I arrived at Bacalar in the evening. I was afraid: I had to walk to my hostel from the bus stop, and it was getting dark. This would not have been daunting were it not for the aggressive stray dogs roaming the town.
As with raw bananas, PE classes and hormonal contraception, my sentiment towards dogs is: absolutely fucking not.
I do not find dogs cute. I do not find them endearing. I do not find them clean. I do not like it when they pant near my face. I do not like their faint smell of carcass.
When they bark, I think that I will die. When I hear the word ‘doggo’, I vomit. When people call themselves a ‘dog mummy’, I call 999 to report a crime.
And let me make this explicit: the antidote to my dogphobia is not me seeing a picture of your dog. No offence but I probably think it’s ugly.
(Bracing myself for an onslaught of unfollows).
So, this was the primary drawback of Bacalar. My phobia prevented me from heading out alone when it was getting dark. I had to peep my head into the other guest’s room and recruit him as a bodyguard when I went to get groceries for dinner.
I am an insipid wench, I thought cheerily.
Bacalar is a vast lagoon that gleams a potent blue such that it is surely a witch’s potion. A short walk to the Parque Ecologico reveals a pier that slithers forth into its glimmering depths, making it the perfect spot for reading or daydreaming. I had a day on my own to wander and drift.
My friends arrived the next day, and we headed to the Cenote Azul (which was quite gassed up to me; it’s actually just another pleasant lake. It isn’t the most inspiring of the cenotes that I’ve visited, but it was dirt cheap to get in). The walk there took us a while, but we saw some dreamy views and artwork en route.
I only stayed in Bacalar for 2 nights; I was keen to get to Guatemala as I had been in Mexico for well over a month.
People don’t go to Guatemala from Bacalar. I was about to discover why.
- I don’t recommend the hostel I stayed in. It was really dirty, and every time I turned on the hob the flames made violent love to my hand and I ended up feeling just as much fear cooking dinner as I did dodging the street dogs. Alas, hostels in Bacalar are really expensive; there are some good party accommodations there, which are probably worth forking out for. Alternatively, it would be a decent spot to invest in an Air BnB.
- My friends and I went to ‘Maracuya’, an enclosed area with lovely pop-up food stalls and seating on the lake pier. We tried out a couple of eateries and this was easily the superior option.
Aforementioned Journey from Hell
The common traveller route from Mexico into Guatemala via bus is through San Cristobal (avid astepaside readers: you may recall this as the place where I saw chickens get massacred). I didn’t really want to return there; I was keen to see pastures new. The only advertised routes to Guatemala went via Belize, which requires a negative Covid test and payment to enter and leave.
I asked around, and found a tiny local bus company that said they could get me to a town near an obscure border via a night bus, without the faff of Belize. It would be easy, I was assured.
The night bus was an hour and a half late. I bumped into a girl I had met in Tulum at the bus stop; her and some of her friends were awaiting a bus too, so we opted to grab a drink whilst we waited. I realised too late that having a big drink prior to a night bus is dumb; sometimes, they don’t have toilets, or if they do, they are rank.
I had a few sips and brought the cup onto the bus with me. My bag was shoved into a bursting luggage cavern, and I was ushered on board (I am not convinced that the bus actually stopped during this process).
The bus was full. Children were strewn over adults. Unfortunate adults were strewn over one another in the aisle.
The bus driver commanded that a woman leave her seat to give me a space to sit down. She told him in no uncertain terms to fuck off.
The driver wrung his hands, then accepted defeat and returned to the front of the bus, leaving me stood hopefully as though someone else would offer their seat up.
Nope? No takers? The ground was littered with half-eaten sandwiches, old food packets and something sticky and dusty.
Someone supplied me with a bucket to be overturned and used as a seat. There was zero back support, so I said my prayers and opted instead for the syrupy floor.
A man who had the luxury of being sat in an actual chair beside me asked me if I had anything for him to drink. I didn’t want his spit on my bottle. I looked up at his gruff face, large neck and hairy leg that unapologetically nudged me on the floor. I tentatively parted with the remainder of the drink that I had purchased whilst I waited for the bus. He didn’t thank me; he took one sip, then tossed it into the overflowing bin in front of me. The remaining liquid seeped out, probably lacquering the floor upon which I was stooped with yet more stickiness.
I have never felt a hatred so pure.
I needed to at least attempt sleep; the border town where I was headed was likely to be dangerous, and I would need some mental capacity to conjure the Spanish I knew and make sensible decisions. I lay dubiously down. Then I felt the swell of my bladder, a swell that was too prominent for sleep to be beckoned. Grrrrr.
For a couple of hours I prayed that the need to wee would go. There was a toilet at the back, but the path to it was blocked by sleeping humans. In the end, I had no choice, even though I knew the toilet was probably a swamp.
I awoke about 5 people. To reach a toilet that was, indeed, a swamp.
Wee flowed from the toilet bowl; with every road bump, hiccups of soupy liquid lurched to the ground, which was awash with urine. My shoes were bathed in it. I realised, with a grimace, that the ground upon which I had been lying was trodden by the feet of passengers who had been paddling in this same lagoon – a slightly less picturesque one than Bacalar. I had literally been lying in toilet juice.
A minibus, a taxi, a collectivo, an illegal motorbike ride and another 5 hour bus ride later, I arrived at Flores, Guatemala. Emanating other people’s piss all the while.
- Savvy travellers do the popular, safe route that is recommended by all reputable tour companies. I, on the other hand, ignore sensible advice. Be a savvy traveller, not a Mia.
- They don’t stamp your passport at the El Ceibo border; I had to go back into Mexico, wait an hour for border control to be arsed to turn up, and then get it stamped (although I now realise that I am missing another stamp and will be fined £100 when I fly to Colombia in a couple of weeks – yay!).
Thankfully, I had a wonderful time in Flores. The town itself sits atop a tiny island, and taxi-boats swarm forth to offer lifts to sweet spots around the shore where you can swim and drink. In the mornings, the water is still and silent.
We visited Tikal, which is a collection of ruins. I had already visited the famous ruins of Palenque and Chichén Itzá in Mexico, but for me, Tikal was the most spellbinding. Monkeys swung from branches and spun from one another’s tails. I climbed atop a pyramid and perched quietly for while. Tikal is magical.
The hostel I stayed in (Los Amigos) also had pet turtles and a rabbit that strolled at leisure through the building, additions that I thoroughly enjoyed. Los Amigos is THE backpacker spot in Flores, although it isn’t listed on Hostelworld.
Lots of people skip the upper points of Guatemala such as Flores or Livingston, in favour of spending more time in Antigua and Lake Atitlan (which I hope to share bits about in due course). All of these places are great – I LOVE Lake Atitlan – but don’t be a nob and attend only the party spots!!!! But Flores/Tikal are really special, and well worth a sliver of your time. Especially if you need a couple of days to air out your clothes to fade the stench of Mexican toilet bus.