Declining the offer of taxi rides from the border to Flores at several turns (asking $40.00 US for the journey), we eventually began, under increasingly heavy rain, our search for the bus station to find a cheaper method to reach our destination.
Laden with our packs, and as the rain began to get a little uncomfortable (even for us), we did succumb to the charms of a taxi driver, however only with the intention of getting ferried to the aforementioned bus terminal.
We seriously traveled 300 metres before he pulled a U-turn and deposited us on the opposite side of the ride, right out the front of what looked like a food store.
Our suspicions were quickly allayed when we discovered this was actually where the local colectivos stopped and as we had only been given $100.00 Q (Quetzales) notes when we changed money at the border, the money we’d received from our Dutch friends way back in Mexico City, finally came in useful for us to finalise our taxi fare!
In short time, a colectivo did indeed arrive and the fee to get to Flores for us was a mere $40.00 Q each!
We piled in and eventually we were on our way, thankfully with our bags tucked within the rear of the van and not as we feared, on the roof!
But for the arrival and subsequent delivery of several other passengers, it was a pretty uneventful trip through the fringes of Guatemala and after a short stop in Santa Elena (where all of the other passengers departed), we were crossing the narrow causeway that took us to the island of Flores.
This was to be our staging place from which to visit the ruins of Tikal, and we made our way towards what we understand to be the only hostel on the island, Los Amigos.
It did make us chuckle, as the woman who met us at the door lead us through to the main bar to finalise our booking, and who should we see on arrival, but Poppy and Melissa, two English girls we’d met on the ferry to Caye Caulker!
They did try and convince us to join them on their soon to be departing evening tour to Tikal, however we were more interesting in getting our bags off our shoulders and some food into our stomachs!
With the afternoon came more rain, so we severely doubted the likelihood of the girls actually seeing any sky, let alone the sunset.
It did also make much easier, our decision whether to book a shuttle to the ruins for either sunrise or simply just for when the gates opened. With the projected forecast we decided to save ourselves the extra $100.00 Q each (not to mention an hour and a half of sleep), and booked the 4:30am departure time.
With most of the occupants of our mini-van either asleep or at least half asleep, the trip was fairly uneventful, but for one small incident after we’d actually entered the park itself.
Turning a corner at some speed (after crawling the whole drive to the park, once we were inside the gate our driver then decided he was Michael Schumacher on a race track), we were suddenly faced with a fallen tree across the road!
Stopping in time, we were able to crawl past this obstacle and make our way to the park proper.
The cost of our tour also included a guide, whom we promptly left as soon as we’d passed the ticket booth. We have no qualms with tour guides as a rule and I am sure they can offer insights that we promptly missed as we raced away on our own adventure, however they are, especially with a large group, so slow!
Before long we were right amongst it, getting our first look at this most famous of Guatemalan Mayan sites.
We weren’t alone in our abandonment of the tour guide, so there was a small group of about 10 who’d followed us towards the main plaza of the complex.
It came as a little bit of a surprise (more because we’d done little preliminary reading rather than it being a new development), but the two grand pyramids of the plaza were forbidden to climbers. We subsequently learned this was after a couple of people had perished in the past, after falls from a decent height.
There was a wooden viewing point and stairs with which to reach it that snaked around one of the temples, giving us the views we would have otherwise missed.
Wandering further afield (and observing our first monkeys in the trees), there was a similar wooden structure erected enabling access to the heights of Templo IV, which undoubtedly sounds better when labelled with its full name, Templo de la Serpiente Bicéfala.
Effectively the highest point in Tikal (due to its being built on elevated ground), it is not only the spot from which sunrise/sunset tours take in the views, but is slightly famous amongst nerds everywhere (yes, I’m including myself amongst their number) for one of the views/scenes in the original Star Wars movie!
Whilst the vista was indeed worth the climb, it didn’t mean for one moment that it wasn’t taxing, so we sat for a few minutes to both enjoy the scene before us and catch our breath.
As I sat imagining X-Wings taking to the skies (another Star Wars reference), Sarah suddenly cried out in surprise that she’d spotted a Gray Fox!
I’d missed it, so went nearer to the edge of the temple where sure enough, there wandered a Gray Fox.
We were at first surprised to see one near the top of this huge pyramid, but subsequent reading has taught me that this is in fact the only Fox that is also capable of climbing trees.
The monkey sighted earlier and now this fox had been a great start to our animal watching amongst the ruins, and this was only to continue the further we wandered, starting with yet another monkey sighting!
Tearing ourselves away from watching this playful primate, it was back to exploring this expansive site and many of its impressive ruins.
Possibly as a result of its location within the park, but perhaps the most impressive looking of all the structures is the steep sided Templo V.
Tucked away almost all alone, it competes with nothing else for your eyes attention and with its impressively steep steps, it’s not hard to imagine the heads of sacrificial victims tumbled down their length (okay, so I have a gruesome imagination).
Our biggest criticism of or time at Tikal was just that. The time.
For some crazy reason our return bus wasn’t scheduled until 12:30. That’s a whole 6 and a half hours we had to spend at the site, which as already mentioned is vast, but really didn’t warrant such an investment.
Prior to this, the longest we’d spent at any other ruins was just over 4 hours (way back when we visited Teotihuacan), but that was a huge sprawl of a site where we were still able to climb the two grand pyramids, so the time we spent there came as little surprise.
As such, we found ourselves really dragging our heels and also looking for any part of the ruins, no matter how small, that we may have missed.
After visiting one such area (the fairly disappointing Complex O), we found ourselves walking along a narrow, poorly maintained trail, when we spied a few Coati (similar to a Raccoon) on the edge of the path.
Before we realised it, we were surrounded by them as they emerged from the jungle all around us!
It, in addition to the wildlife already spotted, and that which was spotted during the remainder of our time there (including some loud woodpeckers and some entertaining dung beetles), probably ultimately trumped the ruins themselves!
Our excursion did end on a frustrating note when we came across 6 young Americans (who also happened to be on our bus as well as staying at the same hostel) lounging around the fringes of the main plaza.
Running into them wasn’t the problem. Their braggart behavior however (where they talked up how they’d climbed one of the forbidden temples, one of them even claiming to have carved his initials onto the stone) on the other hand, did really piss us off!
This slight downward trend continued when we made one final trek out to the ultimately disappointing Templo VI, another remote spot which really didn’t offer a lot.
When it was eventually time to board our van, we were well and truly ready to do so
We weren’t tickled pink, yet the animals were cool. Six and a half hours however, was simply way too long…
* To reach Flores, instead of taking an expensive taxi, we were able to get a local colectivo for only $40.00 Quetzales per person.
* We didn’t shop around all that thoroughly for our tour to the ruins, however our tour booked through the Los Amigos hostel was $150.00 Quetzales per person.