The music outside our window continued until nearly 2.00am. We were not best pleased. And it was an exceedingly hot night. Then the service at breakfast was even slower than usual. Then we had to wait ages for a taxi because of the number of holidaymakers in Flores
It was 11 o’clock by the time we finally made it to the bus station. Today we were leaving Guatemala and travelling to Belize. The border was a 2 hour bus journey away and the minibus collectivos ran regularly to the border town of Melchor de Mencos. There was one almost full when we arrived. Well we thought it was almost full. We were squeezed into the last remaining 2 seats at the back where we had to sit at an angle as there was absolutely no way we could get our knees in properly and then they proceeded to squash a further 7 or 8 people in. Benches for 2 now held 3 and extra stools and fold down seats appeared out of nowhere
. We were packed in like sardines and sweating profusely in the extreme heat.
The windows were open and so once we got moving it became a bit more bearable. We followed the Tikal road for some distance before turning off to head for the border. The road was metalled for most of the way but there were also some very uncomfortably bumpy unmade sections. We drove through forest and agricultural land. In the occasional villages that we passed most of the houses were concrete bungalows but we also saw many more basic homes with wooden walls and thatched palm roofs.
At Melchor de Mencos we peeled ourselves apart and gingerly stretched our numbed limbs. It was just a short walk to the bridge at the Belizean border. Both the Guatemalan emigration and the Belizean immigration procedures were straightforward and we didn’t encounter queues at either office. It was quite strange being addressed in English at the Belizean counter. There was a large union jack painted above the desk with the wording “Welcome Prince Harry”. Our Guatemalan quetzales were swiftly changed into Belizean dollars bearing the head of Queen Elizabeth II. It was almost like being at home!
The taxi fares were helpfully displayed for new arrivals in Belize and we decided, instead of facing another bus journey, to splash out £10 on a taxi to our destination, San Ignacio
. The road followed the river where families were barbecuing, swimming in the river and generally enjoying the Easter holiday. The owners at the Western Guest House looked a little surprised when we turned up (I later found that the email I had sent to confirm the booking didn’t actually go) but showed us to an enormous family room. They were very welcoming and soon made us at home. We could use the kitchen, the computer, the lounge area, sit on the first floor verandah and help ourselves to cold water and coffee anytime we wanted.
There was a short pedestrianised touristy street nearby where there were cafes, bars and hostels. All were advertising tours and after a late lunch we did the rounds of the tour companies. As usual they catered for the backpacker market with zip lining, tubing, canoeing, canyoning and the like all featuring strongly. And they were very expensive. One guy helpfully told us of a couple of excursions we could do ourselves, one on foot from San Ignacio, and the other just a short bus ride away. These sounded much better options for us.
We found most of the population of San Ignacio down by the river, or more correctly in the river. Fully clothed they were swimming with the current, jumping from the riverbanks and diving off the bridges
. We could see the attraction as it was ridiculously hot. The owner of our guest house told us of an Easter Fair that was being held in the town but we couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for more Easter merrymaking and instead sat on their very pleasant verandah catching the evening breeze. After a while the floodlights came on at the football ground opposite and we were treated to a partial view of a local league game.
Later we had a wonderful Sri Lankan curry at the Serendib restaurant and then a few beers at a nearby bar. There was not nearly so large a police or army presence here. We saw just one armed policeman and although the bar did have a security guard on duty he did not even seem to have a machete let alone a gun. It was fairly busy but the music was kept at a reasonable level and our accommodation was far enough away to be fantastically quiet.
We had an enjoyably relaxed Easter Sunday. After a late breakfast we wandered down to the bus station to wait for a bus heading towards the archaeological site at Xunantunich. We had quite a wait. We suspected there was not a full bus service operating today but eventually one arrived and took us the short distance to the ferry across the Belize River. This was a manually operated wooden platform able to take one vehicle and any number of pedestrians across to the other bank
. We felt sorry for the man operating it today as it was clearly physically quite tough and he was getting no rest as there was a queue of vehicles waiting their turn to cross.
The Mayan site was a mile further on and was a pleasant walk through the jungle. We saw all sorts of birds, butterflies and some quite large lizards. Xunantunich was thought to have been a small Mayan town which flourished until around 900AD. The most imposing of the structures were the rulers’ residence and the “Castillo”, a huge pyramid built as a shrine. On the east and west of the Castillo were enormous friezes on which were carvings of Mayan gods and animals. When these were discovered they were thought to be too delicate to expose to the elements and so fibreglass copies now grace the walls of the pyramid whilst the originals have been re-buried a metre behind. It was possible to scramble to the top of the Castillo but it was not for the fainthearted and I was feeling fainthearted and stayed at the half way stage whilst Keith continued to the top. It was a pleasant site to explore, much more compact than Tikal and with a fraction of the number of visitors.
Back at the river we found a shady spot to sit for a while and watch the antics of the children splashing around in the water
. We just paddled but even that was really refreshing. Not sure what time the bus would pass on its way back to San Ignacio we stood and waited at the roadside. After about 30 minutes a car stopped and offered us a lift to San Ignacio. We expressed our gratitude. Only when we were inside did we begin to think that it was actually a taxi. There were two other men in the car who gave the impression of being fare paying passengers. When we reached San Ignacio the driver asked the passengers where exactly we wanted to be dropped off. We got out in the town centre and once more expressed our thanks, waiting to be called back to pay as we walked away. But no call came and so the ride must have been for free after all.
We were ready for a cold beer by now. We stopped at one of the backpackers’ hostels but were shocked to learn that it was forbidden to sell any alcohol on Easter Sunday! The lady suggested that we might try the Chinese supermarket where they would probably sell us some beer. All the shops in San Ignacio appeared to be closed but sure enough, there was a flap open in the door of the Chinese supermarket and a small gathering of people being handed brown packages of bottles through the flap. We bought a supply and headed home. As we passed our regular bar though we saw people sitting drinking beer. In we went and without any difficulty were served a couple of beers
. We wouldn’t be drinking at home tonight after all. But what were we going to do with all the extra bottles we had bought?
Back at the guest house we found another football match in progress and so settled on the verandah for a while and managed to consume one or two more beers. Another couple later after a shower and we were starting to make inroads into the supply!
When we went out to eat later we found that not only were all the supermarkets now open but all the bars and restaurants, including the one that had refused us a beer earlier, were selling alcoholic drinks!
We seemed to be having a good run with food at the moment and Sunday's meal continued the trend - jerk chicken with rice and beans, plantains, soured cream and salad - quite spicy and very tasty. We returned home a bit earlier than usual to try to finish the extra beers. The guest house owner was going to be horrified tomorrow by the number of empty beer bottles in our bin!
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