How to make friends and be like Indiana Jones. At the same time. #score

By the time we got to Guatemala’s central highlands, we were already 3 and a half months away from home. Our pack-up-and-go game plan was a thing of beauty and we stopped questioning the origin of the meat on our plates. Life was sweet and we (somehow) found a lot of new things to talk about. Now this is quite important as our journey from Lanquin to Flores was a bumpy 10 hour trip.

However, this time around we decided to take the backpacker shuttle – although slightly more expensive, the backpacker shuttle goes from point A to B without stopping at every tree to pick up small families and bags of radishes.

So there we were, loudly discussing the things we want to be buried in one day (me – jelly beans, The Bearded Wonder – it’s a toss-up between Fresca and popcorn), when the friendly hungover guy next to me asked from which part of the Netherlands we are from.
“Oh, no – we’re from South Africa,” we yawned. “From which part of Canada are you?”
“Oh, no, I’m from Germany.”
And then the guy in front of us said – almost like the drum roll at the end of a joke – that we really suck at identifying accents. Which is true – I’m really bad at figuring out where people come from. If it sounds weird, it’s Scandinavian and if it’s twangy, it’s Texan. The Husband on the other hand knows his northern Danish from his southern Swedish.

Needless to say, Mr Hungover really got us confused, because his accent was perfectly global. No twangs, no hard s’es or rolling r’s. So we got talking – and we talked about everything. We discussed his accent, his future, our future, the world’s future, Silicon Valley (which led to artificial intelligence and Guy In The Front telling us that we’re all heading for Mars and, inevitably, destruction) and eventually we discussed semiotics, linguistics, cyborgs and Mr Hungover’s drinks tab from the previous night. My brain was working overtime by then, and the Husband was already listening to his 8th album on the iPod. And all of a sudden we arrived at our destination and we had to grab our bags and jump off the bus. And that’s how 95% of our on-the-road friendships go. You meet, you greet, you share a bottle of beer and you go without even introducing yourself. I really do like the simplicity of it.

Flores – it’s almost like an island, but not really
My goodness, Flores was amazing. It’s almost like Milnerton in Cape Town – surrounded by water with a bridge connecting it to the mainland (in this case, Santa Elena). It’s small, walkable and beautiful. Really, really beautiful. A Polish girl (I thought she was French) who we met along the way was eaten alive by bed bugs at the only hostel in Flores, so we ended up staying at a two-star hotel. We had our own bathroom, a jaw-dropping view of the lake and some pretty groovy bed sheets and box TV, straight from the set of Dynasty.

We didn’t have a kitchen though, so we lived off muesli and yoghurt prepared in takeaway coffee cups. We only had (and still have), one spoon between the two of us, so we took turns to eat. Lunch was usually peanutbutter and banana sandwiches, made with a Swiss army knife on a small blue plastic plate. Oh the nostalgia of travelling on a budget – it’s the penny-pinching that usually leads to the best memories (like the time my friends and I had to sleep in a sauna because we didn’t have money for a room. But that’s a whole different story from a whole different time).

On why we went to Flores
So Flores was our last Guatemalan destination, but also one we were looking forward to the most. The ancient ruin city of Tikal is the pièce de résistance on the ancient Mayan trial and is a short 2 hour drive from Flores. Now you can either spend the night in Tikal’s jungle (on a hammock during tarantula mating season), or you could get up at 3:30am to catch a shuttle from Flores to see Tikal’s animals and birds on their breakfast run. I’m not even going to explain which option we went for.

Exotic animals FTW

Our early morning hike through the rainforest of Tikal was mind-blowing. We had to keep our eyes as wide open as possible so we won’t miss a thing – which was challenging at first, but after seeing a family of crocs the moment we entered the park, they stayed pretty much open. We saw loads of toucans, a silver fox, a mammal of some sort (Google says it’s a tapir), loads of tail-swinging spider monkeys and growling howler monkeys, a pizote, a very colourful turkey, four tarantulas (ask the Husband, I kept my distance) and a green snake who misjudged its landing and almost fell on top of us mid-walk. Amazing. And because the ancient ruins of Tikal is literally smack bang in the middle of this rainforest, you really do feel like Indiana Jones, discovering ruins and trotting around with a water bottle and an untamed sense of adventure. What’s more, Tikal is really big – according to our guide, only 20% of Tikal has been uncovered. Everywhere you look, little heaps of ruins are covered with tangly roots and trees. If you stand still for too long, a tree would probably grow over you.

The ceremonial centre and the ‘town square’ area close to the famous temple is very popular and touristy, but if you venture into the more overgrown areas, you can walk for quite a while before seeing any other happy snappers.

Now the ceremonial centre was really interesting. It was the setting of the occasional human sacrifice, and also where the town’s people would gather for announcements and a chat. The sweet thing about the Mayan ruins is that they are so cleverly constructed. If you stand in front of the palace and clap, it generates an echo that sounds just like the call of the quetzal (the very flamboyant, although shy, national bird of Guatemala). Apparently this echo was used to summon the people to the ceremonial centre – and it made for a neat effect when everyone started to clap.

I really wish that I could describe the essence of the Guatemalan rainforest and Tikal to you, but I just can’t. Standing next to a crumbling ruin and being surrounded by a gang of spider monkeys swinging from tree to tree and playing, jumping and monkeying around is beyond any adjective of analogy.

Oh Flores, I don’t want to leave you

We really struggle with leaving places behind. Guatemala has been so good to us, and Flores was one of the many highlights. Everyday life in this small little town is characterised by a beautiful simplicity – amazing street-food, after-work basketball games and meet-ups on the court, lakeside bars next to the corn roasters and grandma’s fishing with their grandchildren when the sun goes down.

But we had to go, because my brother was on his way to Belize and we couldn’t let the poor man go diving on his own. #familyreunion!

Now for some photos. Whooot!

Flores - Guatemala
Loads of colour and cobblestone roads. And it feels like Miami at times (I blame the palm tree in this photo).
Cobble streets and yellow houses. Where do I sign up?
After school basketball. Everything happens on this square – from the primary school’s fitness class to old men playing football when the sun goes down.
We had dinner here every night. Tacos and rellenitos, tamales and custard cups. And big cups of icy cold horchata. Oh what fun we had.
Sunset over the lake. Sure is pretty!
The famous temple at Tikal (and a bunch of tourists).
I had to consult Wookieepedia because I know a famous Star Wars scene was shot here. So for all us non-Star Wars fans, it was Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope.
Pizotes really do have the cutest little noses. Google them, it’s so worth it.
The snake looked a bit sheepish after almost falling on top of our heads. He made a quick getaway after gathering most of himself.
The lesser spotted red-bellied bird. I just made that up. Have no idea what it’s called.