Mayan Adventure

Even though we ordered breakfast last evening, the staff manage to botch the entire breakfast service in an impressive manner. Most of us do not get any breakfast at all and the ones who do get breakfast don’t get their complete orders. But we don’t have time to wait around for it to be sorted out as we are scheduled for a trip to the Tikal Maya ruins which are nearby. Along the way there we pick up a guide who speaks excellent English and as a bonus is an actual scientist working with the Mayan heritage, awesome! J1 (Jessica) and I talk about music and it turns out she’s pretty well listened and she convinces me to give Kanye West a try.

We arrive at the Tikal site and after a walkthrough of what there is to see we start towards the first site. On the way we see lots of really cute South American Coatis (or Näsbjörnar if you’re Swedish) rummaging around in the undergrowth. We learn that the vegetation around here doesn’t get very old, the trees don’t get much older than 250 years for instance, making it really hard to determine the age of a lot of the things found around here. Another interesting fact is that maize cannot grow on it’s own but needs human assistance, raising the question of how they actually did it way back then.

The first pyramid isn’t very large, maybe 20 m, and climb-friendly so we all go up and look around. We also learn that all the structures were painted red with the steps in blue back then and the reason they know the age of the pyramids is that they’ve carbon dated the paint. Far from all the structures in Tikal have been excavated and only some of them restored as opposed to just clearing away the vegetation. The area is pretty large and the walk to the next one is almost fifteen minutes through jungle. It’s worth it though since this was the largest man-made structure in the world prior to the first sky scrapers being built. From up top the view is amazing and actually the very same as can be seen when the Imperial shuttles are first landing on the Ewok moon Endor in The Return of the Jedi!

Next up is another set of temples that they used to keep their famous calendar in shape and naturally our guide explains all about what a sham the 2012 hysteria is. Last stop is the courtyard, which is the main event in Tikal with two very large temples and some smaller on the side. We get 45 minutes of free time to climb around here which I utilize fully. This place is really awesome and now I’m no longer as sorry that I missed Chichen Itza (which I didn’t mind much to begin with since it seems much more touristy and also because the cenotes diving was something I wouldn’t have missed for the world).

On the way out there is a bunch of souvenir shops and I buy another football jersey plus one with the local beer brand Gallo. Back in town we go out for dinner to that island where people were robbed a few years back. We’re a large enough group to not be very worried, and find a nice place with a live band and good food. They also have old school chewing gum, the kind made out of sap from the the gum tree and was put out of the market some time back in the fifties when they invented synthetic gum. We each buy a glob but the taste isn’t very good, still fun though and something to treat friends to back home.

We take the long way home to see some more of the town before buying breakfast at the supermarket, the hotel had their chance and lost it already. As we leave the supermarket the staff has already closed up and pulled down the iron curtain. It’s kind of interesting to see the clerk checking the eye slit before opening the door to let me out, it says something about what kind of country we’re in.

Gallo shirt: 60 quet
Football jersey: 100 quet
Quetsal: 15 quet
Food box: 70 quet
Guide tip: 20 quet
Dinner: 120 quet
Gum: 10 quet
Breakfast next day: 63 quet

Bye Bye Belize

Today we’re leaving the paradise island and on the boat back to the mainland the words “Pass my Aloe Vera to that red guy over there” are heard as a bottle of salvation makes its way to Johan. Back in port we hop on the bus and begin our journey to Guatemala. Before leaving Belize City we pass a somewhat odd graveyard where the graves extend all the way out to the divider in the middle of the road!Lizard The landscape gets interesting as we leave town for the countryside, hardly two trees are the same type and you can see the mountains faintly in the background. Johan is something of a bird guy and since he’s sitting next to me today we keep an eye out for them. I don’t manage to see many but Johan spots both a Parrot and a Toucan on the way.

As we come up on the border we get stopped by a police man for not paying our road tax, as soon as that is settled though we get to go on to the border. At the border there are lots of money changers and I get to get rid of my leftover pesos that I’d almost given up hope exchanging.Humbug I think I get an okay rate since the guy has an ID card and everything showing that he’s a licensed money changer. But next time I go on a trip with lot of currency juggling I’ll bring a note of what exchange rates to expect since the brain tends to not work very well on vacation.

On the other side of the border you need to wait some more and we take the opportunity to get some food. Karina warns us about an ATM in town that people have been skimmed at before. Since Åsa and I are both nerds we decide to use the time we have here to try and find the ATM in question and see if there is any skimming equipment attached to it. After asking the locals, using a lot of gestures, for the location of the ATM (the word is “cajero” by the way, rather useful when you’re a tourist) we head up a hill to a gas station. The ATM turns out to be rather well protected though with a thick piece of plexi glass around the card slot, so there is little risk for skimming.

The Guatemalan currency, the Quetsal (named after the bird), is roughly 1 to 1 with the sek, making it easy for our vacationing brains. Guatemala is the first cheap country we’ve come across so far and we get lunch for two for under 30 Quetsals.My palm leaf hat As we get deeper into Guatemala we also get higher up. The vegetation is thicker and greener and there are lots of cozy little villages to look at on the way. Our goal is a town called Santa Elena (the one in Peten province) and we arrive just before nightfall.

The hotel is really nice but we’re told not to wander around on our own in town since it has happened to other groups that they’ve been robbed. So when it comes to dinner time we’re a rather large group heading out. Too large in fact, we’re so many that we can’t really decide and Åsa and I make a break for it and eat dinner at some food court in a mall nearby. Malls are kind of fun to just wander around in when you’re in a country you don’t know much about so we do just that and look at what the price levels are and so on. It seems for instance, that cameras and other technical goods are about the same level as in Sweden, while food, candy and booze is significantly cheaper.

Exit fee: 40 blz
Sandwich + beer: 30 quet
Snacks and beer: 24 quet
Dinner: 55 quet
Candy: 62 quet