Finished up with Tikal and by now a little ruined out, like churches and museums you can one see so many, it’s back down the road to Flores. Whilst everyone goes on about how touristic it is we loved walking around the narrow cobbled streets, weaving in and out of beautifully coloured buildings. With it’s plethora of souvenir stores we regretted not buying anything here, as it turned out to be really good value and the selection was more to our tastes that at some of the later visited markets.
Whilst making our way into town we ran into an awesome couple from Chile, Vic and Caro, who are making their way home from Alaska in their camper, running, where possible, on used vegetable oil. It’s a great and inspiring adventure and you can check out their blog here – Upa Chulapa. This wouldn’t be the last time we were to see them, and we would eventually end up crossing paths many times throughout Guatemala.
Due to the recent onslaughts of rain Lago de Itza was full. By full we mean one half of the island of Flores has it’s esplanade road under a foot or two of water for over six months! Apparently this happens ever 10 years or so, so the locals just wait for it to patiently subside. And them bastard mosquitos!! Day and night they’re at it for their next hit of hemoglobin, pack the repellant. Lots of it.
Chilling out for the afternoon at cozy Cool Beans Cafe‘s lakeside patio (with a half inch think coating of repellant) sipping good coffee and smoothies, we were entertained by conversations with the friendly staff whilst passenger boats sped past on the lake. You can see why it’s a backpackers favourite haunt. Deciding to wander the streets for the rest of the afternoon we strolled up to the main Plaza situated atop the middle and highest part of Flores. The Plaza is complete with a ‘Gallo’ beer angel crested on a Christmas tree.
Making it back to the bridge side of the island, lunch was cooked and we chilled again watching the boats pull in and out of the dock. Hearing that this stretch of the island has all the bars banging out god awful music until all hours, we retreated back into the thick of the island to find somewhere suitable to park for the night. As it happened we ended up out the front of Cool Beans Café and even had the owner run out to ask his neighbours to move their motor bikes so he could help us back in to our spot.
Being such a kind gentleman it would have been rude not to plonk down at the bar and have a Moza or Dorada ICE with the nice chap. An expat, the owner and three tourists are at the bar….The Expat is deep into a bottle of rum, the other tourist is blabbing away as The Expat is making all sorts of rude gestures and comments behind her, whilst Chapu and the two of us just get on with it and have a friendly dialogue about all sorts. If you get to chance to meet him over a beer, you should ask him to tell you the story of how his wife and he decided to buy the place. It’s one hell of a story! This is when Matt gets introduced to the best rum there is – Zacapa 28 year – one of, if not, the best rums you can get.
By this stage the Expat has had enough and is going back to the restaurant that he owns to give a drunk earful to the new owner, whom still owes him a substantial amount of money. Sarah and the Canadian are still blabbering away and Matt’s quiet enjoying his rum. Back across the road to the van for the night and we wake early due to the influx of employees descending on Flores for the working day. Despite the fact that it gets tarred with the tourist brush it would be a shame to miss Flores, and not allow the vivid colours and friendly people to make you feel welcome, as you sip a coffee or a cocktail at one of the many lakeside hangouts.
One of the big ticks in the box for us on this trip was getting our PADI scuba diving qualifications. Utila in Honduras is renown for it’s fantastic safety record, along with some of the cheapest prices in the word. Hearing many of the usual stories about how dangerous the roads are in Honduras and how unsafe they are, we actually took heed to the many warning posted online and the fact that San Pedro de Sula gets voted as ‘The most dangerous city in Central America.’ This is mostly due to the M18 and M13 gangs that have infiltrated the country, as so many gangbangers have been deported back here after spending time in the States.
Not wanting to risk this, we drove down to Rio Dulce as we’d read that we could camp and leave our car at Bruno’s whilst we took the trip across to Utila. Passing by loads of Auto (love) Hotels which line the highway and no doubt charge by the hour, we pulled up just outside Poptun for some great res (beef) crepe type taco things, at only Q20 for four (£1.70).
Driving through a vividily green landscape, twisting and turning our way south through the many nondescript villages that cling to the sides of the road, we rolled into Rio Dulce and its ridiculously planned main street. This place is lined with shops so close to the road that any truck that needs to off load simply stops traffic and does so. This, combined with a bridge at the end that is frequently full of cars parked whilst people take in the views, makes the 300m road horrendous and painstakingly slow.
Pulling into the car park at Bruno’s and finding a lovely shaded area that’s going to keep the sun off the van, we sat down and spent the rest of the afternoon on the marina out front, watching the expat community come in and out from their yachts. We were even lucky enough to have a bunch of over the hill expat seadogs getting liquored up on the table next to us and be rude enough to show us their total arrogance, pushing our seats out of the way (whilst we were still in them) without uttering a word to us. Strange creatures them folk.
Dumping the dirty clothes at the onsite laundry (not cheap!) we headed out for a walk to Castillo San Felipe. The 5.5km walk along the road is uneventful, though we wanted the exercise as sitting in the van isn’t doing much for the waist lines, a fact compounded by, yep, beer. It’s impossible not to notice Guatemala’s love of all things that go bang, and there are shops that are dedicated to selling nothing but fireworks. Rio Dulce is also one place that champions Guatemala’s other love of all things fried chicken. A little bit like a south London high street, you can clog your arteries at the likes of Pinulito, Pollolandia, Pollo Express or small roadside vendors.
At the entrance there’s a small village with the usual souvenir tack and cheap comedors. Being hungry we sat down in one and ate a cheap yet passable lunch of beef steak and rice (far from gourmet) and a boring plate of chicken. The best perspective of San Felipe is taken from the water, so bargaining down the lancha captain to Q50 each for a ride back, we were lucky that a Guatemalan tourist family were on board. They’d already paid for the tour we were offered before being dropped back at Rio Dulce, which they tried to charge us Q150 each for….turns out we got it for free anyway.
Back on dry land we sat in Bruno’s to the sultry service of the waitresses glad that the seadog expats were too hungover to make idiots of themselves. Soon enough though the wind picks up, the heaven’s open and we retreat from the open sided restaurant into Porkchop to pack for the 5am start to Utila. (see here for how to get there by public transport).
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