Friday, 3 March 2017

Flores, Guatemala – Days 168 to 170

Not quite the paradise of a small island in the middle of a large lake we had hoped for but still pretty good. Located in the upper part of Guatemala not that far from the Mexican southern border Flores is a small island in the middle of Lago Peten Itza, connected to the town of Santa Elena on the mainland by a bridge.

A little gecko, apparently not indigenous to CA
History tells us that the Maya people had an important city here and its isolation in the lake made it difficult for the Spanish to conquer it. After the Spanish arrived in 1541 Hernan Cortes bypassed the island on his way to Honduras and left it alone. It survived as a Mayan stronghold for another 150 years when, in 1697 the Spanish marched in, destroyed the old city and built a new one. However the new town is now an old colonial town with narrow cobbled streets and charming, relatively well looked after old buildings, a church at the highest point, ‘Central Park’ (actually a small, mainly paved square with a bandstand in the middle) and various twisting streets weaving down to the lakeshore.

Sunrise as seen from our balcony
Most hotels are located around the edge of the lake giving lake views from some rooms and you can either take a sunrise hotel, facing east or a sunset hotel facing west. To walk from one side of the island to the other takes less than 15 minutes! We stayed at the Mirador del Lago which is a sunrise hotel and we had a balcony with a great view over the lake and did, indeed get a sunrise each day (only one day bothering to get up to take a photo at 06:15am!).

Sunset the same day from a bar on the other side of the island
It’s not far to the other side of the lake and the small town of San Miguel with its dusty gravel roads and water taxis will take you the short route for 5Q each way or for varying higher prices for the longer routes. We took a day trip over there yesterday after getting a map from the Cool Beans café where we’ve had one evening meal and a couple of breakfasts. There’s a Mirador atop a hill as you get off the boat so we set off up a rough track, followed a few minor trails through the woods and realised this probably wasn’t the best route. 
The map given to us at the Cool Beans cafe
We did get to a mirador and a summit, but couldn’t see a clear view of Flores as we were told, wandered around a bit, came down and found a large track which took us to the sports field and on to the museum. We were satisfied at the time that we’d found the mirador, but checking on the internet later we saw pictures of a clear view, so I guess we weren’t quite there, oh well! The museum was vaguely interesting and was a new (3 year old) building put up as an education centre with lots of rooms we couldn’t go into. We were the only people there, the entrance was free and we were followed around by someone who made sure we took no photos!

And the actual route we did!
We walked on to the ARCAS centre, which is a reserve staffed by volunteers from all over the world to rehabilitate various rare species of endangered indigenous wildlife, like jaguar, macawas, parrots, monkeys etc with the aim of reintroducing them to the wild. We’d assumed we could walk in and look round but after going in through the main gate the man in a room working on a computer told us they don’t allow visitors. They try to minimise contact with humans as much as possible to avoid disrupting their reintroduction to the wild, which is obvious when you think about it. 
One of the many notices in the ARCAS centre
There is a section of animals that can’t be reintroduced to the wild for various reasons and visitors are allowed here, but access to this is by boat only. He called an English speaking man, Alejandro who came to explain all this to us and, knowing it was a long dusty road back in the now very hot sun, he took sympathy on us and told us we could walk through the compound as long as we didn’t disturb the animals we saw and get into the back of the visitor area. He would phone Jorge, who speaks no English, but would show us around for 15Q (£1.60) each and then call a water taxi to take us back to Flores.

Spider monkeys in the visitor section
Jorge explained in Spanish, and we understood the majority of the work they are doing there, which is quite amazing and so worthwhile. There are estimated to be only 300 macaws left in the wild in Guatemala, mainly through habitat loss and poaching and notices in the compound ask you not to buy any of the animals on the balckmarket. We gave him 50Q for both of us, he phoned for a water taxi and we negotiated the price down to 50Q for us both and had a pleasant ride back to the island.

Jackie talking to Jorge
Walking around yesterday after about 11:00am was really debilitating, the temperature had risen to 36°C with 100% humidity and we were just dripping with hardly any exertion at all. The only relief was a light breeze which rose slightly in the afternoon. Since our hotel offers 1 hour free kayaks on the lake we decided to wait until nearly 5:00pm, when we thought it might be a bit cooler and paddle about until near sunset. However the breeze had whipped the lake up a bit and it was interesting to get in and interesting to paddle around. I helped Jackie in and then had great difficulty getting in mine on my own, so two young local lads rushed over to hold it steady. We lasted about 5 minutes, deciding this was not for us and scrambled out wet, much to the amusement of the two lads and other onlookers!

Kayaking in the choppy water in late afternoon
Eating very tasty (and cheap) streetfood one evening
Nice evening meal last night, we saw again a young German guy travelling on his own round the world for the last 2.5 years and not sure when he’s going back home that we’d met over breakfast one morning, Jackie is now ‘friends’ with him on Facebook and I am now ‘friends’ with Helen who we met at the border and booked into our hotel along with us. She’s now gone to Semuc Champey in the centre of Guatemala, a place we intend going to after our housesit in Antigua, so she’s promised to give us the rundown of the place. So it’s been a nice stay here, Steph gave us useful info before we arrived after she stayed here and we’re now able to give her advice as she’s up in the Yucatan in Mexico where we’ve been so it’s all about helping each other through the medium of Facebook and it’s working well as well as meeting new friends.

Very friendly tabbycat
Guatemalan cats are also working out well, our second evening, waiting for sunset we had a beer, joined by a very beautiful tabbycat, after dinner last night, walking to get an icecream I was trying to say hello to another cat who was barged out of the way by tabby, explaining in no un certain terms that these were her people!

This afternoon we catch the bus to Tikal, more Mayan ruins, but these are supposed to be extra special, being in the jungle, so we’ll see. We stay in an expensive hotel just outside the ruins tonight and hope we’ll be kept awake by jungle noises like howler monkeys, spend the day or at least half the day in the ruins, then go south to El Remate on the eastern edge of the lake we’re on now. Then we return back here on Monday and catch the night bus to Antigua, where we can hopefully relax for a week with three cats.
Our water taxi rescue boat from ARCAS back to Flores arriving to pick us up
Flores island (centre), San Miguel (right)

I had to add this, this is the shower in our bathroom, it's an electrical shower, the heating element being in the shower head. The black conduit is the electric supply....

This is a close up, those are the wires supplying electric to the element right above the plumbing connection in a nice steamy environment! Seemed to work OK though, you just regulate the temperature by opening the cold tap a bit more - we had it almost on full for the coldest shower possible in this heat!


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