We passed through the Belize-Guatemala border quickly and with ease. For any other overlanders with kids, surprisingly when we asked we didn’t have to pay the departure fee for Belize for either of the girls. We also didn’t get asked to pay the much debated “fee” of 20Q for entering Guatemala but we did get charged 50Q for the bridge crossing straight after the border. We found an ATM at a Texaco 500m along the main road and Steve walked back to town to get a Tigo Internet card for his iPad. The whole thing took a total of 2 hours.
Our first stop in Guatemala was the famed Mayan ruins at Tikal. The most impressive parts are the hugely high temple pyramids. They can be seen poking out way above the jungle canopy, when you are sitting at the top of another of them. Until they built skyscrapers in the US, they were the highest structures in Mesoamerica.
Arriving at the gate in time for the afternoon entry at 4, gave us just a few minutes when we reached the site half an hour later, to quickly park up at the Jaguar Inn’s car park. We took one look at the waterlogged campground and decided a night on muddy gravel would be better. There has been a lot of rain recently, even for the jungle and the forecast was not good. Although we know that the truck can pull out of most boggy situations, weighing ten and a half tonnes it isn’t always very pretty. One of our fellow overlanders who were a few days behind us for a while, joked that they had tracked our muddy tire tracks at lots of campsites.
Our aim was to reach the top of furthest pyramid in time to watch sunset over the other pyramids sticking out of the jungle. It was a quick march through the darkening forest on a sticky mud path. We had a quick stop at the top only to realise the sun was setting in the other direction but it still was impressive. We then made our way back in the almost pitch black, hoping we were not going to make any wrong turns. Sometimes the girls just surprise us with their tenacity, although they moaned all the way there, they chattered away happily on our quick, slippery exit in the dark surrounded by the growing sounds of the nighttime jungle.
The following morning we went back in to have a better look around. The ruins are very spread out in thick jungle and as well as the impressive pyramids there were lots of other palaces and temples. There was also a wild group of about 20 coatimundis foraging for insects in the undergrowth. They were completely at ease around people but were not begging for food.
We retraced our steps back to the lakeside at El Remate for the night. We’d been recommended a place to camp on the road by the lake, just outside the Biotopo reserve. We’d checked out the other camping options but they were all too small or boggy. We are not natural boondockers (staying the night in a place without paying), we feel more comfortable about security in campsites or similar and are happy to contribute to the local economy. However we asked at the reserve and they were ok about it, there were also several policemen around and they said it was absolutely fine. Once we had settled in, we heard the rumble of buses. Two former repainted US school buses, a common form of transport here had pulled up beside us. There was a group of 100 people in their early 20’s from different parts of the Latin American and Europe travelling together sponsored by a Spanish bank. They then set up some tents and went in some cabins nearby. So we felt far more comfortable.
After a quick grocery run in Saint Elena, we headed south to Finca Ixobel a former farm in the jungle now run as an ecolodge. The campsite again was a washout but we parked up next to the lodge. We were not the only ones with mud issues though. We were woken up at 2.30am by a pick-up parked a foot away from the truck, just below the window by our bed. He was completely stuck and spent what seemed like hours revving the engine and trying to get out. Luckily, before we had to volunteer to help just so we could get back to sleep, he found a couple of friends to push him out. Quite what they were going in the middle of the night on a quiet farm, we never found out. The extreme mud made the long jungle walks rather unattractive but the sun came out in time for a two hour horse ride in the afternoon.