from Guat city to Flores (my destination) rather than taking the cheap buses, so a white guy carrying all his possessions in a backpack in the second-class bus terminal isn't exactly inconspicuous. Fortunately I've gotten pretty good at putting on a "don't mess with me" face and walking at a pace that makes it look like I know where I am and where I'm going, even when I have internally entered minor freakout mode. 

I got on the bus at 5 PM, and after an excruciating 13 hours of trying unsuccessfully to sleep, the bus arrived at 6 AM in Santa Elena. From there I took a taxi to Flores. Flores is a really neat island town on Lake Peten Itza connected by a short bridge to mainland. After I got to the hostel and locked my things into a locker I took a shuttle over to the Tikal Ruins -- about an hour drive. I like to compare going to Tikal to taking cough medicine. When you have a cold, you take cough medicine -- and it tastes really horrible, but afterward you're glad you took it. When you're in Guatemala, you go to Tikal -- and it can be a pretty unpleasant experience, but afterward I was glad I went. The problem is that I was a bit spoiled by Copán. It was small, but quiet and almost empty. Tikal, on the other hand, has been a bit disneylandified -- and not the site itself, rather the crowd it attracts. I was so disturbed by the huge groups of overweight foreigners that I immediately left the main attractions and headed for the quieter trails. It doesn't surprise me that so many people come -- I had prepared myself for that. What I was not prepared for was how unappreciative and disrespectful a huge number of these people were. They would walk in huge groups and talk, or yell, rather, unnecessarily loudly, completely oblivious that there are spider monkeys and toucans in the trees overhead. People would also complain (just as loudly) about how far they have to walk or how there are way too many stairs to get up to the top of the temple.  Then, when they finally make it to the top of the temple, they don't even take in the view -- they complain some more and snap some photos as if they are only looking for evidence that they had been there.  I wasn't quite as inspired by Tikal as I was by Copán and I didn't use a guide, so I have did little research and have almost no information about the temples in the pictures I took. Basically all you need to know was that Tikal was a giant city that completely dominated mesoamerica a long, long time ago. If you want more info, consult my good friend Wikipedia. Okay now time for some photos:

Tower IV towers above the jungle canopy.
The view from the top of Temple IV. Jungle stretches out for miles and you can see the tops of some of the other temples.

 As I mentioned, the best part of visiting Tikal was just strolling around on the jungle paths and seeing all the wildlife. I wasn't able to get a picture of the toucans, which were definitely the coolest animals I saw, but here are some of the others:
One of the paths.

Do not feed the crocodile.

Pileated woodpecker.
So that's that. Right now I'm in Caye Caulker, Belize and I've spent the past two days scuba diving. I rented an underwater camera and got some awesome pics, which I'll post tomorrow.

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