Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Warning Signs

Sometimes I make plans to get things done, and then life gets in the way. Other times I make plans to get things done, and I get in the way. I got a little of both in Flores.

I slept in a little bit after my first night in Flores, but eventually made my way to a nearby restaurant because my hostel (Los Amigos) "had internet" which was unbearably slow, if it worked at all. I ordered some Mayan-style pancakes and a coffee and sat down with the computer (since my phone was dead) and looked up a few places to get things done. I found a few, but I've discovered that Google maps really doesn't do well with searching for types of places in Latin America, as opposed to a specific place. So I asked the owner of the restaurant if they knew of a motorcycle shop, a phone repair place, and a laundromat.

Sure, he said, but they're probably not open today since it's Sunday. Crap! I'd completely forgotten what day of the week it was (one of the hazards of long-term travel) and realized he was probably right. While I could probably find a laundry place that was open on Sunday, there was no way I'd get a motorcycle shop and I'd have trouble with the phone repair place. So I sat around at the restaurant for a few hours, wrote a few blog posts, and downloaded some kindle books onto my computer since the ones on my phone were inaccessible.

After a while I headed back to the hostel, dumped the computer in my locker, and caught a tuk-tuk across the bridge to Santa Elena, the "dirtier, noisier sister city" according to my guidebook. If you've never seen a tuk-tuk, they're all over Guatemala and a few other Latin American countries, and I hear they're pretty popular in Southeast Asia too. They're a three-wheel vehicle with one tiny little tire in front and two in back, a tiny little motorcycle engine, and enough room for a few people to squeeze on a bench in the back.

I told my driver to take me to a place where I could get my hair cut, and he took me to a barber which looked pretty darn good - as I pulled up the guy was using a straight razor to give a guy with pretty short hair (not as short as mine though!) some super straight edges on his temples and the back of his neck. I almost considered having him do my whole head with the straight razor, but decided to go with the usual trimmers with no guard. I've only ever had someone else shave my head with a razor once (in Minneapolis) and he cut my head more times than I did when I started shaving my own head and didn't shave it as close as I could do on my own, so I've been hesitant to let someone else try it.

I caught another tuk-tuk back to the island (for less than a dollar), and spent most of the afternoon reading in the hostel, with one more quick trip to the restaurant with good internet for a smoothie and a few more things to look up for the next day. Though for some reason the mosquitoes were horrible in the common area of the hostel, and I actually had to wear bug spray just to sit in the restaurant area and not get bit like crazy! When the Belgians came back we chatted for a bit and got some dinner, and planned to meet up in Semuc Champey next.

In the morning when I got moving, I headed over to the "good-internet" restaurant one more time (I think they recognized me from the day before) to look up directions, and saw I had a message from Dan - they'd booked a hostel called "Greengo's" in Semuc, but I couldn't find it on my map. So I used the phone in the restaurant to call them, and  he told me that it should be possible to make it there, though it had rained quite a bit so it might be difficult. That should have been my first warning sign.

I looked at Google Maps to get an idea where I should head, and it was giving me two possible routes, both about the same travel time - but I knew from what the Belgians had told me about the route to the west that there was a ferry that sometimes included a wait of up to an hour. I confirmed that with the staff at the restaurant, and then plotted a course for the eastern route. The fact that an hour wait on a ferry didn't stop the buses from taking that route probably should have been a warning to me as well.

After that, I headed across to Santa Elena to try to find a phone repair place. I first looked at how much a new phone would be - and the first store I went to had a Samsung Galaxy S6 for $1100!! That's almost twice what I paid in the US. They pointed me to a repair shop down the street, so I parked the bike there and dropped my phone off for them to look at. They told me it'd be at least an hour... which, combined with my late start to the day, would make it kind of a close call on getting to Semuc Champey. I'd heard the road near the end wasn't in that great of shape, and definitely didn't want to do it in the dark, but I decided to drop the phone off and wait anyway. Probably should have been a warning sign for me. (Seeing a theme?)

I took the bike across the street and got the oil and filter changed, and talked with the guys at the shop about the bike and my trip. People are always amazed at the size of my bike, even though in US terms it's not that huge of an engine. Harley's smallest engine is 800cc, and mine's 650cc, but down here they hardly see anything bigger than 250cc. Afterward they directed me to a food stand across the street where I got some delicious tacos dorados, and then I went to wander around a bit.

I quickly stumbled across a market on one of the side streets. I walked through, and ended up finding a tailor who I had sew a velcro strap at the top of my motorcycle jacket zipper, because the jacket is getting worn out and was slipping pretty low while I rode. I also found a Chicago Bulls hat to replace the hat that had somehow fallen off the back of my motorcycle earlier in the trip. I got a smoothie, and then spent some time just wandering the market and occasionally talking to people.

After the touristy side of Flores, I was loving this. I'd felt a lot of just general malaise the past few days, and I realized that part of it was how separated I'd been from the locals in the places I was. Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Bacalar, Belize, Tikal, and Flores had all been tourist locations, and I'd spent a lot of time with fellow travelers, even running into some of the same ones from one hostel to the next. It was fun, for sure, but I was craving that connection that I'd been getting in Mexico when I'd stop at a random food vendor on the side of the road, or like I got when I spent four days in San Ignacio with a hurt foot (miserable as the rest of that was).

So while I was feeling a little twinge of worry at how late it was getting, it felt really good to spend this time in a non-tourist place, where I was the only non-local in the area. There's definitely locals on the island of Flores proper, but they're working jobs that are supporting tourists, not locals.

When I finally made my way back to the phone place, they gave me back my phone and said there was nothing they could do to just fix it other than put in a whole new screen, which they didn't have sitting around. Disappointed but now in a hurry to get moving, I stuck the phone in my bag and got moving.

The rest of the day... well, that turned out to be quite an adventure.

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