Guatemala - Rio Dulce
September 6, 2004
Lívingston was fine, but I had only a week of vacations and Guatemala offers much more than just lying on a beach. My next destination was Río Dulce, city, where a river crosses the main road to Tikal. There are two ways to get there - by boat to Puerto Barrios and then by bus (the cheapest option), or or directly by boat. Following the advice of a Belgian, I went to the correct pier. An owner of a boat noticed me. There were already several Guatemalans, a goose and some chickens in a bag sitting there. The standard rate for a trip to Río Dulce is 75 Q ($10), but an official operator at the other pier would collect 90 Q ($12). We did not wait long and got to our destination in about an hour and a half.
Río Dulce is crowded. There are many market stands along the main road, as well as a big market place. I needed to get to a nearby monument - Spanish castle Castillo de San Felipe. But how? There were no marked bus stops and it seemed to me that only a taxi would have taken me there from here. I decided to walk. The road went partially through a forest and around several - apparently luxurious - hotels. I arrived in about fourty minutes. At about the same time, a van stopped next to me and a German tourist got off. She told me that such vans operated frequently and cost only 3 Q ($0.40), so it made no sense to walk.
Castillo de San Felipe is a well-preserved castle on the shore of Lago Izabal, surrounded by a park with palm trees. The tour is fast, everybody can easily climb on the top and look around (in practice, just around the park and the lake), but the interiors are not furnished. I swam for the last time in the lake and went back by van.
In Río Dulce, there is a big office of Autobuses del Norte, which operate between Guatemala City and Flores (connection to Tikal National Park). According to a timetable painted on a wall, the bus should leave at 2:30, 3:30 and 5:00 pm. I want to buy a ticket for 3:30 pm to Finca Ixobel, a famous agrotourism hotel next to Poptún. They answer me - there is no bus at 3:30 pm, you must leave at five at 30 Q ($4 for about 60 miles). I do not like this (I would arrive after dusk) and do not trust them. Can it be that there is no bus on a main road in Guatemala for two hours and a half? I do not give up and prefer to wait on the road side. As expected, a bus of a competing company Maria Elena arrives a few minutes before 3:30 and driver's assistant calls passengers. I get on, the ticket costs only 20 Q ($2.60). We stop in every village, everywhere on request, but we still move fast. In in Modesto Méndez (junction city named after a governor, who supported exploration of Tikal), we have a longer break for refreshment. After a few miles, something like a border checkpoint appears in front uf us. We drive off the main road towards an office building. It is not a national frontier, but the limits of a region. We are entering Petén region, which is protecting itself against animal and plant diseases. It is prohibited to import fruit, meat and other agricultural products from other regions of Guatemala. We continue after a spot check of bagages. In about two hours, we arrive at our destination. The bus stops and a small sign points to Finca Ixobel. I have to walk about a mile through a forest and am happy that it is not dark yet.
Finca Ixobel is a famous hotel, also because of activities they organize (cave tour, horse ride, etc.). When I consider the time, I am ultimately not interested in anything. However, I am happy to be there, as I can meet people from the whole world. There is for example a Lebanese major of a border city in Belize, who organizes an NGO conference in Poptún, to help resolve a border dispute between both countries (Guatemala claims the terrtory of Belize and war was imminent several times in the past). Or two Americans, who are telling their experiences from a tour to El Mirador pyramides (there is no road going there, just a path; you have to hire a local person with a horse in an neighbouring village to carry supplies, and walk there - this is a two-day hike).
© Jan Peula, 2004