We made it across the border!
Thanks in large part to a nice tour operator in San Ignacio who had drawn us a diagram of how to cross the border, we made it to Flores, Guatemala without problem. We woke up early to walk to town and catch a taxi to the border. We haggled the price down to $5 BZE per person, which is only a little more than the bus and took only 15 minutes. We were surprised to find that there was no line to either exit Belize or to enter Guatemala. We paid the $37.50 Belize border tax, got our passports stamped and voila, we were in a new country! We had read that crossing the borders in Central America is sometimes difficult and we had talked to many travelers who themselves had difficulties for various reasons crossing, so hopefully this was not a fluke and our crossing luck holds in the future.
The Guatemalan border town of Melchor de Menos was bustling with activity, even at 8 am. We were immediately swarmed with people offering to change our money, drive us places, book tours for us etc. We headed for a collectivo (a van taxi) after changing some money and agreed on a price with the driver (100 QZ for both of us to get to Flores). (1 USD= 7.8 QZ) We waited for the van to fill (and then fill some more, as seat belt laws appear to not exist in this part of the world), and as we waited we saw what seemed like thousands of police and armed military. We think it must have been because we were in a border town, as we could not find anything in the news as to why there would be such an intense military presence. Even on the ride to Flores, we saw police vehicle after police vehicle and it seemed that half of the people we saw in the first few hours in Guatemala was carrying a gun. We were not sure if it made us feel safer to be so protected or less safe thinking that we needed that kind of protection.
The ride took about 2 hours and every half an hour or so we would stop and cram more people into the already jam packed full van. At one point we counted 23 people in the 12 passenger van. I sat on the floor behind the drivers seat at one point to make more room in the van, it was uncomfortable, but fun and funny at the same time. Everyone but us got out in Santa Elena, another big and bustling town along lake Peten Itza. We crossed a bridge to get to the small island (and town) of Flores and were dropped off right at our hostel’s door. We stayed at Hostel Los Amigos based on many good reviews from travelers we had met in Belize. We ended up in a private room with a shared bath in another building around the corner (like an annex building of the main hostel) in a room literally behind the stairs. The building was concrete, which made us hopeful that we would have less noise than we had been experiencing for the previous week (ear plugs may be the most useful thing we packed). We did a bit of laundry, hopeful that there would be no rain and that our clothes might FINALLY be clean and dry at the same time and then went to explore the main hostel and the town.
Los Amigos is a very eclectic, beautiful, funky place, with hammocks and a jungle and a bar and anything a backpacker might want. We ate a quick lunch of nachos and chicken at the hostel. After lunch we booked a tour and transport to Tikal for the following day (90 QZ each) as well as tickets for the bus to Guatemala City and then on to Antigua that we would be taking to move on. Booking those two things left us with only 1 QZ to our name so we set out in search of the only ATM in Flores.
We wandered around the island (the whole island, as it is VERY small) until we finally found the ATM in the only grocery store in Flores. Our wanderings has taken us past the water and we headed back there to watch the sunset and have a drink (for 10 QZ, only $1.25!). We ate at the hostel for dinner, sharing a burrito after our large-ish lunch, and went to bed early to rest up for our 4:30 am tour to Tikal!!
All in all, our first border crossing was a success and from the moment I arrived in Flores, I could tell I was going to love it.
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