Friday, 9 October 2015

Trying to Tikal the boxes!

The problem with Tikal is the wildlife! They are extremely inconsiderate when one is trying to sleep under canvas and, yes I’ll be honest, its quite scary when you’re not sure what’s making the noise in the dead of night and there is no one to hear you scream. OK so logically I know that monkeys will most likely stay in the trees and Jaguars and Pumas will probably want to keep their distance (I would have been lucky to see one). I know that the majority of spiders are harmless and the snakes too will only bother you if you scare them (which I had no intention of doing). I know too that murderous humans are rare and aliens are even rarer! Logic often runs away and hides in the nearest unobtainable crevice at these moments though, leaving space for Mr Irrational to waltz in and smugly hijack the empty stage! His patience paying off, having been waiting on the stand-in bench, rehearsing his lines, preparing for this moment - to shine once more.

Spot who got here before me! (Overland Magazine)
The other problem was that only 3 nights before I had watched a horror film that involved an almost
exact setting! It was called The Ruin, and it involved a load of teenagers going to check out a forgotten Mayan ruin in the jungles of Mexico. It could have been filmed here! Of course they all died horribly, painfully and slowly. I didn’t do this intentionally. I have a bunch of films on my hard drive and when I’m bored, I’ll just pick one at random. There are at least 100 films on there. I had to just go and pick that one, completely by chance. Despite it’s cheesiness, it still struck a cord that night.

Having left El Salvador the week before, I had visited a foster home called FeViva, about 40km over the border. The road in felt nice. It instantly felt nicer than El Salvador for some reason. It felt cleaner, greener and altogether safer. I know Guatemala too, has many security issues, but, well, I put my more relaxed approach down to the fact that I hadn’t really read up on those yet! The phrase ‘Ignorance is bliss’ was never more appropriate than now! It also didn’t win the ‘most dangerous country of the year award’(unlike El Salvador)!

The border had been quiet, friendly and extremely easy, with everything close-by and well organised. This made a refreshing change and it meant that I made FeFiva in good time that day.

Feviva is one of the projects supported by Rally4Life (the charity we have collectively raised a little money for along this journey) and so I wanted to check it out and say hi to the kids who had found shelter there. I thought Rhonda might add a little excitement to an otherwise ‘normal’ day for them.

The kids are all there for various reasons. It could be violence, poverty or loss of a family member. They range from 5 years old to 17 and yet, despite their rough start in life, they all had a smile on their face and I felt that had a lot to do with this place. Without it, their situation could have been a whole lot different. Many others find themselves begging on the streets but these guys had a bed, food and an education. They had a future that looked bright.

I stayed just one night (conscious of not wanting to get in the way) having given a talk about my journey with Rhonda. They all listened intently as my translator frantically tried to keep up with my unprepared ramblings. They giggled at the right times and asked lots of questions at the end so I guess it was a hit. I certainly enjoyed it.

From FeViva I rode along the fairly quiet and gentle roads, up to a slightly higher and cooler climate
just 2 hours away. I rode into the cobbled streets of Anitgua by early afternoon and was instantly struck by it’s beauty.

Antigua is where all the tourists go and so prices are inflated here. That is my only criticism. It is otherwise the perfect rest place for a weary traveller. A picturesque, colonial town surrounded by volcanoes and beautiful countryside. Menus  are mostly translated, people are friendly, there is a great night life (which of course I had to sample) and I managed to find myself a quiet, fairly cheap hotel a little out of the centre with a wonderfully helpful owner. Here I would chill for a few days and wait for my camera battery to arrive from the US (the second attempt after the first one arrived in Costa Rica 2 weeks after I had left).

I spent 6 nights here, just being a regular tourist. The public parking in town is at a premium, costing a small fortune. I had to find an alternative. The first night we put Rhonda up some stairs and into a spare room of the hotel. The next day though I met up with CATours. A local motorcycle tour company who offered Rhonda a bed for the night, in a dorm of 7 or 8 other bikes. It was much easier to get her in and out of here and so she was relocated.

I blame THEM (Jose and co at CATours) for my severe hangover the next day, although I may have
been the instigator, having discovered there was a Welsh bar in town! A really cool place (even if you're not Welsh) that I wished I had found a few days earlier for the England/Welsh Rugby game. The mural on the wall had been optimistically painted just the week before the match. The owner, Sion, clearly hopeful of a win! He was not let down. That night turned into early morning, several clubs and a lot of Jack Daniels! It was in one of these clubs that I saw my first genuine dance off! It was amazing. Girl v Boy, both with some unbelievable moves. Back flips, break dancing, you name it, they were doing it. I was almost drunk enough to join in! Thankfully, a small part of my brain, called reason, popped in and diverted me in the nick of time! It was a lucky escape for all involved!

6 nights flew by. My only real excursion, aside from a little ride up a big hill, was a climb up an active
volcano called Pacaya. It was a nice walk but slightly disappointing in the sense that it was full of other people and we all climbed up in an organised line! I had hoped to see some flowing lava but the best I got was a dry and black lava field. We did manage to roast some marshmallows on a hot spot though! They were delicious!

My lovely hotel owner had been chasing my package for me and had been told that it would take another 12 to 15 days to arrive. I decided then, to ride to Belize via Rio Dulce and Tikal, spend a few days on the Caribbean coast and then ride back via Flores. Hopefully my parcel would have arrived when I got back and I could then continue my journey North in to Mexico.

Tikal is a famous Mayan Pyramid site here in Guatemala. It is surrounded by 2 million hectares of jungle, and is teeming with wildlife. At dusk the tree tops come alive with monkeys, rustling and chattering their way through the canopies. The mini Capybaras potter and graze happily around the tent and the parrots' screech is unmistakable. There are actually 300 species of bird in the area, several species of monkey and 5 species of cat. It's wonderful - except at night when they are all monsters out to get me!

The temples themselves are really something to behold. I’m tempted to use the word awesome here - because they really are awe-inspiring! You can climb up a couple of them via a wooden staircase built at the back and the view over the surrounding jungle is mesmerising. It was so quiet. Most of the time I was alone with the wildlife and the history. It was a truly beautiful experience. I considered staying on top of one of the temples for the sunset but quickly changed my mind when I considered the long walk back to my tent in the dark! Why does a millimetre of canvas make us feel so much more secure?

After 2 nights here, I packed Rhonda up, and moved on to Belize, heading for Caribbean coast.