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Who Needs Brakes When There Are Maya Ruins?

Who needs brakes when there are Maya Ruins?

From Antigua I am going to head north for a one week drive to the Maya ruins in Tikal. The plan is to get to tropical Rio Dulce on the first day. It’s a long drive but there isn’t much to stop for. I’ve had enough of mountain driving causing van problems for now, but once I’m past the first half an hour it should be mostly flat. My original plan had me drive through Semuc Shampey with some awesome swimming waterfalls on the way up to Tikal and back through Rio Dulce. But with the state of my van and many people warning me about how bad those roads are 4wd only I had to decide to leave them for the next trip. So long boring drive it is. The cooling on the van survived the mountains out of Antigua perfectly. I guess it really was just the cap. In Guatemala City I make my compulsory monthly Walmart stop to shop for motor oil, bags of pasta bigger than 200g and other supplies that are sometimes harder or more expensive to find. Because of busy traffic and construction works the drive to Rio Dulce takes me more than 8 hours for a bit more than 300 km. But when I arrive at 4, I get the fun of surprising Renzo and Mary (the Swiss couple in the VW van that I met a few times in Baja) and I can park right next to them. The campsite is the parking area of a yacht club. Rio Dulce is the safest harbor in the Caribbean during hurricane season so everyone is hiding out here. It’s a bit more expensive but it has a great pool and the best toilets and showers I have seen in a very long time. Over a beer I catch up with the Swiss on all the adventures that happened since we last saw each other and all the van issues we’ve had. It turns out to be movie night at the restaurant of the yacht club so we decide to eat together there while watching a movie.

The next day Renzo and Mary are doing the 8h drive so they have to leave early, I only have 2 hours to drive so I can sleep late. I have a chat with my American neighbors who travel with their three kids and already have been on the road for 2 years to get from California to here. (More on these guys in my next story.) Anne and Alex told me to drive to Finca Ixobel. A big ranch hotel thing where you can camp too. The weather isn’t too good and it isn’t very busy but it’s a very nice place. And l go explore their lands which have natural pools, fish ponds and tree-houses.

Frog in Tikal

Today another few hours drive until I get to Tikal. I’ll only visit the ruins tomorrow but want to start early so I want to camp right at the entrance. I should only arrive after three in the afternoon, otherwise I have to pay entrance to the park surrounding the ruins twice. (20 eur per person per day is pretty steep). On the last bit of the drive in the park there are heaps of signs warning you for turkeys, jaguars, snakes, toucans, tapirs and other weird animals on the road. I happily drive up to the park entrance when my brake pedal goes all the way to the floor but my van doesn’t slow down. Crap! No good! When I pump the brake again a few times it comes back. The same thing happens 5 minutes later when I drive into my camping spot. That’s really no good. I try debugging the problem when I’m in the camping spot but I can’t get it to happen again. I guess I’ll have to drive to a garage very carefully tomorrow… The camp is next to a hotel and once again I fall asleep to the sound of howler monkeys.

Gran Plaza Tikal

Tikal opens at 6 in the morning, so that’s when I get up and 15 minutes later I walk into the park. It is beautifully quiet in the park. I walk onto the main plaza and there are only 2 other people around. The sun is just rising above the trees and there is a spooky fog hanging around. I climb the two pyramids you can get up and still there is barely anyone around. I sit there and watch the sun rise further while the fog slowly disappears. I spend a few more hours walking to all the ruins looking for animals. I spend some time watching spider monkeys in the trees above me collecting apple sized fruits, taking a bite out of it and then dropping the rest. When i’m done with the park it’s too late to drive to the nearest town (Flores at 60km) for a mechanic to look at my brakes. The American family from Rio Dulce had recommended at campsite halfway between Tikal and Flores. So that’s where I’ll drive. My brakes seem fine again but I won’t drive faster than 40km/h and I keep my hand on the hand brake. The campsite is at a natural park which has loads of horse and donkey farms on its lands. I park my van and in the evening I go for the treetop suspension bridge walk. I have no clue how long the road is but it keeps going up and up. I see a snake and cross multiple 100m long suspension bridges all the way up to a viewpoint overlooking the jungle. It’s starts to get dark and I don’t have a flashlight so I keep walking quickly to get back to my van.

Obviously it’s Sunday now (this is obvious because my van is broken once again), so no use of going to town. I stay another day. I pack up on lunch, camera and a book to read at the viewpoint and walk to the beginning of the suspension bridge tour. Once I start walking someone comes running after me and tells me to go to the reception. Turns out you need to pay for the bridges: 15 euros. The walk was nice but not that nice, so thanks but no thanks. Instead I hang around my van all day and try to prevent the horses and donkeys from steeling stuff out of my van.


Monday, mechanic day. I slowly drive to Flores, the van still seems normal. I hop into a mechanic and they have a good look. They readjust my brakes to fix the problem. After this I visit Flores itself. A small village on an island in a big lake. It’s early in the day so there’s not too much going on. But enough for a photo tour and watching the fishing boats in the lake.

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