Antigua, Guatemala was the first colonial town I had been to since Cusco, Peru. I was stoked to be back. Seeing the familiar cobblestone streets, colorful architecture, wide open plazas and sprawling cathedrals all backdropped by a seemingly endless blue sky made me incredibly happy. Although there’s no denying the terrible atrocities committed by the Conquistadors, you have to admit that they certainly had a knack for building charming towns.
“Caye Caulker, Go Slow” was one of the first things I saw after getting off the ferry from Belize City.
It turned out to be a very fitting motto. The four days I spent on Caye Caulker were probably four of the most chilled-out days of my life. I’d saunter down the main drag, with a gallon jug of water in one hand, and hear some rasta guy call over, “Hey mon, slow down mon.” Reggae music (Bob Marley being the preferred choice, of course) played all day and night. People loitered in front of their shops doing next to nothing in the hot afternoons. Island life, it seemed, was 1/4 the speed of normal life.
I sat near the aft of the boat with the sun shining down, wind streaking through my hair and looked across the Caribbean Sea at the island of Caye Caulker, Belize. If my trip was originally supposed to be Guatemala only, how the hell did I end up here?
Flores, Guatemala was my first stop, the gateway to Tikal and one of my favorite places I saw on this trip. I only spent two days and nights there but it seemed much longer. I suppose it was because I did so much the first day (showing up ungodly early and staying up late) but time, nonetheless, felt slow.
The town reminded me of Copan, Honduras except that it was surrounded by a lake. It was composed of narrow cobblestone streets and pretty buildings no higher than three stories. The town was so small that you could pretty much walk end-to-end in 10 minutes and circle the whole thing in 30. I tend to have a soft-spot for small towns and Flores was no exception. Not only that, the blue skies, warm weather, lakeside piers and slow pace of life reminded me of summer.
Thinking back to all my travels and all the people I’ve met, I’d have to say that a large number of friendships were made on the bus. It makes sense if you think about it: when going to an unfamiliar place, often with no accommodation booked, it’s easy to tag along with someone you’ve just spent several hours chatting to.
Not surprisingly then, the first group of people I met on this trip happened to be on my Tikal tour. After dropping off my large backpack at Los Amigos, me and an Italian guy from the night bus went running around town looking for the 5am minibus leaving for Tikal.
As it turned out, Flores is a small town with only one bridge out. We hopped on as the bus was leaving and headed off in the early morning darkness.
The red digital clock located above the center aisle read “2:09″. I had just woken up from a restless doze and peered out the window. Lit by the nearly full moon and the dim afterglow of the bus headlamps, the blur of trees and bush were occasionally interrupted by a roadside shack. Other than some snoring, the only sounds were the low hum of the engine and the constant creaking of a bus bouncing on uneven roads.
“Hello nightbus, it’s been a while.”
I was back in action, back in Latin America.
Tonight, I talked to an Indonesian friend I met in Bangkok back in January 2009. Since I last saw her in Thailand, she had left her job and boyfriend in Jakarta, studied in Europe, gotten married to a German guy and would be going to Germany mid next year.
We were talking and, out of the blue, she thanked me.
Almost exactly three years ago, I returned to the states from my three month study abroad trip in England. A couple weeks before leaving, I sat down and wrote about my experience in a note I posted on Facebook.
She said this note had inspired her to see the world which ultimately resulted in where she is now. I was floored.
I re-read it for the first time in years tonight. It amazed me how nearly all of the things I said then I still believe in now. It was also great to see that I had followed-through with the promise I made myself so many years ago.
Below is the note in full.