Rio Dulce, Livingston, and trying to leave Guatemala
The next stop in my whirlwind tour of the northern parts of Guatemala was the Rio Dulce. I got a bus (an actual comfortable coach style bus with reclining seats and everything), that left an hour late at Flores, but still somehow got me to Rio Dulce early. I didn't think this was possible in Guatemala so it was a very welcome surprise!
I got a boat from the town to the hostel I was staying at, the Kangaroo Hostel, a nice little place accessible only by the water, run by a very Aussie Australian and his Mexican wife. It was a little weird to be in Guatemala, surrounded by kitsch Aussie memorabilia, but the menu had some pretty good Mexican options on it.
My travel agent had booked me on a boat trip along the river to go out to Livingston on the Caribbean coast and back. The boat ride was pretty nice; so lush and green on either side. First we looped around to see Castillo San Felipe.
Then a bit later we stopped at a place so little girls could paddle out to us with canoes full of trinkets to try and sell to us, then further down the diver we stopped at a place with a hot spring along the edge of the river.
Finally we got to the part were the river is cutting through the limestone canyons, which were super steep with loads of beautiful untouched vegetation growing all over it.
On our arrival at Livingston we had a bunch of black guys come out to meet the boat shouting "welcome to Africa" then trying to take us to hostels. One guy was even trying to sell us weed.
Livingston itself didn't have very much to offer, the town was tiny, dusty and stinking hot. I went exploring with a newly-wed Israeli couple and we went and saw two of the nearby beaches. They had dark brown mud-like sand, grass growing right to the edge, the water was a dirty brown, and there was tons of rubbish dumped along them. They were more like a polluted river bank, but even less scenic.
We found a place to have a beer while watching local fishermen circle their nets, with heaps and heaps of pelicans flying over, looking for an easy lunch.
For lunch we went and tried the local traditional food, Garifuna tapado, a coconut seafood curry with plantains. It was epic, easily the best part of going to Livingston for me. There was a whole fried fish, a whole crab split in two and 6 or so prawns, all in delicious coconut soup.
We got the boat back along the river to the hostel and I spent the evening hanging out with people drinking and eating Mexican food.
The next day I got a bus to Guatemala City to stay the night in a hostel before my early flight to SF the next day. The hostel was a bit strange, occupying several separate apartments in an apartment building.
The day of my flight went really smoothly. I got a transfer from my hostel to the airport with plenty of time to check in; the check-in lines flowed quickly as did clearing security and immigration. People boarded the plane like they actually knew what they were doing for a change. We taxied out to the runway and waited for our slot to take off.
Then we got told there was a "light fault", and we were taxied back to the gate where we waited while the engineers checked it out. I was thinking "what does it matter if a light isn't working for a day time flight?", but after about half an hour they announced that there was problem with an engine and I realised that "light fault" must have meant a warning light in the cockpit was on and it suddenly sounded much more serious.
After about an hour on the plane we were told the plane wasn't going anywhere and we all de-boarded out into the gate again, where we were led out of the airport, straight through immigration again without even being stopped, to collect our bags after which we had to leave the airport entirely and reenter the departures section of the airport to queue up and be rebooked on new flights.
The line to rebook the entire flight was horrendously long and slow moving. United only had two staff on to deal with it, so in the end I was waiting in line for about four hours, only to be told that because of earlier cancellations that week they couldn't book me to fly tomorrow either, and that I was stuck in Guatemala City for the next two nights.
They booked me into a hotel and gave me some vouchers to buy meals there. The hotel was pretty nice, far fancier than anywhere else I've stayed on this trip, but it was in a pretty seedy feeling part of town. I was disappointed to find out that the vouchers they gave me were for $7 per meal, but the hotel only had a buffet on offer for lunch and dinner, and the buffet cost $14. Tightwads! I could have easily eaten for $7 a meal if they'd given me cash and I'd gone out for food.
Since I had a full day in Guatemala City, I decided to explore the city a bit. I'd heard that Guatemala City was like every other capital in Central America, a big, dirty, dangerous place, with little to offer aside from it's airport, but the central part of the city was actually pretty nice.
I went to the huge central park and wandered about looking at the very impressive façades of old buildings, the palace, the national library and the cathedral. The architecture was really pretty impressive.
I ended up walking back towards the hotel along 6th Avenida, the pedestrian street leading out from the central park. The whole strip felt modern, fairly wealthy and quite safe; It didn't really feel like any other part of Guatemala that I'd been to. I ended up walking the several kilometres back to the hotel and even the seedy area the hotel was located in felt pretty safe, even if every second building seemed to be a strip club. I guess they target the businessmen using the hotel's convention centre.
Attempt two at leaving Guatemala went smoothly, with no issues about having a passport that was already stamped out of Guatemala and never back in again, and I was off on my flight to San Francisco to get myself organised before Burning Man.