Several days went by in little San Ignacio. My original plan to spend 2 weeks exploring Belize was confronted with a decision. I like to really get to know a country, two weeks in tiny Belize was supposed to do this, but I had met such a great group of people—I would have to leave them to stick with my original plan. So, Belize alone, or continue having a bunch of fun with my friends in an another country? Seeing as Belize will always be there and the opportunity to travel with these kids would not, I decided to scratch my plans and continue out of Belize.
These three kids were traveling through Central America. Sarah and Alex planned to do so alone. Now that I think about it, it’s kind of crazy! They were all a bit younger than me—I was 21 and they were 18. None of them spoke Spanish either. Imagine 18 year olds traveling through a handful of third world countries! Alone! These Europeans, man, you wouldn’t find a normal 18 year old American doing that!
Anyway, I decided to stick around. We got into a taxi, paid a couple dollars each and were driven to the border of Guatemala. Our driver sped like a mad man. His car rattled as if a large can was hanging off the bottom of his car and started fighting with every rock we drove over. I thought we were going to blow up.
Outside the border lines, men were selling salty chips and trying to exchange money. “They don’t accept Belizean dollars on the other side and there is no other way to exchange money until you get into a town!” all the men with their calculators kept telling us. “You have to exchange your money here! You will have no money otherwise, and you won’t be able to get a ride to town!” They pressured us so much, offering horrible exchange rates. We said no thanks and waited in line.
A stamp later, we cross into Guatemala. Of course, there are also men there offering to exchange money. They were shouting their rates. One quiet man offers us a good rate. A woman walks by points at him and said, “he offers the best rate, I cross all the time.” Turns out she was right. We exchange some money and bargain with a taxi that had a van for a taxi. By now the sun was settling and the rain was coming down hard. It was more difficult to navigate because unlike Belize, people didn’t understand English so well. We managed to tell our driver to take us to a hostel in Flores, Petén. The city is an old and charming little place. Lake Itza surrounds it, so a strip to the mainland barely prevents it from being an island. The lake is really beautiful when its sunny outside.
Our hostel was more expensive that we liked, but Sarah and I got our own room and the boys got a shared dorm. We dropped our stuff and went to explore the city—there was a party going on in the square behind us!
We were welcomed with tons of food stands, all so cheap. We split up and each went to go buy tons of food. Tacos, hotdogs, fruits, cakes, pastries…cervezas! We ate all night long and washed it down with some beers. We talked to travelers in the party and watched people dancing in the basketball courts.
To chill out, we wandered about the streets at night. The roads closest to the lake were flodden. We sat on a wall and looked out into the flooded lake filled with nightfall. We were all silent for a while. We have a good life. This moment is special.
…I wish I could remember why they had a party…but regardless, it was a good first night in Guatemala.