Monday, April 20, 2009

A run, erm a slow walk, for the border.

Trying to get out of bed the next morning was a chore. Every muscle in our bodies ached and bruises were starting to appear on our arms and legs. So we kept movement to a minimum by spending the day researching the next leg of our journey at another internet café (this one was air conditioned).

Our next stop was Tikal Guatemala – so first search how to get across the border and then where were we going. There were three choices. One stay at the Park. Of course this was the most expensive but it meant we wouldn’t have to travel to get to the park when it opened at 6am. The next choice was El Remate only 45 minutes from Tikal on the shores of the lake. It was the cheapest option but the con was that it wasn’t much of town. The third choice was Flores an hour and half from Tikal. It’s the popular choice because it’s a pretty little town on an island in the lake. But it meant getting up earlier to and spending even more to get to Tikal. I was torn the pros were good pros and the cons were good cons so I chickened out and let Adrian make the choice. For him it was all about money talks so we were headed to El Remate. I found a place for under $25 sent an email, looked up bus, collectivo and taxi prices and routes. Doesn’t sound like much of a day but figuring out accommodation and transit stuff takes up 25% of our time on a good day and sometimes it’s all we do. And it’s enough to be pretty exhausting. So it was early to bed after dinner and packing.

Next morning we checked out remembering to get our towel deposit and after breakfast at Eva’s it was time to make a run for the border – make that more of a walk. We were still sore from ATM afterall. As we approached the collectivo area, a taxi driver offered to take us directly to the border for $15. Since bus only goes to the nearest town we’d still have to take a taxi or collectivo to the border crossing. We weighed our sore muscles versus the convenience then bargained him down to $10. It was such a good deal that we didn’t mind when he picked up a mother and two kids along the way to share the cab.

In 30 minutes we got to the border and entered Belizean immigration where we paid the ridiculous exit fee of $18.75 US. Sure a small portion of it went to the national park ministry but not enough to make me feel good about paying it.

Then it was time to get through the the Guatemalan border where the official money changers descended upon us. Their rate from Belizean dollars to Guatemalan quetzals was spot on so we gladly changed that over. But their rate for Mexican Pesos was less than half of what it should be. We only had 120 pesos ($12), which was pretty useless in our wallet, so we changed that too.Once the transactions were complete it was time for the taxi drivers to descend. One guy offered to drive us to El Remate for $25. After spending so much money in Belize we really wanted Guatemala to be cheaper and were intent on taking the collectivo or chicken bus and tried to refuse but the taxi driver was quick to remind us that we’d have to transfer to another bus at the city of El Cruce because there was no direct collectivo form the border to El Remate.

He dropped his rate to $20 and said he’d wait for us to go through immigration which gave us time to think about his offer. It also gave us time to realize that the Guatemalan police like their guns as much as, if not more than, the Mexicans do. The guard was holding a very large shotgun. But he was smiling. Actually everyone on the Guatemalan side was smiling. It made me realize that in the past month we hadn’t seen much smiling – I'm not saying that the Mexicans or Belizeans were miserable, just that the Guatemalans seems a whole lot happier. I hoped this meant good things for Guatemala They even smiled when they asked for a 10Q entrance fee despite there being no entrance fee for Guatemala. Such official skimming is so bizarre. But since it was less than $2 didn’t care and compared to Belize’s official fees it was nothing. With that we got our our third country stamped in our passports. Bienvenidos a Guatemala. And just as promised, the taxi driver was waiting for us as soon as we turned around. Adrian and I decided that $20 for an hour+ taxi ride directly to our hotel wasn’t that bad. So we told the driver okay which made him smile even more.

Not only was there more smiling in Guatemala but there was also more English after a month of Spanish and Creole. Our driver was fluent which meant Adrian began pestering him about the temples of Tikal being in Star Wars. The first half of the ride was along a dirt road that was so dusty that the leaves and grass to the side were white. Then we hit a new paved road that took us to the town of El Remate. It was really just a road that ran along the lake lined with little tiendas and hotels. Our driver didn’t know where Hostal Hermano Pedro was but kept asking people until he got the exact directions. Now that’s service.

The hostel was good. The room was basic but had a fan, a private bathroom and wireless. The owner didn’t speak any English but she spoke slowly and didn’t laugh at my crappy Spanish making it surprisingly easy to communicate. Okay so there wasn’t going to be fluent English anywhere but I was understanding the Spanish being spoken to me which was a huge improvement from our first three weeks in Mexico.

The wireless was slow so I left the photos to upload while we went for lunch at the fancier Casa de Don David just over the road. Afterwards we walked around the town, consisting of walking down the street and back again, then took in the sights, consisting of horses mating along the lake, before deciding to just flake out at the Hermano Pedro. While Adrian lounged in the hammock and I tried to arrange the advertised shuttle to Tikal but the owner wasn’t around. And her teenage daughter and didn’t quite know what I was trying to ask for. Instead, she was trying to sell me a private guided tour and I just wanted the shuttle for the price on the poster. There had to be a cheaper way so when we went back to Don David for dinner (what can I say the food was good and the servers were super nice) I asked at their front desk. They had the shuttle we wanted for the price we wanted and even at the time we wanted (5am, gulp). He was super nice and helpful just like everyone else we’d met in the country. It was beginning to feel a bit like Pleasantville. I hoped when we woke up it would still be that way.

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