I posted the following comment on Facebook while I was traveling.

My perspective of Guatemala so far: Hot. Sunny. Gorgeous. Tranquil. And there’s a middle-aged man pissing on a wall around every third corner. Seriously. I’ve seen enough accidental-penis in the last 2 days to last a lifetime. Sheesh!

It’s just the tip of the iceberg of why my feelings about this particular trip were decidedly mixed.

I spent 2 and a half days in Flores, Guatemala, doing not much of anything.  It was pretty, hot, sunny, surrounded by water and very full of backpackers, so fun was to be had and new friends were to be made.  I wandered, shot photos, read, napped a bit, paddled the lake, and chatted with people.  Usually when I travel I’m out doing all the ‘things’ there are to be done.  This trip was a forced necessity, not a trip for fun, and running out of funds was a real concern, so I skipped the tourist stuff and just relaxed this time.

The city of Flores is on an island in Lago Penten Itza. It is all of about 1km around, and the narrow, cobbled streets follow the contour of the island in 3 concentric rings connected by just a few, even narrower lanes.  It’s probably the safest village in northern Guatemala, which has a distinctly nasty reputation for drugs, poverty, and violence, but it’s still not a place to be unaware.

Across the causeway, on the mainland, is the city of Santa Elena.  It’s dirtier, more crowded, tourist-light, and has hilly streets that alternate between cobbles and just plain dirt.  I wandered there for one of the 2 days I was in the area, and was definitely aware of being a stranger.  I’m used to standing out, of course, but I’m not used to being stared at like an anomaly as I walk along.  In Santa Elena, that’s exactly what I got.  In the large, crowded, central market small children gaped at me and men half a foot shorter blinked and took a step back.  When I stepped into a tiny local restaurant to grab lunch the entire crowd went silent for a moment and watched as I took a seat.  I got the impression that few of the backpackers who visit Flores bother to wander into Santa Elena, even though it’s just across the bridge.  It was pretty, though, and I enjoyed poking around (in spite of almost tripping over half-a-dozen wall-pissing men).

Back on the island, I sunned myself on docks out in the lake and talked to the various young tourists to be found there.  I happily spent my evenings having dinner and chatting with the lovely Argentinian girl who rode the lancha over from Mexico with me.  Then, the last night I was there, I met a fantastic German/Mexican couple who, amazingly, live just one town over from me here in Mexico, and we agreed that once we were all home we should definitely get together.  That was the gem of the trip.

I’ll tell you about a live-and-learn moment, and why I decided I really didn’t like Flores after all, in my next post.  For now: photos.

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