The Cost of Adventure | Road to Tikal 2023 FULL LENGTH - 4K
Tikal, perhaps the most well known of all ancient Mayan cities, is a world treasure; with many secrets yet to be revealed. So little is known about this world heritage site, yet it has embedded itself into the mainstream, modern culture through famous films and writing. After spending almost three months in Guatemala serving local communities, we decided to check Tikal off the proverbial list. In this episode, we won't just tell you about this magnificent destination, but we will share with you our firsthand experiences and difficulties on the road.
We will explore lesser known Mayan sights and local culture, reveal our experiences with corruption and border crossings in Latin America, and take you along for our fail departure for Puerto Rico. My name is Genevieve Begue, and this is not a Vlog or travel series. This is a real to life accounting of my healing journey through the Americas and the truthful sharing of my ongoing battle with depression.
Welcome to Wake in Wave! Before we officially get started, let's get you filled in on our situation before we left Guatemala City! At the time, our personal visas and the visa for the car were expiring, and we needed to fly to Puerto Rico to check on Glen's house after the recent hurricane. So we booked the tickets and had 10 days to renew our documents, see Tikal and some other sites, pack up, leave our car with our friend Roberto, and fly out of country. It seemed simple enough! Let's just give some subtle foreshadowing and say that none of it went according to plan! Okay: now you're all caught up! Preparing to leave Guatemala City, there is only one main highway to Tikal and Belize, and Google says it only takes 12 hours of driving. So we set off from the hustle and bustle of the city with the decision to take it slow and spend three days to get there, in a relaxing pace. But in Guatemala, as soon as you leave the concrete jungle, you enter the real jungle! And it's a different kind world...
The roads are windy and the temperature changes to match your elevation. We were fully prepared for a long road trip, but not prepared to be sitting in traffic for hours! The road we chose was under construction, not just a part here and there, but the majority of it! Potholes, broken bridges, random detours. It took about 18 hours of solid travel to arrive to the Mayan region. But sometimes the unexpected obstacles make for fun times. Es bueno? Gracias! Oh, that's the banana! They were gonna cross the street! Banana crossing! When we happened upon a banana crossing, so many dad jokes came to mind. Like, why did the banana cross the road? Maybe it had to split or maybe the other side looked, A-peeling.
In reality, Guatemala is the third largest exporter of bananas in the world, and it was strange to think that one of my friends in America or France could be eating one of these same delicious fruits within a few days. What do you think of the banana crossing? There was no bridge, telecable for the bananas when we first came, and then, Hop! There are bananas crossing the street, from one field to the other... The flying bananas... That's really cool! Of course, no trip would be complete without sampling some of the more exotic local fruits.
Wow, super nice these people, super nice! Litchi, we talked about the other litchi and he said "yeah, it's interesting because no, we don't have it." He said only in San Marcos, and he told me, "but you know, we don't sell it here!" He said "it's too expensive because that's not the one we produce." So it's too expensive for people to buy it here! Is that interesting? Let's choose a really nice red one. Look at this bearded litchi! Very different from the one we encountered in Mexico and most over the world, where I've been. It does look like a litchi. It's less juicy.
It's not as sweet, but it's quite sweet. It's not the same flavor. The flesh is stronger, less juicy, therefore. And the seed is different than the other one. And we do get some of the skin, which would be perfect if we wouldn't actually.
The spikes are not thorns, they're flexible. They don't hurt at all. I wanna say it tastes like lichi, but when you think about it, it doesn't really.
It reminds you of litchi for the texture, the look, the inside look. I don't think it reminds me of any other fruit! One could say that, that it has the, the texture of grapes. More chewy definitely. And yeah, I can see how we could say that it has a bit of pineapple taste, but it's definitely not a strongly flavored fruit. It's pretty soft.
I would think that it's a very strong flavor considering the look, not at all!. Another day of driving led us to the town of Rio Dulce, where I had some time to reflect on my emotional state. But I felt proud of my positivity and excitement for events to come. The following morning, I had a burst of energy and need to get out and explore.
I'm feeling exceptionally good right now! A bit more than a week that I have a bunch of feeling good moments. It's not about excitement. Well, it is a little bit, but it's more about just feeling good. And I am so impressed by the view, though I wouldn't say it's my favorite. I think it's really impressive this 'Puente del Rio Dulce'! This is the view, the kind of view that I've been dreaming of seeing.
The mountain... Cloudy. It's been really lovely lately. Lovely it was! But like all good things, it didn't last.
And before we even made it out of town, I was feeling low and hopeless again, like the stress of the road unleashed all its weight on me, and at once it was too heavy to carry. It took a while to snap out of this feeling. And it wasn't until I saw the recurring road signs to Tikal that my brain became distracted with excitement again. I am excited and I feel a little bit unprepared as usual, first starting with, you know, food for three days.
I'm excited, I think one thing I prepared well is smothering us in DEET this morning. Repellent. I think this is gonna be a lifesaver.
We'll see! We'll see... Finally, after three solid days of driving, we arrived at the gates of Tikal, but only to receive our first words of bad news. Not only could Zill not enter, but there was nowhere to leave him or the car at the entrance.
But after an hour of convincing, we gained permission. Well, what's happening is that it's complicated to enter with Zill. Once you pass the entrance and ticketing gate of Tikal, there is still about 10 miles of road to travel before you reach the site, which takes about 30 minutes and is marked with yellow signs, bringing awareness of the potential wildlife encounters along the jungle road.
Jaguars, snakes, frogs, spiders, pisotes! Oh, look, look, look! A skunk! No, it's one of the, um, the raccoon things... ... Which looked like a strange mix of lemur and raccoon. When we finally arrived near the site, a roadblock and a chaperon were awaiting us to ensure that Zill would not be unaccompanied. So we set afoot on what looked like endless paths through the jungle, nothing Mayan in sight. The monkeys screeched and howled as we passed. Obviously disturbed by Zill's presence, but we persisted, deeper and deeper into the jungle before the first ruins appeared in the distance. This was my first taste of an ancient Mayan city.
The structures looked as if they were birthed from the jungle, covered in moss and surrounded by earth and trees. We were now entering the outer limits of the ancient city... And it felt like a dream. I had imagined this moment so many times before, exploring the long lost cities of the Maya. In 2020, from my home in Israel, I began to seek the knowledge of the Mayan calendar with my friends Shahak and Alon, and quickly became fascinated with Mayan culture. I was finally here, in not just one of these great cities, but THE great city.
Tikal was the beating heart of an empire that controlled and influenced much of modern day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. In its prime during the Maya Classic period, around 750 AD, Tikal was home to an estimated 60 to 100,000 people. It was a rich and vibrant culture of art and music, with a keen knowledge of mathematics, and an unparalleled understanding of astronomy, beyond any other civilizations of the time! More than 30 distinct languages could be heard in the street. It had schools, hospitals, stadiums, and even a library with thousands of books! Much of the history of Mayan culture and civilization has been lost, but this iconic place has infiltrated modern culture in such movies as Star Wars, Apocalypto, Moonraker and Tarzan. Tikal is cloaked in mystery and legend, in large part because there is no consensus on what led to the collapse of their culture. Some say it was war or overpopulation.
Others say drought or deforestation, and it may well be a mix of it all. By the time the Spanish arrived in the 1500's though, Tikal was all but abandoned. The modern day site of Tikal National Park is larger than 350 square miles and the very jungle that has consumed the ruins of the city is one of the last and largest protected lungs of the planet.
It was truly the sensory experience of a lifetime to climb the temples and touch the ruins; to see the shiny white limestone faces of other pyramids floating like clouds above the vibrant green jungle canopy; to smell the damp earth that is constantly trying to hide these magnificent creations in the constant of time... To hear and see the wildlife all around, protecting this sacred space. We had an extraordinarily intimate encounter at this World Heritage site, almost emptied of tourism because of the pandemic, the rain season, and an approaching hurricane...
Somehow though, we explored the site for an entire day without a single drop of rain! As much as we would have loved to spend more time in Tikal, one day had to be enough for us. Though it was breathtaking, we saw the majority of the uncovered site in one day and climbed all the structures available. It was a hassle having to be escorted with Zill! And to be honest, the cost was not within our budget to spend more days there.
For foreigners, it is about 20 American dollars per person and doubles if you want to be there for sunrise or sunset. The guide is an additional $50 per two hours, and for us, this wasn't optional because of Zill... Mix this with the cost of hotels and food and wanting to see other sites as well, it was just not feasible. Even if we were to return, it was still a once in a lifetime experience! After leaving Tikal, we headed down the mountain to Lake Peten, to a town called El Remate, which means "The End" in Spanish. I really like these birds! There are really interesting birds here! We stayed in quaint and cute hotel run by a humble woman, Erna.
We really lucked out with a comfortable and affordable room, being so close to the national park! We aren't always so lucky with places to stay though! Just a few nights before we settled for the only affordable hotel we could find before the sun set. Sometimes it's dangerous, or sketchy at the least. That's the sketchiest hotel we've been in! It looks comfortable, like when you look at it, it looks comfortable! But there's no window and we, they basically lock us in! The guy came running around the corner with a gun! With a heavy...
A rifle! Yeah, that's kind of scary... Nobody answered the phone and we don't know how to get out of here! I knocked on the door, when I heard something behind it! So we pulled in right here, and then this door right there closes. and I was like: "oh, cool! The switch is here!" But no, there is no switch! And so this door closed shut! And then we are inside and I started panicking cause I'm claustrophobic... And they wouldn't answer the phone! And he was talking to me through this thing earlier, he wouldn't come at the same time as me. And that doesn't open! I just could see him like that! Like you give the money here! This is just nuts! And the wonderful jacuzzi does not have hot water, so we don't even have a hot shower tonight! We've been wondering if there is a hole behind this mirror that they might just be looking through! Hopefully not, but if there is, I mean, worst they can see is not... It's Zill! Well, Zill... Yeah! Cause they don't know Zill is here.
Luckily we were able to get a good night sleep. After Tikal, we packed up and headed east, toward a lesser known site, Yaxha, which is mayan for 'bluish green water'. I'm on top of a Mayan pyramid! Forest. In the rainforest! Yaxha is located close to the Belize border and is the most accessible of four major sites in the park. Nakum, Naranjo and Tapoxte, as well as 10 intermediate cities, are all located within the park perimeter of roughly 150 square miles. It rained the entire day when we were there, but this turned out to be a good thing.
I can hardly believe where I am, and under the rain, I think makes it even more magic! This was an incredible welcoming we had! The site is run by the community and everything goes to the community, so it really feels good. The site was open to touch and climb almost all of the ruins, with miles of hiking trails through the jungle, and we had the entire place to ourselves for the day. It's hard to stay very long inactive because the mosquitoes are immediately finding me! It was not difficult to get Zill into this park, we just showed this proper documentation. They made a few phone calls, and within a few minutes we were roaming the site. They were very clear on the reason that this was a special circumstance though: any new animals to the area would stir up the jungle wildlife! Scary just as they intend to be, huh? Scary! All in all, our day at Yaxha was incredible.
From the top of the park's tallest temple... Wow! What we... Hah! ...The site offers a beautiful view of the Yaxha Laguna from above the jungle canopy. Today it is one of the few remaining Mayan sites to overlook a large body of water.
It was a much more intimate and personal experience than Tikal. Definitely not as grand nor famous, but impressive in its own unique ways. We were unaware at the time, but the extensive rain during the day was not typical. It was actually the front end of a hurricane that was pummeling Belize. Luckily we didn't need to drive far to our accommodation for the night.
Earlier in the day, we met young Alejandro who prepared the room for us. Elsia and Walter, his parents, were great hosts. They were about to become certified guide and were absorbed in new knowledge of ancient mayan culture, making for great conversations over dinner. Our room was an open air thatched roof hut in the middle of the jungle. Mushrooms, magic mushrooms. This came from our mushroom hunt in Sierra de las Minas, so we'll see where they take me this time! The taste is not always that great, but...
No, not all the same taste though. Oh, there's a firefly! My intention is to heal emotionally, psychologically, and to connect with nature more and more. The house in which we stay is made of nature, minus the cement. Okay.
And I'm always very thankful for the mushrooms, grateful to them for allowing me to get into experiences that have so far been quite incredible and helpful, very helpful! I'm sure I'm gonna eat dirt! Right now I feel like the taste is not that great! And Zill is really attentive. I think we are the closest we've been to the idea of staying in the jungle and living with people just like they do live. It's the first time we're staying in a hut.
We would call that a hut. And we have a roof of palm leaves... Quite different! And I'm excited! I'm really excited. And it's amazing to enter their life! The place is modest, is humble. I mean there's no electricity here. It's off the grid completely! There's no electricity and the light that we had was the generator so far, and now it's with a little battery and our portable lamp.
Okay, so the last of mushrooms... In 2020, in my darkest hours of depression, mushrooms were instrumental in bringing me back to a sense of belonging to the order of this world. Yeah, it's an hour and almost 20 minutes later, I don't feel... I wanna feel stuff but... Like colors are bright at times, but I don't really see anything happening.
I think I saw some brighter colors but, no, it didn't set in. Which I guess it's okay. That's what it is, it is what it is.
I was hoping to feel that. I've been hurting. I've been in pain the whole night. The mushrooms that I took yesterday didn't seem to do much.
Well, I did have some psychedelic dream kind of thing, but I don't know if it was because of the mushroom or because of, I mean, thinking of the mushroom...? I didn't have any hallucinations. I didn't see... Maybe one flash here and there of light and I'm not even sure. Yeah, colors are clear this morning! Maybe that has something to do with, I don't know. Maybe it's just the jungle colors.
In the morning, still under constant rain, we packed up to head to the Belize border, noticing we had a flat tire. A flat tire, leaving our host from Yaxha. So you dit it! Great! Tire shops, or pinchazos as they are called in Guatemala, are very common, but because of the storm it took all morning to find one that was open. Once our tire was repaired and we were back on the road, we realized the severity of the storm. Entire neighborhoods were underwater, leaving hundreds of peoples stranded in the rain. Sections of roads were completely washed out, or became rivers themselves, and agricultural fields became small lakes.
Hurricane Julia affected hundreds of thousands of people and caused half a billion dollars worth of damage, spread throughout every country of Central America. With the storm showing no signs of letting up and the extent of the road damage unknown, we decided to make our Belize border crossing a one day event if possible, thinking the authorities on both sides would understand the urgency of the situation. But again, we were wrong and got caught up in a scam. At the Melchor de Mencos border, it is a West to East crossing.
On the West, Guatemala; on the East, Belize. We were streamlined through the Guatemala side with smiles and done in only a few minutes, but when it came time to enter the Belize side, it was set up for failure. Belize doesn't let us enter because we are not staying for three days and we are not "bona fide" travelers. So I really don't wanna go to Belize anymore! and it was very clear that they wouldn't let enter. Even the manager wouldn't budge, with his legs kicked up on his desk, watching TikTok videos! So we were forced to leave with no visa stamp, stuck between two borders... Well, we are getting bribed, totally, to get an extension.
Upon exiting the building to resolve the issue on the Guatemalan side, a young man approached, already aware of our problem. Away from the camera, he told us that he works with both sides and the Belize option would be more expensive, so we need to place, in his words, "a donation" of 150 American dollars into a passport and hand it over as if it was normal procedure when in the presence of the camera. We had no room to negotiate the bribe, so we paid it! 20 minutes later, we were presented with the appropriate stamp and car paperwork, but we were now told to pay an additional administrative fee for the car importation. But they knew it well, we had no choice. Furthermore, if we wanted a receipt for this 'legal' part of the transaction, the fee needed to be paid to a bank in the center of town. So I hopped on the back of this young man's motorcycle, paid the bank fee, and collected the receipt.
When it was all said and done, getting back into Guatemala costs us about $200. I understand that this is considered normal in most Latin American countries and many places around the world, but it still didn't stop the disagreements between Glen and I. I knew as soon as he pulled him over and was talking to him quietly, that this was gonna work out to be a bribe. His view is: we paid the price for our mistakes. Me, I can appreciate it.
I mean, what do we have to risk? We enter the game where they get to make up the rules and we have the luxury to play the game as part of our travel. In my view... I think the whole thing, I disagree with it. It's simply people taking advantage of a situation and of other people, and paying into it only keeps the cycle going.
But for the time being, we had accomplished our goal of renewing the car visa and we were clear to head back to the city and prepare to fly to Puerto Rico. With our failed yet successful border crossing behind us, we had five days left to make it back to Guatemala City to catch our flight. So we decided to take the long way, which we hoped would actually be quicker than the highway under construction, and we turned out to be correct.
Kind of! We hit quite a few sections of road that were washed out and taken over by landslides. Many of the roads were dirt or mud, and we had a couple river crossings. We have encountered many places over the months where locals take it upon themselves to fill in potholes because the local government won't pay for repairs. It is extremely arduous work but makes the road safer and more efficient to pass. So we support these people when we can. Other times, some seek to take advantage of the situation, essentially extorting people to assist in crossing damaged sections of the road.
In these cases, we usually just turn around and try to find an alternate route. We were led by Google Maps to a couple beautifully paved sections of roads, but stopped later at gates and were denied entry because they were private roads that connected the public roads, resulting in hours of unnecessary detours. In Sayaxche, we discovered with excitement that we had to get the car in a ferry to cross the river, which had consequently grown and flooded even the electric poles on the bank.
We managed to cross the river though and continued toward Coban. In Chisec, we stopped at many hotels looking for the best price and settled for the cheapest one, which turned out to be a mistake! We both broke out in rashes in the night and later learned that it was bed bugs. I am, uh, covered in bites and I'm really, really struggling. It's itching me really bad. It's hurting as hell! I'm afraid I hope it's not bed bugs.
After all this struggle, we made it back to the city in time to pack up and drop off the car with our friend Roberto, but when he took us to the airport, we were denied departure because of issues having to do with Zill. Filled out the newly required paperwork... and were denied again! This flight has been made very difficult, very challenging. Hopefully we can fly from Mexico, uh, to Puerto Rico in a month from now. The CDC recently put a ban on dogs entering the US from what they call high risk countries for rabies.
We were not notified by Spirit Airlines in advance, and we missed a third flight. At this point, we honestly have no clue how to end this episode because for us it still hasn't ended. Glen still needs to get to Puerto Rico to fix his house. Luckily, his neighbor, Hector, was able to dig up the road and fix a broken water main. But there is much more that needs to be attended too! We struggled for months trying to get to Puerto Rico and even to get out of Guatemala itself. There is something about this country that I'm crazy about, and at the same time feeling like 'it's time to go!'.
We had the new title and registration for the car lost in the mail for months, and we were extorted again at another border crossing, this time for $500. And we almost had the car impounded! Our car is held there, on the Guatemala side of the 'aduana', we returned our visa for the car basically, our import form. And after doing a thousand dollars of maintenance on the car, we were involved in a hit and run where Glen had to run after the car and notify the police. Luckily, they were caught and we got the car repaired. Glen, Zill and I have been taken down by some bad illnesses.
Zill seems to have a new injury or dog bite every month! And after we finally made a successful border crossing into Mexico, we made a mistake on our paperwork and they only gave us a two month visa instead of six. There was only 65 days on it that he was giving us, 65 days. So we went to the window again to ask him, "can we have 180 days because if we wanna stay longer, he said, "no! You said two, three months, I gave you five more days". So we were forced to try our luck with the Belize border crossing again. But this time, we tried at the northern border of Chetumal.
We learned our lesson and booked hotels for a few nights, and planned for a quick return to Mexico. We didn't have any big issue. The one woman who actually took care of us the longest, was also the nicest and she was kind! We had to give the drone though... She asked me, and when I remember we said we wouldn't lie... But how much was it to import Zill? $160 US dollars! Because we didn't do an online application permit.
But we fell in love with the incredible array of cultures and people contained in this small country. We ended up staying a few weeks, and had an incredible experience, as we immersed ourselves in the living Mayan culture of Belize! Once we returned to Mexico with fresh visa, things changed dramatically... Members of my family came to visit from France and from America! I anticipated these moments for so long, holding my daughter Salomee in my arms for the first time in two years, and meeting her boyfriend, Kevin! Hearing Sherrie's crazy and contagious laugh and sharing precious moments with my baby sister Elodie and her husband, Ben. We spend 12 days together, exploring the Yucatan Peninsula. As much as I would love to get into the story and feelings having to do with this, it will have to be its own episode. It's also something that I'm still processing, missing everyone, once again.
In February, the US extended its ban on high risk country for rabies, making waiting it out no longer an option for us to get to Puerto Rico. So we decided to settle in Yucatan and Oaxaca for the next couple months to give ourselves time to edit and release some of these episodes before getting back on the road toward Argentina. This leg of the journey has been a struggle spiritually, emotionally, mentally, financially. We are consistently met with lessons that apparently need to be learned and the people, places, and timing to learn them.
In the end, all we have is a story, and the story is what we're telling. Sometimes there isn't a climax or clean way to wrap it up. This is one of those times. Regardless, we hope you enjoyed it. If you liked this video and want to see more like it, please consider contributing to our Patreon and GoFundMe campaigns.
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