After a sleepless fifteen hours of overnight travel consisting of two buses and a taxi, Kale and I made it to Flores.
Traveling overnight was our best option as we needed to transfer onto a new bus in Belize City; a get-in-and-get-the-fuck-out kind of place.
And that’s exactly what we did.
Our bus got in at 8:20am, and we were on our next bus to the border at 8:40am.
This was my first experience on what the locals call a chicken bus: an old school bus that is super cheap to ride and packed full of people, their luggage, and cardboard boxes with chickens in them.
On this bus we met and chatted with a few locals, played some songs on my ukulele, and I got to sit on top of the luggage in the back of the bus for a good hour after giving my seat up to a woman toting a two-year-old son and freshly-made three-week-old baby girl.
Once at the border, we packed ourselves into a taxi alongside seven other travelers and arrived at Los Amigos Hostel in Flores a few hours later.
Los Amigos - the first hostel of our trip - chosen because Kale had stayed there three years ago and had a really great experience.
The place was buzzing; a pod of hammocks were hung to the right, a restaurant and lounge at the back, treehouse bedrooms above, and beautiful paintings were covering the walls.
We were swept away into a quiet second building and given a private room hidden under the stairs. We had to duck under a staircase, climb through a hole in the wall, and jump off a counter to get into our room. As interesting of an entrance this was, it was now our home for the next three days.
Getting to know our surroundings, eating a good meal, and napping was definitely needed. We walked around the streets and Kale was amazed by how much had changed on the island. There were new restaurants, bars, hotels, and hostels all over the place. Even Los Amigos had tripled in size. All of this had happened over the past three years because of all the attention on the Mayan calendar. Flores had become a hotspot for tourists for a place to stay in order to get a look at the Mayan ruins in Tikal.
Menus in English consisting of giant portions of hamburgers and fries, pasta with cream sauce, and ice cream sundaes – although tasty - didn’t really seem too Guatemalan to us, so we went out searching for the locals.
As we walked over the bridge into the city of Santa Elena with a mini-mall and Burger King at the main intersection, we found ourselves sitting at a local restaurant eating tacos made by a mother and thirteen-year-old daughter, followed by a large coconut purchased from the back of truck from a twelve-year-old girl packing a machete.
We had begun to find what we were looking for, real life in Flores, but that all changed once Kale met Maui – a white Mexican with mop-top dreadlocks and countless tattoos who sells his handmade jewellery and exotic animal bones on the street along side his wife Judy and six-month-old son Olie.
We sat and chatted with the couple for about two hours, going over all the crystals and different animal parts that covered his blanket before he begun to tell us about Uaxactun; a village in the jungle about a four hour bus ride from Flores that he has been living in - off an on - for about twelve years.
Our eyes lit up and we sat like children while he told us story after story. When he told us how to get there, and told us we could stay in his hut and leave our extra baggage at his house in Flores we immediately started to pack. We bought all our groceries, firewood, water, and candles and set off on Saturday afternoon.
We spent four days and five nights living amongst the people of Uaxactun. The moment we got on the bus we were instantly the minority causing giggles from children, staring and funny looks. The citizens of this one thousand people village don’t see Caucasians very often.
A pack of boys ran after us once we stepped off the bus and took everything we had and carried it to our new home. They stayed with us for about an hour and returned at least three times each day.
The young girls made eyes at Kale, drew pictures with me, and danced around. The boys played the ukulele while Kale played guitar and yelled my name as they ran by hoping I would look up at them.
The hut we were staying in was located on the property of Don Elfido, the mayor of Uaxactun. He and his wife Ampalo live on and run a small campground called Aldana’s Lodge. Aldana’s was equipped with showers, washbasins, an outhouse, cabins for rent as well as room for tents, and livestock roaming the property.
Everyone cooked over an open flame and Ampalo was kind enough to share hers with me. She would come in and out of the kitchen while I cooked taking a peak at what I was creating. We had more then a few awkward moments when she would try to strike up a conversation with me or tell me the names of the foods I was using and I had absolutely no idea what she was saying to me. For the first couple days I felt like she didn’t like having me around because of our language barrier, until one morning she grabbed my waist and said “Bonita” - which means “beautiful”. I wish I could go back and pick her brain; what is it like being the Mayor’s wife, having raised eight children, feeding the children at the school house, having to put up with random strangers who stumble upon her property looking for a place to sleep and call home for a few days. But now that I think about it, I don’t need to ask her, I already know. She does it all out of love – for her husband, her children, her community – she is very much a woman; a woman who reminds me a lot of my Grandmother.
Kale and I set off on a few adventures while in Uaxactun. There are two sets of Mayan ruins on either side of the village that have not been made public just yet. We got to explore all alone. The sizes of these structures were massive and completely boggled my mind as to how the Mayan people built them.
In the village there is a small museum filled with artefacts found while excavating these ruins. The shelves were filled with clay bowls, cups, had two skulls, and special jars for drinking cacao. There was a table with different whistles, arrowheads, and earrings just like the ones we saw in Cozumel in Alejandro’s collection. The shopkeeper told us that there would have been plenty more but a lot of pieces were demolished when the workers first started excavating, having used dynamite.
After exploring the local ruins we headed off on the bus at six in the morning to Tikal – a giant set of Mayan ruins and major tourist attraction. With a backpack full of food and walking sticks in hand we set off on a four hour hike around Tikal.
Monkeys swung in the treetops overhead and bright yellow butterflies danced by. The deeper we went in the larger the temples became. We hiked up eight different structures, one of which was sixty-four meters high. We sat in one structure which overlooked four others in a court yard and imagined what it would have been like to live there, to have it filled with life. How they used different seeds for paints, fruits for glue, animals for clothing and giant rock slabs for buildings. My mind is still completely dumbfounded by how they could have made these buildings so large, some perfectly symmetrical, and for what purpose? I guess we will never really know…
When Kale and I returned to Flores we were warmly welcomed into the home of Maui and Judy and stayed for a few days. We shared our stories of Uaxactun and begun to plan our next move.
Guatemala City was on the radar as a get in, get out kind of place until Kale received an email from a random man on Couch Surfing inviting us to his Communal Home.
Having just been in the jungle for five days, the thought of being in a city was a little overwhelming but hey, what are we here for - to experience as much of Guatemala as we can.
So, next stop, Guatemala City!