Antigua / Isla de Flores / Tikal / Rio Dulce / Livingstone / Pto Barrios / Guatemala City / Talisman . January 2022.
Well continuing with the story, I left Antigua in the night around 4pm and took a shared bus to the capital City, Guatemala. It’s a very short distance, about 40 minutes’ drive time and went to one of the many bus stations, but this one in particular was to the Isla de Flores. It was a good bus with a top and bottom level, i.e a double decker. I was on the bottom, with a great reclining seat. I slept a fair part of the nine-hour journey, we departed at 8pm and got into Isla de Flores at about 5am. There is something special when you arrive to a place just before sunrise, everything is peaceful and deserted. I was with another traveller, a lady from South Korea, we walked from the bus terminal for about 40 minutes, finally crossing a river and onto the Island of, ‘Isla de Flores ‘. Beautifull place, all the house are coloured and the village itself encased in the middle of a very big lake. I found quite a nice hostel to stay, called Casa Grethal on the opposite side of the lake, in a quite countryside environment and only took 5 minutes to cross by boat. After that I spent the rest of the day wandering around this village. It’s quite a unique environment, when you first arrive by bus you get off in the town of Santa Elena. Then you walk towards the lake and cross over a bridge which brings you onto the Isla de Flores. Its small but very pretty and very much a touristic town, with small hotels and shops. I spent three nights and enjoyed the time I had here. The main reason why everyone comes here, is to visit the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, they are the most important in the Mayan Empire and are extensive. I took one of the daily group tours which depart from the island. It’s a nice day, the journey takes over an hour to arrive and then with your guide you walk several kilometres around this site visiting the many pyramids, temples etc that are here. As it’s a full day, I brought water with me and had a snack in one of the restaurants there. It was not expensive. The tour itself does not include the entrance into the site, which is 150 Quetzal, it is quite expensive and I do not think sadly they are investing all this money they receive in this site. The drive from Isla de Flores is enjoyable and you get to see more of the surrounding countryside and to go with a group is also nice as you get to meet new people. So, on the fourth day I left Isla de Flores and took a day time bus to Rio Dulce, this was about a four-hour journey, which took me further down into Guatemala and close to the Beliz Border. You get off at a small town at a very basic bus terminal and walk a short distance to the bridge and then you go down to the river. Here you will find a largish platform where you can buy your boat ticket to the town of Livingstone, which is right on the ocean and at the mouth of the Rio Dulce. I managed to get the last boat departure which was at 2pm and was a two-hour journey. The Rio Dulce is a popular place to stay and there are many lodges banked on the side of the river. It’s a very nature environment and is nice to stay for maybe three nights. Livingstone is a rather unusual place and it was for that reason I was going; it is well known for its black community. There origin comes from the black slave trade and they came from a ship which was shipwrecked on this coast line and from here they formed their community and actually there are quite a few along this area. You will find these communities in Beliz and Honduras. When you arrive by boat from the River Dulce, you are struck at how isolated the small town is. You can only access it by boat, there are no roads connecting this place. From here you can connect by boat to Beliz and the town of Punta Gorda, which is about 45 minutes or you can connect to the port of Puerto Barrios, which is a thirty-minute journey. You arrive to the principal jetty point where you disembark and from here, I walked about 10 minutes and found a nice hostel right on the river bank in town. Had its own jetty or pier which you could walk along as well as hammocks. It was called La Casa Rosada and I stayed here three nights. It was enough time to explore and get a feel for this place. With the black community here, you were struck by their appearance. They are big people compared to the Mexicans and keep themselves apart from the others. I had two full days, first day explored the town and the second day walked out of town and followed the beach line. Frankly the beaches were very poor, but kept on walking as I heard of some natural springs you could visit. After probably an hour and a half, arrived to a building which was the entrance to Siete Altares. I had to pay an entrance fee for which I was rather sceptical and when I got in, it was as I thought. The installations were poor and really the length of time to get to where the springs or small falls were, was not worth it. These were only two places Livingstone offered, Playa Blanca and Siete Altares. You take a regular boat and visit these two places. Pretty poor really, the only feature worth knowing about Livingstone was its remote location and the African Community that lived here, nothing else. The restaurants were a little expensive and after three nights, it was time to move on, destination, the capital, Guatemala City. The next morning walked the short distance to where the regular boats left and took the first one out to Puerto Barrios. It departed at 5.30am. Journey was about 40 minutes; on arrival I took a taxi to the bus terminal. I did this as I had a lot of luggage. It was a short journey; in reality, you could easily walk it. From the bus terminal I took the regular bus, a 45-seater to Guatemala City. The buses here leave very frequently and the journey time is about 6 hours. Quite an uneventful journey really, the road was good and the bus was comfortable. As we had left at about 7am, we arrived into the city in the early afternoon and had plenty of time to check the hostels and decide where I would stay. The first one I went to was full, Taquila Sunrise and so went to my second option, Nostalgic, an older but just a little scruffier than the other, but it had space. This place in reality was much better located as I was right in in the old part of the city and no more than twenty-minute walk from the main square and the palace. I ended up staying here for about seven nights, as the last few days there was a national transport strike and they blocked all the road going out of the city. Anyway, the first few days was fine, I explored the main square, went inside the palace, which was very interesting. They had a great market close by, where I lunched and explored. I met an American at the lodge, who was giving out free reading glasses to the poor communities. He had been doing this for years all over the third world. He invited me along to a prostitution area, or red-light district to give these glasses out. It was only four streets parallel to where we were. What an experience, we walked down to this area and it was just one long street, quite sinister. Their small rooms or cubicles had the doors opening to the street and you could see the girls or ladies inside. We actually went inside several and spoke to them and my friend did a basic eye test and then gave the person her glasses. Walking along the street was frankly an eye opener, men walking the streets, women hanging out of the doors. I took the one and only photo, after my friend said, ‘for god’s sake put it away,’ Nothing happened and after about two hours we returned to the hostel. This was such an experience, doubt if I will forget. I spent a lot of my time wandering around the colonial centre of Guatemala, as this was covid time, the museums were closed. So, I spent my time watching and observing the people. There is a lot of suffering here, people sleeping rough in the main square, drugs, alcohol all being taken. Guatemala is poorer than Mexico and the rich have everything for themselves and most people here do not have much. There is as I mentioned before, a large indigenous population and you can distinguish them from there brightly coloured dresses and they also speak their own language. I was planning to only stay four nights in the city, but there developed a big transport strike, the government was trying to impose a basic insurance for all those in this sector. In the end neither side backed down and for four days, the roads were blocked by Buses, Moto Taxis, Taxis etc. These people earn little and an imposition of what appears to be sensible, has a big cost factor for these people. In the end the government backed down on the issue of the insurance and put it all on hold . After the sixth day I was able to take the bus from Guatemala City to Tapachula, I left around 7.30am in the morning, as it takes about 9 hours. The bus was comfortable and the ride smooth and interesting. I was crossing into Mexico this time on the pacific side and the last time I crossed it was inland from San Cristobal. We arrived to the border town of Talisman and we all disembarked in front of the Guatemalan Customs. It was very straightforward and we were stamped out and after we all boarded again the bus for the short ride to the Mexican Immigration. This was going to be interesting, because I was entering for the second time and I wanted to effectively receive another 6 months. All the gossip I had heard before from other people, was that they were now giving shorter re entry visas than before. As always you need to be prepared, presentable and say what you want, as really there was no reason why they should not give me the maximum stay of 6 months. On presenting my passport to the official, I requested tourist visa 6 months and after asking me where I was staying in Mexico, he stamped 180 days. Just shows, do not listen to the gossip. After an inspection of the luggage, which was very brief, we boarded the bus and headed to the Mexican town of Tapachula.
Soon this journey of two years will come to an end, will post one final blog after this one.