Side note: We didn't even have to take out our quart sized carry on liquids in the security screening! That totally ticked me off because I had strategically packed all of my liquids.
We heard both good and bad things about the airline we took, TACA. Overall we thought it was pretty good. However our first plane was really OLD. My butt got sore after the first 15 minutes AND there were even ashtrays in the arm rests! However, the second plane we had was WAY nicer and so comfortable. Of course that flight was only an hour (vs. 5 hours). But we did luck out on the flight back because we got a newer plane for the longer flight.
So the flight was pretty miserable, just because we were supposed to be able to sleep on it. I think I got around 3 hours or so and John maybe got an hour. Poor dude. The flight staff did not make it any easier as well. They did turn down all the lights for the first hour, but then turned them all back on and started serving us drinks! They also were playing a movie on the screens, which were quite bright. I vowed never to take an over night flight after we did it last year to London, but we didn't have any other time options with this flight route. (It's the most direct to Belize).
We landed in Belize City and then checked in for our flight to Flores, Guatemala. As we were standing there this very small man…not a little person…bigger than that, (but he obviously vertically challenged ,) came over to us. He started asking us where we were going and I wasn't sure what he wanted. At first I thought he wanted to get us a cab, but come to find out he was trying to recruit travelers to go to the airport bar to get some rum! He had a very high pitched voice and the whole situation was just odd.
The airline staff for Tropic Air, (the airline we took for the rest of our flights), was a bunch of young guys that were really nice. John asked one of them if he knew of a good place where we could rent a car when we came back from Guatemala, and he did. He introduced John to Tyrone who worked at NextGen car rentals.
Right outside of the Belize airport was a small strip mall of all rental cars…as you can see below:
So we go into NextGen car rental and it's a 64 sq. ft. one room office with one desk, three chairs and a map of Belize on the wall. TOTALLY sketchy! It totally looked like the front for some illegal operation! I'm sure Tyrone was so excited to see a pair of sleep deprived gringos heading his way. I totally thought we were going to get shivved!
Despite all my fears, Tyrone was pretty nice and told us that he would stay open past 5pm on Sunday (our flight was to get in at 4:45pm). He also proceeded to tell us about the rental car and how it had and AWESOME stereo with a CD player. I couldn't figure out why he was raving about it. It wasn't like I brought any CDs with me!
We had a few hours to kill and instead of hanging outside and melting from the humidity we decided to get a bite to eat at The Sungarden Restaurant and Bar. It was located in the airport and their slogan was "For Nice Food." That's a nice attempt for the slogan, but let me tell you their food was not that nice. The waitress told John that their cheeseburger was one of the best things on the menu, so he got that. Big mistake…the meat was an odd grey color. I got fish and chips and they weren't too bad. It was odd because almost all of the dishes on the menu were very American items. John did get is first authentic Belizean brewsky…at 10:30am. It seriously did not feel that early… by that time we had been traveling for 15 hours.
After hanging out in the restaurant for a few hours, (and doing a lot of zoning out), we headed over to our gate. (There are 4 in the airport). Lucky for us the waiting area had AC. Sweet! Time to get dry.
We found a couple of benches and decided to get some rest. John was SO tired. So we laid down and slept for about an hour. I totally felt like a scummy Amazing Race traveler!
Once we woke up guess who can to say hi? The little bar promoter! I had to tell him that it was a little too early for us to be drinking rum, and that we would be back in two days and we would get a drink. As he left I realized what he reminded me of!! He sounded just like the actor who played the umpa-lumpa in the new Willie Wonka movie! NO JOKE! I'm not making fun of the dude, he seriously was just like that actor…maybe Indian?
Our boarding time is getting closer and closer and we both started getting antsy because they hadn't called our flight to board. So I ask one of the tropic Air guys when the flight will board he and he told me 3pm…which is the time that our flight was supposed to depart. He kind of looked at me funny, because I'm sure he was always dealing with paranoid tourists. At least he was nice about it.
Our flight gets the boarding call and there is one other guy on the flight besides us! How crazy is that? John made sure to tell the dude not to take his window seat. Not sure if the dude A) got the joke, and B) spoke English. Our plane was quite large…it held about 10 passengers. I wasn't too scared riding in the small plane, because when I was young we would often go places in my dad's company's plane. It was a 6 seater (7 if needed), BUT it had 2 engines. My parents never wanted me to fly in a one engine plane…sorry pods, but I did that quite a few times during our trip.
The flight was really great and so neat to see the country from the air…and the pilot was really good as well. When we got close to to our destination, the pilot flew right over Flores, which was the peninsula where we were staying. It was an island with a man made road built out to it. (Later when we checked our photos our hotel is visible in the aerial photo I took below)
Francisco, our guide, was going to meet us at the airport. Before our flight John asked me if Francisco would know who we were, and I told him I wasn't too worried. Once we realized there was only one other guy on our flight, I told John that I didn't think Francisco would have a hard time picking us out!
When we landed and submitted our passports it then hit me that we were in a Spanish speaking country. Prior to our trip John told me that his Spanish would come back to him no prob. I totally trusted him because I had seen him whip out his Espanol in a few different Mexican restaurants before. However… his Espanol did NOT come back to him as well as he thought. We really should have brushed up on our numbers before we left, and even our basic vocab. I mean we got by pretty good, but it would have been nice to have felt a bit more confident. Sorry Senora, you would have been pretty disappointed with us.
Anyway… we got our bags and Francisco was waiting for us. He was SO nice, AND knowledgeable! Right off the bat he started telling us all these facts about Guatemala. John started asking him how many tours he does a year. Francisco said he does 100 to 125 a year, but he'd like to do more. He said he used to do about 200 trips a year, mainly with college students and professors interested in Mayan cultures, but that source of income has dried up since he was held captive with a group of professors from Colorado one time for 18 hours. Did I mention we were going to Tikal the next day? This guy really knows how to sell his country. I guess he wasn't worried about us backing out since we had already paid him half of his fee.
I was having a hard time concentrating because I was so mesmerized by what I was seeing. The only other 3 rd world country I had been to before is Mexico…but mostly the touristy towns. It was crazy seeing the buildings and people in person, when I've only seen those living conditions on TV before.
The island of Flores was amazing. One of the neatest cities I had ever seen. Well it wasn't really unique like Amsterdam, but I think with the vibrant colors and different culture is what made it so neat.
We got to our hotel and it was really nice. We made plans with Francisco to meet him the next morning and then we were on our own. Our room was really neat and had an amazing view of the lake.
We finally got to change into some cooler clothes and then cruised the streets. The streets were so small and there were crazy little cab cars all over the streets like the one below:
There were also tons of scooters. We saw one regular sized truck and it seriously took up the whole street. The majority of the buildings were painted in bright colors which was really neat. Most of the souvenir shops had their lights off, I think so save money, but it was weird because I couldn't tell if they were opened. They also didn't have any prices on the items they were selling. I'm assuming they wanted to barter with the tourists, but I felt bad bartering with them since I know they really needed the money. The exchange rate there is 7 to 1. Can you believe it? I got a few small trinkets, and two Guatemalan shirts! I was SO excited about them.
We got ourselves an ice cream treat as well. John got banana ice cream covered in chocolate. We also had the chance to get online at one shop, but I decided not to because it was only day one and I was sure I'd have another opportunity to get online later. (Of course it was much later than I had hoped). We found the local bank so we could exchange some money. The bank looked really dark inside but guard, with a machine gun, opened the door, and John whipped out his Spanish and told him he needed to change his money. He told us ok and then had us wait outside for a minute. Then he let us in. He seemed totally suspicious even though the bank had normal activity inside.
We headed back to the hotel and tried to figure out the AC. It was mounted WAY up high on the wall and I had to use a chair to get to the switches…but nothing happened when I played with them. I seriously did not think it worked and contemplated switching rooms. I did not want to be sweating ALL night. John called the front desk and a guy came up and showed him that yes, it did work…but by remote control! Who know they were so high tech?
Before we headed to dinner we decided to go down and take a dip in the pool. We actually went in the hot tub instead because the pool was pretty chilly, and the hot tub was like a luke warm bath. Let me tell you it felt SO good! While we were soaking our stink off we noticed some lightening in the distance. It was really neat. There must have been 4 different storms. They were pretty far away as we couldn't hear the thunder.
We headed to dinner and I wore one of my new Guatemalan shirts. I totally wanted to blend in with the locals, but I'm not sure how much that shirt helped. I don't think I'd ever been to a country where I was to easily identified as a tourist. There was no way I could blend, even with my awesome Spanish accent.
We ate a La Luna and we had a great meal. I had lobster, John had pasta, we each had two drinks and dessert. Guess how much it cost? Around $40! Such a sweet deal. The waiters were similar to the ones we experienced on our last trip. They just stand around and watch you and wait until you are done with something and then act very quickly to come take the dish away. They also had the smallest napkins!
My lobsterThe small napkins were at every restaurant that we ate at on the trip. I wonder what visitors to the states think when we have napkins 6 times the size of theirs? Maybe they think our napkins are blankets. They were also playing some great Guatemalan music, until I recognized one of the songs! What the heck? It was Buena Vista Social Club's hit song. So funny.
The desert we got was hot raspberries with vanilla ice cream. It was really great. While we were eating it I noticed that part of my shirt was gaping open and my bra was totally visible…right in the direction of where the waiters were standing! I was so embarrassed.
After we paid the waiter came over and gave us two complimentary shots of rum! I couldn't believe it! I thought it was so nice that they were thankful for our business. But then I realized it was probably because my boob was hanging out of my shirt!
We walked back to our hotel and I decided to try to get online on their computers, because after a meal like that I knew I'd have a good story to blog about. However their computers were not connecting to the Internet, AND they were all in Spanish! No me gusta.
We hung outside for awhile and watched the lightening in the distance and then went to bed early. It was so nice to lay in a bed after 26 hours.