This post continues the retelling of my recent trip to Belize: participating in an archaeology field school and learning about jaguar conservation. The rest of this series is located in the Travel category of this blog.
We got up early and grabbed a quick breakfast from Texas Camp’s dining hall. We then piled into a modified school bus driven by Abner Chell of Chell’s Bus Service – the same man who had taken us to Lamanai. I had to struggle to get a seat, but I eventually found myself sitting next to a tall, middle-aged man with a bald head.
In an earlier post, I wrote that a friend had confused me with another person who shared my first name and hairstyle. In contrast to myself, this other Josh had previously worked in Mongolia. I was eager to find this doppelgänger and talk to him about his experiences.
Now, nine days later, I found myself sitting next to the only other bald man I had seen at Texas Camp. I asked him his name, and it was Josh. I had located the usurper.
Dramatic language aside, Josh turned out to be remarkably friendly. We chatted about Mongolia, where he sometimes performed archaeological work during the brief summers. As we talked, visions of windswept mountain plains danced through my head.
We rode in Abner’s bus until we reached the Belize-Guatemala border. Here we disembarked and went through the border crossing process, and found three white vans waiting to take us to the island of Flores in Petén, Guatemala.
Riding in the clean, air-conditioned vans felt like luxury. As we drove through the Guatemalan countryside, I spent most of my time gazing out the window.
The landscape on either side of the road consisted of lush, green hills. The trees seemed to have a deeper hue of green than the ones I had encountered in Belize, and I remember thinking that they were especially beautiful. Signs of human habitation increased as we neared our destination of Flores, and before long we were on the island.
Our arrival in Flores was a jarring affair. We hastily got out of our vans, grabbed our luggage, and then were left to find our accommodations on our own.
I cannot overstate how chaotic this period was. Everyone shot off in different directions, looking for lodging. At some point during this melee I found myself being the only person in a group of students who knew any Spanish. I tried to talk to the receptionist for them, but I had to ask him to repeat himself several times. Eventually we worked out that the rooms were beyond our price range.
After running around Flores for some time, I somehow linked up with my friend Ellen. Originally from Australia, Ellen was a much more experienced traveler than I was.
We began checking out hostels on a quieter side of the island, and eventually settled on Hospedaje Doña Goya. The rooms were basic, but the prices were good. One of Doña Goya’s more charming features was the rooftop terrace, which was an excellent writing spot. The staff was also exceptionally nice, and an employee named Carlos proved to be a great conversation partner.
Later that night, several of the PfBAP students and I went to dinner at a restaurant called La Luna. The food was good, and this time I was not the only student who knew Spanish. But after living in the rain forest for so long, I was completely overwhelmed by the built environment of Flores.
On that first night, Flores felt hostile and threatening to me. The cobblestone streets were hard on my feet, the lights were too bright, and the few cars that drove by were enough to frighten me. Most of all, I found the noise of ‘civilization’ to be unpleasantly harsh. I longed for the more rhythmic music of the jungle.
I quickly retired to my room after dinner. As I lay in my bed, my thoughts turned to the rain forest. I felt comfortable there, and wanted to return. Fortunately, all the stress of June 15 would pay off tomorrow. We were going to visit one of the most spectacular archaeological sites in the New World: Tikal.