Day 1 Continued...
The event everyone is afraid of, but also doesn't believe will happen to them - happened to us. Neither of us had ever gone through this experience before, so we were not exactly sure how to react at first. I was expecting one of the baggage guys to walk around the corner with two backpacks saying, "Oops, forgot these ones" except in Spanish. When I realized that wasn't happening we approached the men that appear to be in charge of the luggage. We told them our bags were not here and asked if there were more coming, in English. Blank stares. "Hablas Inglais?" No was the response. Note to self: be sure to pack your Spanish-English dictionary on your carry on bag next time. Scanned the airport for something, anything that could help. Tourism desk. Perfect, they'll surely speak English. Second note to self: Never assume anyone in Guatemala will speak English. After a few attempts speaking to different people we saw a diagram with luggage and the word "Equipaje" next to it. Finally we were able to express what was wrong! Eventually we found out we needed to go to the building next-door to report our missing bags.
We stepped out into the night where there were a handful of eager taxi drivers trying to get our attention, and then one to the side holding up a hand written sign that said "Audrey Cooper" We had arranged for our hotel to pick us up at the airport, as it was going to be dark and the cost of the service was only $2 per person. Luckily our driver Jiminez spoke English fairly well and we explained about our missing bags and asked if he would mind waiting while we tried sorting it out. He happily agreed without hesitation. We got to the desk inside the other building and were told to wait as the manager was on his way. I cannot express how happy I was to discover that Nelson, the manager spoke amazing English. Nelson was very familiar with the problem we were having, apparently when people fly into Flores on connecting flights the other airlines are unfortunately telling people that their luggage will safety arrive at their final destination and they do not have to worry about transferring it over in Guatemala City. We actually asked several people before boarding our plane about this, because we wanted to be certain we wouldn't loose our bags for such a silly reason. This was a bit of a relief, because if this is what happened to our bags then they weren't exactly lost, just delayed and we could get them back without too much trouble. Nelson needed to confirm with Guatemala City that our bags were waiting there. At this time of the evening, the part of the airport in Guatemala City he needed to contact was closed, so he would need to get back to us tomorrow. Thinking positive. Trying. Attempting not to think that the worst has happened before I actually know (for a change). So we decided to go check out our hotel we reserved and try to enjoy our first night in this beautiful city.
Woke up to the very loud sound of birds cawing from what sounded like it was right outside of our window. I peaked out of the window to spot the birds and for the first time saw the gorgeous view from our room. I couldn't settle for a peak and decided to fully admire our view and completely opened up the curtains. I sat there for a minute just taking the beauty in, completely distracted from my missing luggage.
We were expecting a call from Nelson to call to hopefully give us good news that our bags were found and currently on the flight from Guatemala City to Flores. Half eager and half afraid to discover if he had indeed called, I woke Steve up so we could go down to reception.
After trying to explain to the hotel staff what happened with our bags and the phone call we were expecting we learned that Nelson hadn't called yet. This was disappointing for two reasons. 1. He promised he would call with an update by 8am.
2. There are only two flights to Flores daily - one early morning and one in the evening, so if they weren't on the morning flight the earliest we would get them would be in the evening and we were suppose to be in El Remate later that day. Although, even this was positive thinking, as we were not even sure if they have even found our bags in the first place.
So we had some breakfast and hung around the hotel waiting for Nelson's phone call. I started feeling a little nervous about being so far from home and not really being able to communicate with the Guatemalan people. The lack of my luggage was also getting to me - as if it was my security blanket and I was a wee toddler. Sticking around the hotel for a little while helped me feel slightly better about my surroundings and confident that everything was going to work out fine.
After speaking with Nelson and learning they were unsure if our bags were found our in Guatemala City or not, we thought we would try to enjoy the rest of our day in Flores and attempt to see and do the activities we had originally planned for. We would head over to the airport for about 7pm, when the flight from Guatemala City would be arriving, and cross our fingers that our bags would magically be on the flight. In which case, we would head straight to El Remate, where our open -air jungle open awaits. If our luggage was not there, we would head back to Flores and stay one more night, throwing our schedule off slightly. With this in mind, we had the rest of the day to enjoy the colours and people of Flores. We head out to explore some more of the Island.
First stop: Finding a hat. It sure is hot in Flores!
We wandered the streets of Flores poking our heads into the colourful shops. Every inch of this tiny island is covered with colourful hotels, restaurants and shops and a few scattered homes.
Hats equipped we decide to try and hire a boat and driver to take us over to ARCAS - a non- profit rescue and conservation organization. When we were researching places to visit in Guatemala, ARCAS was one of the first discoveries. I am always eager to visit organizations like this to see all the amazing things they do and especially to support their efforts with admission fees and donations.
Once we found the make-shift docking area used by the local boaters, trying to communicate where we wanted to go and how much this would cost was a little bit of a challenge.
In my pre-trip research I read many horrible stories and warnings from travellers stating how dangerous Guatemala is and how careful one must be while travelling. All sorts of stories ranging from corrupt travel agencies, shuttle buses and police to frequent stories of people being mugged,stabbed or worse in broad day light. These constant stories that plague travel forums actually rooted a prejudicial fear in my brain. Initially, upon meeting someone I would immediately judge them and decide if this person seemed trust worthy. I quickly learned to take the internet warnings with a grain of salt and that Guatemala was no more dangerous than any other country. One general rule of thumb: just don't do stupid things that would put yourself in obvious danger. During our trip I was constantly impressed with how friendly and helpful the Guatemalan people were. Every single person we spoke to went out of their way to assist us in any way they could, even with our language barrier.
Lots of hand actions and uncertain smiles later we head off with our friendly and very forgiving boat captain Ernesto!
Lake Peten Itza is a vast and gorgeous deep blue lake surrounded by all sorts of green hills and palm trees and dotted with modest houses where dogs, pigs and chickens roam wild from house to house scavenging for food and a cool place to lie. ARCAS is suppose to be, "just across the lake", but it takes a considerable amount of time to get there. We watch as the tiny island of Flores shrinks in the distance.
As we approach ARCAS all I can think is... "This doesn't look like the right place, it doesn't even look open!" The subtle and rustically overgrown entrance, and the fact that the recent rainy season has drowned all of the lakes docks made me think that this conservation project had permanently closed it's doors. This did not phase Ernesto one bit and he artfully continued to steer the boat to the edge of the lake so we could get out.
Ernesto brought us up to the information centre of the park and left us with Irwin, an ARCAS volunteer. With some confusion and hand signals we thought we had determined that Ernesto would come back for us in a couple of hours.
Irwin took us on a very informative Spanish tour of the park where we met all sorts of rescued animals happily living their lives. Unfortunately most of their animals come from people who take these precious animals as pets and then when they grow into adults or grow tired of them abandon them. Nestled in one of the first enclosures was a pair of beautiful ocelots, followed by a troop of mischievous spider monkeys, amazon parrots, macaws a couple of crocodiles and many goats and various types of fowl. We got to see where they make up their food and learned more about the care that these rescued animals receive. The parrots were particularly amusing. As with many parrots, especially ones who were owned as pets, they love interaction . As we walked up to them, we were greeted with squaks, hello's and hola's as they fought for our attention. There was one amazon in particular that would tweak it's head to the side as he said, "hooooolaaa".
The complete tour of ARCAS didn't actually take very long so as we walked back down to the dock we thought we were going to have to waste about an hour and a half sitting at the dock waiting for Ernesto to come back to pick us up, but apparently our Spanish/sign language skills are not as good as we thought, and Ernesto was there waiting at the dock for us!
Ernesto took us for a ride around the lake, he showed us where many of the locals live and took us around the island so we could get some nice views of Flores.
Ernesto dropped us off and we spent some more time wondering the small Island before the clouds started to roll in. Went back to Hotel Casa Amelia to see if we could hang out in the restaurant to waste some time during the rain and before the airport. The front desk staff were all completely amazing, helpful and understanding (even though the didn't understand us and our English speaking ways) The staff said it would be alright to lounge in the restaurant or even the rooftop terrace. Excellent! With the hot sun and my not so fit self, I could certainly use a little rest. As we got up to the roof we heard a couple rumbles and the rain started to fall, luckily part of the rooftop was covered. Each pulled up a lounger and had a bit of a nap while listening to the rain. It was quite lovely. Spent the rest of the afternoon lounging around the hotel until the much anticipated time came to head to the airport. As with most airport visits, my stomach was in a knot! I was fairly certain we would be spending another night at Casa Amelia, which wouldn't exactly be a bad thing I just desperately wanted to be in our little jungle shack.
Anxiously standing at the airport exit, which was the closest we were allowed to be according to the only airport security Flores seemed to have. Steve and I thoroughly scan the airport for Nelson - no sign of him. "Maybe he is avoiding us, because he has bad news about our bags!" Brain, shut up! Waiting, Waiting, patiently (yeah right) waiting. The new arrivals start picking up their bags and pass us for taxi's. Shortly after, we spot the most magnificent sight imaginable - Nelson and he has not only one backpack draped over his shoulder.. BUT TWO! Even though our bags were just filled with clothes, toiletries and a book or two, words cannot express how happy and relieved I was to see this man with our belongings. I probably could have cried if I thought about it long enough. After repeatedly thanking Nelson, we merrily hopped into our taxi which would take us all the way to El Remate and our hotel, Posada del Cerro!
Jiminez, our driver was very friendly and spoke excellent English. We chatted with him during the trip which made the 45 minute trip fly right by. Arriving to a new place in the dark (which is something we did a lot this trip) is always kind of neat. Its like being blind folded and taken somewhere and when you wake you finally see all the beauty that surrounds you.
So we arrive in the dark, in the very dark because in this neck of the woods there are no street lights. We grab our luggage and head up the wooded hotel pathway, which is actually a trek on its own! Arriving breathless at the top there is a hatched-roofed restaurant, which doubles as the hotel reception. Willy and one of the other hotel staff had been waiting for us to arrive. Apparently a bunch of ants had crawled up our legs and decided to welcome us as well by constantly biting us till we squashed or flung them away.
Willy offered us some drinks and dinner, but seeing as we were not too hungry we opted for drinks and desert! The desert, although simple was amazing. Caramelized pineapples and fried bananas, if only I could eat this everyday, all day. The hotel was so remote that the hotel was dead quiet. As we sat in the open air restaurant we could hear all the nature around us. At this point, we still haven't even seen our room.
When I first started looking into Guatemala, the very first hotel that caught my eye was Posada del Cerro. They had one room that I instantly fell in love with, a hatched roofed cabin built completely with wood and materials from the surrounding area. It had a king sized bed and had an open balcony with chairs and a hammock which looked onto the forest. Very natural and unquestionably stunning. As Willy brought us to our room and I saw our cabin the photos that originally put a love spell on me did not do this amazing hotel justice. First of all, it was huge! I was not expecting it to be even half of the size that it was and just absolutely gorgeous, that's really all I can say. All I can think is that I was so happy that I found this place and reserved this room almost a year before our trip and I could not wait to see what it looked like in daylight!