8. Fun on a visa run

Guatemalan immigration laws state that American tourists are given a 90-day visa upon entry. Before the visa expires one, and only one, extension can be made for another 90 days, known as the prórroga. After 180 days are up, one must physically leave the country. We had already done our prórrogas at the capital back in October, so it was time for us to leave Guatemala. As we’re only about 25 miles from the El Salvador border, no big deal, right? Wrong! Unfortunately for us, there is an agreement between Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, known as the CA-4. This allows the residents of these countries to travel about freely without the need for a passport. The downside is that going into one of these countries does not qualify as leaving the other country, as far as immigration laws are concerned. So, as we could not afford five plane tickets, our options were 1) México, 2) Belize, and 3) Costa Rica. We had already been through México, and although it was the closest of the three (about 8 hours away), there would not have been a lot do other than cross and come back. Costa Rica would obviously have a ton of stuff to do, but it was also the furthest, about 14 hours away. We would also have to drive through El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and we did not want to mess with multiple car imports back and forth.

This would certainly give us the chance to see a bit more of Guatemala

So, Belize was it. We started doing some research and decided on staying as little time as possible in Belize, just crossing over and back like we would in México. We would instead tour Tikal, a well-known Mayan ruin site. We left Thursday morning with an 8-10 hour drive ahead of us. The route took us close to Puerto Barrios, one of the major ports of Guatemala. We were warned that although the road itself is safe as far as road conditions and crime are concerned, there would be significant 18-wheeler traffic to contend with. That was an understatement. Amanda drove the whole way (she’s the better driver) while I ‘navigated’ (mostly played Candy Crush but sometimes helped her know which way to go).

 

Overturned tractor trailer #1. Yeah….I guess they do go a bit too fast

After the first three hours, we saw signs for some Mayan ruins. We made the spur-of-the-moment decision to stop and investigate Quiriguá.

Pfft. It’s not THAT old. No, wait…that says ‘756’, not ‘1756’. Yeah it is that old, sorry

 

My three cuties at one of the smallest monuments at the site

 

Here’s my best buddy at one of the tallest

 

After visiting here, I took an interest in Mayan writing as it’s so intricate and beautiful. I’m still learning, but loosely translated, this passage says: “You may be asking why we did this. Well, one summer day we complained to our father that we were bored and had nothing to do. He said, ‘Go outside and carve something on big rocks; that will build character in you kids.’ So, kids of the future, if you’re reading this more than a thousand years from now, never tell your dad you’re bored. Just stay inside in the air-conditioning and watch Netflix.”

 

In addition to the numerous monuments, Quiriguá also has a ball court. Here’s Bailey climbing the stairs to the other side. To have the energy of a ten-year old again…

 

SUCCESS! Here’s the Ballcourt Plaza. I believe they played a sport called ‘RunAroundAlmostNakedThrowingVeryHeavyThingsForNoParticularReasonBall’

 

GO TEAM!

 

Overturned tractor trailer #2. Back on the road after seeing Quiriguá

 

Couldn’t beat the view as we got closer to the border with Belize

 

Just as it was getting dark, we arrive at our hotel in Flores, a city-island (or, maybe it’s an island-city?). We rest up and do our fun at the border the next day. Visa stamps in hand and car import renewed, we line up some fun. We rent a boat to take us on a tour of the lake with stops at a zoo accessible by water and a climb up a buried pyramid to catch a nice view of the island.

 

Mandy can make any outfit look glamorous. This is Austin’s ‘trying not to reveal how much fun I’m having’ smile

 

Lago Petén Itzá is very beautiful

 

The Petencito Zoo has native (indigenous? They’re from there. You know what I mean) animals. This is called a ‘bird’

 

Seemed very, very strange to see a bunch of raccoons at a zoo, but I can’t really vocalize why

 

Jaguar. Those eyes tho.

 

“Pizotes” were Bailey’s favorite animal at the zoo. He had no idea how much more of these little critters we would see the next day

 

“Tepezcuintle”. A medium-sized, completely indescribable animal. Not sure if cute or ugly

 

Next stop on the lake was a trip to a buried pyramid. They apparently have so many of these things around here that it’s not really worth digging every one out. Kinda like remote controls in the cushions of American couches

 

The hike to the top of the lookout tower on top of the pyramid was a bit rough, but it did afford a great view of the island-city of Flores

 

Bailey really loves fish and wanted a fresh one for dinner. Mission accomplished. That little man really loves his seafood

 

Next morning we head out for Tikal after breakfast. Austin is pretending to be Chavo here

 

Tikal. What can we say? It’s been on our wishlist since we started thinking about going to Guatemala. It would complete our ‘hat-trick’ of ancient American civilizations, having visited Teotihuacán in México (Aztec) and Machu Picchu in Perú (Incan).

 

Although Tikal has some minor historic and archaeological value, it’s true importance is obviously due to it’s having been used as the location of the planet Yavin IV in the original Star Wars movie.

 

Here’s how they did it

 

We were not the only pilgrims to this Mecca

 

An absolutely indescribable father/son bonding moment. And yes, we were both wearing Star Wars shirts

 

Nailed it, Bailey. I love you, my friend

 

For those who are interested in Tikal’s less-important draw (historical/archaeological footnotes), here’s a few photos of some ruins….

 

As Tikal is surrounded by miles of jungle, there’s a nice amount of wildlife around. Please enjoy…

Saw several spider monkeys. The last sentence on the sign is the only one that matters. However, just like washing your car to make it rain doesn’t work, we never could actually get them to perform their claim to fame.

Goodbye, Petén, and thanks for all the memories

 

 

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