Day 2 – Off to Guatemala!

As the bright sun shined into the room, it was time to wake up and start the day. Temperatures were already in the mid-80s and forecasted to get even warmer by midday. The Ramada Princess Hotel had quite the breakfast buffet with everything from an omelet station, to sausages, fruit, breads, potatoes and more. Impressive given it was included in the hotel charge. The breakfast area overlooks the ocean and the morning sun created shimmering sparkles as far as the eye could see.

In an attempt to not lose my routine, I tried to do some exercises in the hotel room though the cement floor proved less than ideal. As this was the last little bit to spend in Belize City, it was time to maximize the morning by getting as much sightseeing in as possible. The 20 minute walk into the city center felt quicker this morning, despite taking the longer ocean view route (which was well worth the view). Circling down to the brightly colored Belize sign from yesterday, and the lighthouse, it didn’t seem like many sights were missed yesterday. The city was a bit more alive, stores were open, and people were out and about.

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The first stop on the itinerary was sorting out where the bus to Guatemala would pick up. All the ticket agent said was it’s at the water taxi dock, though there were multiple docks and different people had different opinions. In either case, I was able to locate all of the options of which it could be and figured I’d Google search when back at the hotel with a working Internet connection. Despite getting Google FI, so far there was no coverage at the airport, or the hotel. There was coverage (oddly) at the restaurant last night. Though it seemed to register a connection from Honduras. Otherwise, coverage was nonexistent. I tried not to be envious as others with Verizon (my old carrier) had perfectly strong signals everywhere. But alas.

Having far more options for restaurant choices, the one that seemed to get good reviews with an eclectic menu was Celebrity. Indeed, the menu was varied. Seafood, Mexican, Middle Eastern, it was certainly a catch all for tourists. The food was as you’d expect in a tourist focused restaurant. Though the waiter was very friendly and the proximity to the ocean and hotel were definitely a plus.

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It was time to head back to the hotel, repack my luggage, and head off to the bus. Luckily the hotel was able to confirm with confidence which water taxi dock the bus could be found. In case you’re curious, it’s the dock for the San Pedro Belize Express. I’d arranged the bus tickets through the Jaguar Inn, one of the hotels in Tikal. I’d emailed about a dozen travel agencies in Belize and no one responded. I’d even emailed the hotel in Tikal I was staying at (Tikal Inn), though never heard back. The only one that responded – the Jaguar Inn. Go them, right? Funny enough, they arranged tickets through one of the vendors I tried to reach, Mundo Maya. Having seen their little tiny office I’d suspect most their business is walk-ins, not Internet.

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The 1:30pm bus was running behind by about two hours. All I could think of was I hope this isn’t an indication of what the way back will be like because it would be cutting it close for the water taxi to the islands, something to sort later I guess. Luckily they had Wi-Fi because the Jaguar Inn had sent an email saying Tikal was no longer selling park tickets and they’d have to be purchased at the border from the bank. However, the bus driver advised due to the late departure the bank would be closed. It wasn’t looking good and I was trying not to worry. Going all that far without getting into the park would be a total waste of money and time. Fingers crossed.

When the bus arrived everyone piled in. The bus was an old stage coach which likely 20 years ago was shiny with plush seats. Today it was quite dated, though still much more comfortable than old school buses I’d ridden on my last trip to Tikal. The bus touted it would have Wi-Fi though the one I was on had nothing. Google Fi continued to not work leaving me helpless if an emergency arose, at least Verizon would have let me pay to text or pay to get data if I needed it. There were only 9 of us on the bus so everyone got an entire row to ourselves, it was perfect. I threw my pack in the seats across the aisle and spread out recliner style in my two seats.

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It was 1.5 hours from Belize City to the Guatemala border. The bus crossed at Melchor. The route to Guatemala was relatively flat, windy, with trees and the occasional town. Getting the opportunity to watch the landscapes and little villages go by was well worth the trek. It surprised me that the border crossing was familiar and I’d actually remembered how to transit it, given most the time my memory is worthless that far back. Off the bus and into immigration. Belize requested $20 USD to leave, though didn’t need the departure form the airport provided, they said I’d keep that for departing via airplane. They stamped my passport and it was off down the road, around the semi-trucks, and into an open-air covered area where we all piled into lines to enter Guatemala.

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I was so ecstatic to see the bank was still open. We were well after the time the driver said it would be closed, so I’m not sure if that day was an exception or what but I was thrilled. Having left English speaking Belize behind and entered into Spanish speaking Guatemala, I leaned on the tourist desk (which I can’t believe they had but so glad they did) to help me navigate whether to stand in the line, whether the bank really did sell tickets, whether I really did need to buy tickets now versus Tikal, etc. She was fantastic and helped get everything sorted. The answer she gave, tickets to Tikal are about $20 USD and they do have to be purchased at the bank. Transaction complete, tickets in hand, it was time to re-board the bus. Luckily they said we could leave all our luggage aboard the bus.

It was about another 1.5 hours to Flores which is where the Jaguar Inn driver would meet the bus. I was so impressed as it was the side of the road in a seemingly inconspicuous area that the driver pulled over, and the Jaguar Inn driver was already there, ready to help. Amazing customer service. The driver was a strapping young man with a big grin and I enjoyed practicing my Spanish. We discussed the logistics of the upcoming pick up, where we were both from, how many times I’d been to Guatemala before, along with some random jokes about things to do for fun. It felt great speaking Spanish again, even if I was rusty. He was sweet and told me he was impressed at how well I spoke. Made me want to take classes again.

The drive from Flores was around 45 minutes, most of which was deep into the depths of Tikal National Park. Windy rounds with signs to watch out for jaguars, snakes, deer. This was jungle and completely off the beaten path. I was in heaven. Even though it had been a long day and normally I’m toast at night, I was so energized by the experience. I can’t believe I made it back to Tikal. 15 years ago I’d never imagine I’d have the opportunity again. Stoked. When we neared the entrance to the ruins, he turned to the left and both the Jaguar Inn and the Tikal Inn came into sight.

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The Jaguar Inn had been sold out that night, otherwise it would have made sense to stay there. The Tikal Inn was quite a bit cheaper (almost half the price), which was really a total bargain. Luckily the restaurant was still open and serving dinner as the Cheetos and peanuts I’d picked up at a corner store in Belize were only enough to tide me through the 5 hour journey. The front desk mentioned there was a sunrise tour leaving at 4am that included breakfast and dinner which sounded fantastic. Done. The included dinner was a set menu of a couple options and I chose the Mayan chicken stew, which was fall off the bone good.

To conserve electricity the hotel only has power for breakfast and dinner. Lights go out at 9:30pm after the restaurant closes and the world becomes a pitch blackness. The sound of howler monkeys roaring in the distance reminded me this was still the jungle. Getting the funky room tied to the restaurant actually turned out nice as I felt a bit more protection against the wild noses than all the cute bungalows. I guess there’s perks to getting the super cheap room!

Time to catch some zzz’s before the 3:30am wake-up!

Cheers,
Sara

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