Four days, four countries- burritos and human sacrifices.
Flores / Tikal — Saturday 22/4/17 — Tuesday 25/4/17
Kate: We arrived back from El Mirador on Saturday afternoon and then went for a night out with our hiking buddies. Guatemala has relatively strict drinking rules and most bars close at 11pm and only 1 bar in each town stays open until 1am which means the nights out in Guatemala are relatively tame. The hostel where we staying in Flores has a night time soundproof bar where you have to enter through 3 doors to make it soundproof and comply with the town rules (… sound familiar Sydney?)
We decided to also visit the Tikal Mayan ruins because it seemed they had something different to offer to the El Mirador ruins. The main temples of Tikal are completely excavated and quite pristine looking in comparison to El Mirador. Although very touristy, it was nice to see the temples excavated and appreciate the sheer size of them. We paid a little extra for a guide (also English speaking) on recommendation from our friends who had seen Tikal before El Mirador as they thought you would learn a lot more about the Tikal civilisation with one but it was a complete waste of money. The bus was an hour late and the tour guide cut the tour time from 4 to 2 hours. He didn’t tell us anything useful and just told us how far away everything was, we didn’t have time for anything and how we should have woken up earlier if we wanted to see all of the ruins. He was just trying to take the tour to his mate’s comedor where he gets commission instead of guiding us around Tikal. We left the tour group and managed to see double the amount of temples in the final 40 minutes than in the 2 hours with the guide.
We went to the supermarket in Flores to top up toiletries and suncream etc. It was so expensive! Everything was more than the price in Australia or the UK, including shit Guatemalan suncream that doesn’t work for $20!
San Ignacio — Tuesday 25/4/17 — Thursday 27/4/17
Naomi: The protocol for enetering Belize is as follows: a Guatemalan bus takes you to the border, a man gets on with a wad of Belizean money and changes your Guatemalan cash at a questionable exchange rate and then you get chucked off the bus, walk across a bridge and into Belize immigration. As soon as you walk into the Belizean immigration hut people go from speaking Spanish to English (no sweat for our bilingual talents). San Ignacio is a super laid back, Caribbean-feeling town a few miles across the border where the waiters are called things like Blaze (“coz I Blaze all day” GENUINE QUOTE. The man was a genius) and take the liberty of rapping whilst serving you drinks. Kate challenged them to a rap battle with her Belizean name G-Fizzle (“coz ginge is a way of life”)*. Food in Belize was about 22 times better than in Guatemala and we had a favourite “greasy spoon” style food stall called Mickey’s snack shack that served the best burritos for a $1.30/80p (I just guessed that exchange rate).
Belizeans are very happy to help tourists and seemingly not to make money. A guy on a bike walked 40 minutes with us and some Canadians to the river (he said it was a 10 minute walk and then kept saying “it’s just over here” every 5 minutes) and then just sat and hung out whilst we splashed around for a few hours and then walked back with us. The whole way there we cynically assumed there would be a catch but there wasn’t. Maybe he likes watching women in bikinis. We also completely blew our budget (again) on a cave tour. Such spelunkers.
Kate: But we went on the ATM (a Mayan name abbreviated) cave tour as our friend Franny had recommended it, even for the US$85 price. This tour was so much more professional than any tour we took in Guatemala. Everything was explained very clearly at the start with all risks outlined (the type of things that wouldn’t even be considered risky in Guatemala). Again, it was a requirement to go fully clothed in the caves where we were swimming up to our necks and treading water. We hiked for an hour to the caves which included 3 river crossings we had to swim through. The caves were super cool and definitely the best of the trip so far. There were 100’s of awesome stalactites and stalagmites but the main reason the cave tour exists is for the preserved Mayan ruins and remains in there. The Mayans used the cave for human sacrifices to the rain gods. They would give the human sacrifice ayahuasca (a type of hallucinogen) and then disembowel them or rip their heart out, all without anaesthesia. It was considered an honour to be a human sacrifice so some people volunteered. Another custom of the Mayans was cranium modification. When a baby was born they would tie a piece of wood to the front of their head so when their skull was hardening it would grow out to be a flat forehead, this was actually a sign of wealth. There were quite a few preserved skeletons and skulls in the cave with the cranium modification.
Naomi: We only stayed in Belize a couple of days because activities and getting around can be pricey so we took the cheap and cheerful local bus to Belize city and then a fancy bus with the most overzealous air-conditioning known to man to Mexico. We met an American at the bus station who happened to be staying in the same hostel as us. He introduced himself as Brett but when he offered us his IPhone to hotspot internet off his name on his phone was listed as Steve Landon. He also checked into the hostel as Steve. He spoke a lot about the media and the future of technology, he was probably a spy. Hey Steve/Brett if you’ve bugged and traced me, I liked your bandana.
Cancun — Friday 28/4/17 — Sunday 30/4/17
Kate: We arrived in Cancun early Friday morning from the overnight bus. It was immediately obvious how different it was to Belize and Guatemala. Cancun is probably a bit of a tourist bubble but it is so developed and westernised. I haven’t been to LA but I imagine it is what LA could feel like. We stayed in Downtown Cancun which was actually a pretty cool area with bars and cafes. We found a café with a version of my favourite type of sandwich on the menu (turkey, cheese, avo, mayo, tomato and cranberry) which was such a treat after Guatemalan food.
The hostel we stayed at included breakfast and dinner, a pretty good deal for $20AU a night. The breakfast was a made-to-order omelette with pancakes, cereal and coffee so given the quality of the breakfast we were excited for the free dinner that night. We couldn’t believe our luck with the dinner menu — “enfrijoladas’’!!! Just as we thought we had escaped liquid beans, we got a whole plate each worth of them. (Refer to photo for Naomi’s excitement about the enfrijoladas.) To be fair, it was the fanciest looking liquid beans I have seen but still it’s liquid beans.
The hostel had organised a night out to one of the big clubs on the hotel strip in Cancun. Entry and drinks was US$65, which is crazy expensive considering a beer is $1. We skipped that option and found a bar with locals in the Downtown area. It was playing some decent house music, the best of the trip so far but the drinks were expensive there as well, $7 for a gin and tonic, basically the same price as the Union.
Naomi: Cancun was super tacky and full of American Spring break vibes even though it wasn’t even spring break. So many bum bags and socks and sandals. Some of the hotels had day beds on the beach, Geordie shore style, and Kate suggested we get one as “I’m sure they are free but you just buy drinks” so Kate swaggers on up just to be told they are $150 with drinks on top for the privilege of laying on the bed for 4 hours. So we just bought a sandwich from the shop and ate it on the sand next to the beds. (I’m sure it’s what they did in the outtakes on Geordie Shore). Cancun did have the world’s best supermarket. One where you can buy a sample size of wine (by sample size, a large glass if you want) and then walk around doing your shopping and looking at all the wines while drinking all the wine. Up your game J Sainsbury. Mexico also has a great airline called Interjet where you get 600 times the leg space of RyanAir. Buuuuut at least with RyanAir one of the employees in full uniform at the airport doesn’t tell you Cuba has an exit tax that you have to pay in advance, AND THEN POCKET YOUR MONEY BECAUSE CUBA DOESN’T HAVE AN EXIT TAX AS OF 2015. Thanks Mexico, love the two gullible looking girls from Cancun xoxo. And off to Cuba we go! (UPDATED — Kate: We hit up interjet on our return flight for Cuba for a refund, as we also found out we got charged double the price for the visa to add to the non-existent exit tax, we are owed $1500 Mexican Pesos! 4 hours in the airport, at least 15 different airport staff and a trip to the federal police later we are still $1500 Mexican Pesos poorer. Naomi: I did write a very strongly worded email to interjet customer service so I’m sure we’ll see that money any day now…).