We did manage to arrive in Flores eventually, or more specifically the highly recommended Los Amigos hostel on Flores Island. Our journey after entering Guatemala was lengthened by a fatal accident on one of the thin mountain roads (please wear more motorcycle helmets, people of Central America), the aftermath of which was not going to be passable for a number of hours, so our intrepid driver elected to find and – somehow – negotiate a fairly precarious detour.
Flores is the capital of Petén, Guatemala’s largest and northernmost province, and sits on the shore of Lake Petén Itza. We were actually staying in the oldest part of of the city, which is located on an island a few hundred metres into the lake and connected to the main city and suburbs by a road bridge.
Tasks like uploading the last blog, showering and the 20 minute faff that Ben likes to have whenever he arrives at a new hostel were completed and we headed out to explore our new surroundings and grab some food. When we returned, the party people at the hostel had retired to their hidden, soundproofed ‘Nightlounge’, where you can be as loud and unruly as you want without disrupting the sleep of the other residents. Smart. I collapsed into bed after only a few beers, but Ben and Mike stayed a little later and apparently performed unacceptably in a few rounds of beer pong.
The next day, we had booked ourselves onto the ‘Sunset Tour’ of the nearby Tikal ruin site. This is the ruins of an ancient city, and one of the largest archaeological sites of the pre-Columbian Maya civilisation. We enjoyed strolling around and climbing the extensive collection of temples, monuments and palaces that date as far back as 4th century BC, but my personal enjoyment was again tempered by a tour guide who said a massive amount of words without really saying much of anything at all. Eventually ending up in the centre of the ancient city, we were treated to a gorgeous sunset and slightly sketchy walk back to the bus in pitch black nighttime.
That night, we again retired to the Nightlounge and, with me back in the ranks, the Brits abroad effortlessly dominated any and all comers at beer pong*, and didn’t disgrace themselves in a few epic rounds of giant drinking Jenga. Mike was suffering the most the next day**, but we had to keep moving on and begrudglingly boarded the 8am departure to another Guatemalan destination, San Agustin Lanquin.
To be honest, there’s not really much of anything in Lanquin, as it’s much more commonly known, but due to nearby attractions and stunning vistas, it has become home to some epic and infamous hostels. The most famous of which, and somewhere I’ve been looking forward to since I booked my flights, is a place called Zephyr Lodge. Ben stayed here four years ago and absolutely loved it, and since then they have undergone a large-scale expansion and added – wait for it – an infinity pool. We didn’t think that addition could have made it worse.
On arrival Ben was blown away by the change since he’d last been there, and Mike and I were just plain blown away. Lovely food, stunning views, great staff, comfy beds, a frankly ridiculous swimming pool and – my personal highlight – a pickup from the centre of the town in a badass Mercedes Unimog. All for just about £10 a night, and with an extremely dangerous but effortlessly easy tab system to boot. You want to see don’t you…
Right that was probably enough photos. The next day we set out on a tour of the two main attractions nearby, the Grutas de Lanquin cave system and the Semuc Champey natural monument. Exploring the caves was done by candlelight, with absolutely no safety briefing or helmets and by our awesome, but slightly unhinged guide – Darwin. There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that it would have been run in the same way in a more developed country, if at all, and even for us it was toeing the line between adventurous and dangerous. Having said that, I wouldn’t have continued if I’d felt genuinely unsafe*** and it did end up being a brilliant experience, though a torch would definitely have been more practical than a candle.****
After emerging unscathed from the caves, we had a few goes on an impressive rope swing into a river. Ben and I were predictably unspectacular in our efforts, but he at least managed to avoid the on-ear landing of four years prior that left him with a splitting headache for the rest of the day. We also jumped off a 10 metre high bridge into a fast-flowing river because, well, in for a penny in for a pound?
The second half of our day was spent at Semuc Champey. This natural monument is a serious of shallow, stepped turquoise pools sunk into a limestone bridge, under which passes a large river. Having sweated our way through the the trek up to the mirador (lookout) that offers the best view of the park, jumping and sliding into and between these amazing micro-lakes was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon.
We returned to the hostel for a dip in the pool, and the next morning transferred to Antigua, where I’m now sat in a cafe on the main square writing this blog. We said goodbye to Mike this morning, who after a brilliant 9 or so days with us, has sadly had to return to Newcastle and continue the valiant fight against accidents and emergencies in Newcastle. It’s been brilliant having him out here, and we deliberately packed loads into a short time to give him the best trip possible. The only side effect of this is a knackered pair of travelers, so we will now have a good few days R&R here in Antigua, which is a charming mountain town about an hour outside of Guatemala City, and at the base of an impressive volcano.
Then we’ll figure out where to go next!
*Again I retained my status as a Last Cup Specialist
**You’ve not heard whinging until you’ve heard Michael Joseph Nathan Penn in a hot minibus with a fierce hangover
****Though probably not as unique, so swings and roundabouts I guess.