It’s taken me a while to start writing this post, not because it brings back any bad memories, quite the opposite, it was the beginning of the real start of my journey. This might sounds strange seeing as I was a good 5 weeks into my trip, but up until this point it had been a lot of finding my feet and navigating the world of solo travel (intersected with home comfort in the form of Bridget) and it was yet to feel like the real backpacker experience for me.
Then came Flores. Nestled on an island in the north east part of Guatemala, Flores is unassuming, unfussy and the gate way to the Mayan ruins of Tikal.
I had heard Los Amigos hostel was the place to stay, and boy was I not disappointed. The hostel is a haven of herbivorian lushness, with the multitude of plants almost tricking you into thinking you were perched in the treetops.
I’d also read that visiting Tikal before sunrise was unlike anything you’d experienced before – sitting atop some of the oldest Mayan ruins in the world as the sun rises and the howler monkeys stirred from their slumber was a special kind of magic. So I booked my spot on the 3am bus (yikes!) and ensured I was in bed before 9pm.
Given my usual anxiety of missing alarms, my sleep was restless and broken, peppered by the drunken antics of my roommates (don’t worry, I got them back the next night), but I was up and on the bus just before 3, heading headfirst into the darkness. We arrived just under an hour later and were quickly hustled by our guide to ensure we made the 4.30am curfew, when the sun would start to show it’s sleepy head.
Our guide Julio gave us a crash course in Mayan history as we hoofed it to temple number four, our outlook for the morning. Making it with a bit of time to spare, we scaled the ancient temple and took our place on the steps, of a monument that was once dedicated to the Mayan princess. And as the sun finally rose, the fog descended and my dreams of that perfect sunrise photo also disappeared.
But any disappointment quickly dissipated as the howler monkeys, with their boisterous, jaguar-like calls, awoke and filled the once-silent skies with their reverberations. Paired with the dense fog, it was a magical awakening of the soul…on the set of the Gorillas in the Mist.
We then set off to explore the other temples that we dotted around the 57,600hectares of wetlands, savannah, tropical broadleaf and palm forests, with thousands of architectural and artistic remains of the Mayan civilisation from the Pre-classic Period (600 B.C.) to the decline and eventual collapse of the urban centre around 900 AD.
I may have said it before, but I never thought I was a big ruins buff, but this place took my breath away. The staggering monuments, the sounds of the monkeys chattering, the dense jungle and the sheer history of the site was like historical porn to me.
While wandering through what was once the urban centre of Tikal, we were also fortunate enough to bare witness to a traditional Mayan ceremony, which further deepened my appreciation of the site.
The photos do not do it justice (well, maybe if I’d had a better camera they would have…)
A word of warning – do not stand idly on what may appear to just be a small pile of dirt…because it might just be an ant nest, which will cause you to hop around like a raging lunatic, while you try and scrape the little fuckers from your legs.
Arriving back at the hostel, I was approached by a group of doctors from the UK, who had recently graduated and were now on their last hurrah before entering the land of Grey’s Anatomy, to join them for lunch. Lunch turned into drinks and swims all afternoon by the lake, which turned into drinks at the hostel, which turned into my first (but not the last) raging hangover of the trip.
**Tip: In the evening, a set of food stalls are set up next to the lake which ridiculously cheap and tasty local food – can recommend.
An afternoon that re-awoke the social butterfly in me, that helped bring me out of my little introverted shell, and establish travel buddies that I would adventure across the continent with.
Flores, you were my awakening ❤
Rope swing at a local family house – ask at the hostel
Swim in the lake
Eat/Drink: Los Amigos
Market stalls along the river
Stay: Los Amigos