What happens in Flores…

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View from our hostel – the shore of San José / La orilla de San José vista desde nuestro albergue.

This must stay a secret between us. I mean it. I did a bit of a crazy thing and I promised myself I would never, ever tell anyone. But crazy actions make the best adventures and what is this blog for, but talking about the wonders of reckless travelling?

Lo que voy a explicar es un secreto. De verdad. Hice algo que pensaba ocultar, pero me di cuenta de que esas locuras son las que crean las mejores historias y… para eso está el blog.

After a couple days in Isla de Flores, Samu and I were a bit disenchanted. It was a very pretty place, of course, we could totally understand its appeal: Tikal just around the corner and a beautiful island on a beautiful lake surrounded by beautiful nature, all right in the capital of the department… But to us, it was just an overpriced, overcrowded place. The locals did not seem to love the tourists, and they would only talk to us to ask us if we wanted a tour to Tikal. All in all, the mood wasn’t the best.

Tras un par de días en Flores, Samu y yo estábamos un poco decepcionados. Aunque el lugar es, sin lugar  a dudas, precioso, para nosotros estaba muy lleno de turistas y todo se nos hacía caro y notábamos a los habitantes nativos un poco reacios a hablar con nosotros…

That morning, we went to Sta Elena’s market with our new friend Petya, and we explored all the food and clothes stalls. After that, we decided to have lunch together but then separate, as we all wanted to do different things. To be honest, I can’t remember what Samu and Petya wanted to do, I just know I wanted to find a nice place to bathe in the lake. For some reason, though, we parted ways quicker than I thought and I had been walking for a while already when I realised I didn’t have money or my phone with me, the only thing in my rucksack was a towel.

Aquella mañana nos fuimos al mercado de Santa Elena con nuestra amiga Petya. Después de explorar todas las paradas decidimos separarnos porque todos queríamos hacer cosas distintas. No recuerdo qué querían ellos; yo quería encontrar un lugar para bañarme en el lago. Nos separamos de una vez y al rato me di cuenta de que no tenía mi celular ni mi billetera, llevaba solo una toalla en la mochila.

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We fell in love with Flores’ tiny streets / Nos enamoramos de los callejones de Flores

At that time, I actually found that liberating. The thought that it would be alright for me to leave my bag anywhere to go for a dip was quite calming. But then I started walking around and found out there was nowhere for me to swim. The whole lakeside was full of trash and I kept meeting weird people that wanted to sell me things, so at some point I decided to walk back to the island and just chill by the lake.

Me lo tomé como algo bueno y me fui a buscar un buen sitio para darme un chapuzón, pero tardé poco en ver que la orilla de Santa Elena estaba llena de basura y personas extrañas. En cuanto me di cuenta que no había sitios donde me pudiera bañar decidí dar media vuelta y volver a la isla de Flores.

And there I was, all alone, with no money to take the water taxi you need to get to the parts of the lake where one can actually bathe and no way of contacting my friends… It was quite enjoyable. And then it happened. This water taxi came to me and the guy that was driving it started talking to me. Small talk, mostly, just about what I was doing and so. I told him I wanted to go swimming and he offered to take me to the beach, so I confessed that I had zero money… and he told me he’d take me anyway.

No tenía dinero para tomar las barquitas que llevan a la playa, así que al llegar a la isla me senté al ladito del lago. Al ratito pasó un taxi acuático que se acercó a mí. El conductor empezó a hablarme y yo le dije que quería bañarme, a lo que respondió que me llevaría a la playa Santa Ana e inmediatamente le dije que no tenía dinero… Él respondió que me iba a llevar igualmente.

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The houses were so pretty and colourful… / ¡Qué casitas más bonitas y coloridas había!

I know what you’re thinking. This is quite suspicious. Taking people around on his boat was his job, his way of making a living. Why would he take people around for free? Quite suspicious. I’d even say dangerous. I can’t say I didn’t hesitate at all, but in the end, one has to take the right decisions.

Ya sé lo que están pensando. El taxista se gana la vida llevando a gente, ¿para qué iba a ofrecer viajes gratis? Un poco sospechoso… No puedo decir que no dudara ni un poquito pero pienso que tomar la decisión correcta era imprescindible.

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This was our hostel, but we didn’t realise what was on the roof / Estando en nuestro albergue no nos dimos cuenta de todo lo que había en el tejado…!

I jumped in and I told him right away there was absolutely nothing valuable in my bag (I had the fear that he would throw me into the water to steal a cell phone that wasn’t even there) and that I’m a professional martial arts teacher (I am obviously not, but I thought it would be good that he thought I was). And off we went. As I saw the island getting smaller and smaller, I was thinking of how sometimes we get opportunities and it would be silly to let them escape out of fear.

Salté al barco y le solté que no llevaba nada de valor en la mochila (pensé que no merecía la pena que me tirara al agua para robarme un celular inexistente) y que mi pasatiempo favorito eran las artes marciales (esperando que no lo comprobara), cosas que no parecieron importarle… A medida que la isla se iba haciendo pequeñita detrás de mí, pensé en las oportunidades que la vida nos pone por delante y lo triste que sería desaprovecharlas por miedo.

His name was Antonio, and he liked his job a lot. He enjoyed the boat rides which also gave him time for his other hobby and job: knitting. At the moment, he was knitting a handbag and he even taught me how to do it so I could help him… but I was so bad at it I ended up driving the boat while he knitted, which worked out way better. We also talked about our lives, religion and he proved to me that he knew a lot about his hometown.

Se llama Antonio y adora su trabajo. Le gusta conducir su barca por el lago, cosa que además le da tiempo para hacer ganchillo, su otro hobby/trabajo. Me enseñó el bolso que estaba confeccionando e intentó enseñarme para que le ayudara un poco… pero como no me salía terminé llevando yo el barco mientras él tejía. También hablamos de nuestras vidas y orígenes, y demostró ser un pozo de conocimiento sobre Flores.

First he took me to an island that houses a Mayan museum. We could not get into the museum because we didn’t have money (he told me it wasn’t worth it anyway) so we just took the boat around it. He pointed the huge, orange iguanas that were just chilling on the island, all while telling me about the crocodiles that used to be in the lake – he assured me that there were still some, even after people had been killing them for ages to make shoes.

El primer lugar al que me llevó es una isla donde hay un museo maya. No pudimos entrar porque no llevábamos dinero (además me dijo que no merecía la pena), pero rodeamos la isla para ver las iguanas que viven allí. Señalándome la iguana más grande y más naranja que he visto, me contó que había habido cocodrilos en el lago… y los había, a pesar de que la gente los mate para convertirlos en zapatos.

 After that, he told me about his childhood, how he had lived his whole life in one of the little pieces of land that surround the lake and loved it to pieces. He pointed at the tiny village of San José, where what looked like a huge blonde woman was dancing. He then told me she was not technically a woman, but a cardboard replica thereof, with a dancing kid inside. It was called La Chatona, and he told me it represented an American woman that had lived in Flores 60 years ago. She was tall and blond, which are not local characteristics, so everyone knew her, especially because she loved to dance and she went to all the parties that took place there. When she died, everyone missed her at the parties so they made her out of cardboard and they make her dance during parties and balls. This story caught me, and I thought of how different it was now, with loads of tourists walking the streets of Flores everyday…

Me contó cosas sobre su niñez pasada en la orilla del lago. Me hizo mirar a la orilla de San José, donde lo que parecía una giganta rubia bailaba, Me explicó que se trataba de la Chatona, un gigante de papel maché que representa a una americana que había vivido en la Isla de Flores hacía 60 años. Era tan alta y tan rubia y le gustaba tanto bailar en las fiestas que todo el mundo la conocía. Cuando murió la echaron tanto de menos que hicieron un clon de cartón para hacerla bailar en los bailes y fiestas. Eso me hizo pensar en lo diferente que es ahora Flores, siempre rebosante de turistas…

At far, I could see the statue of a horse, and again he knew exactly what it was. He told me the legend of Hernan Cortes, who came with a horse (there were no horses in America before the Spaniards invaded it), which made it easier to conquer. He loved his horse, and when he left to conquer another island he decided to leave the horse to the Mayans, who admired it so much they fed it human food and had it living in a house, like a human. The horse couldn’t take it and died, so they built a statue of it, thinking Cortes would not notice. I don’t know wether it’s true or not, and I know that’s not the original horse anyway, but it makes a funny story!

En la distancia vislumbré la estatua de un caballo, y Antonio de nuevo supo contarme la leyenda que la rodeaba: Hernán Cortés llegó a América en su caballo (uno de los primeros que pisó el continente), lo que le facilitó la conquista. Como quería mucho a su caballo, al irse a explorar lo dejó con los mayas, que lo admiraban tanto que llegaron a tratarle como a una persona, dándole comida para humanos y obligándole a vivir en una casa. El caballo murió y, para que Cortés no se enfadara, los mayas esculpieron una estatua del mismo. No sé si es verdad y estoy segura de que, de todas formas, no es la original, pero me encantó la historia.

It was getting really warm, and I wanted to bathe. He told me one had to pay to enter the beach in Santa Ana, which is the best one, so I told him to just stop the boat, I could just swim right there. After I promised him I wasn’t scared of crocodiles and I made him promise he wouldn’t leave without me, I jumped into the lake and just swam around. He found it increibly amusing to say he would turn the motor on, I was just not even listening. When I got tired, he helped me back up and he took me to San José, where we met his friends and we had a drink all together, including the woman in the shop (Guatemalan people drink mostly in corner shops, this is something I didn’t quite know back then but it’s absolutely normal).

El calor iba aumentando y me quise bañar. Me contó que pararse en la playa de Santa Ana costaba dinero así que simplemente detuvimos la barca y salté, no sin hacerle prometer que no se iría sin mí. Cuando me cansé, me ayudó a subir otra vez y me llevó a San José, donde conocí a sus amigos y tomamos algo todos juntos, incluída la dependienta de la tienda.

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The sunset over Petén Itzá and a water taxi like the one that took me around / El atardacer sobre el lago Petén Itzá y una barquita como la que me llevó a mí

After that, I told him I was tired and I wanted to get back to Flores to meet my friends again. He said there was a last stop for me before going home, and we went back to the boat to visit a tiny island in the lake, which had just a cabin, two trees and a small corn plantation. There was a man there, sitting by the house drinking beer, and they told me he was the only inhabitant of the isle. Actually, there had been a hospital there in the old times, but it flooded and they just dismantled it. I actually don’t know if it’s true, but I thought that man was brave to live alone in the island…

Luego le dije que ya quería volver y él me contestó que me tenía reservada una última parada antes de llevarme de vuelta. Detuvo la barca en una isla diminuta donde no cabía más que una casita, un par de árboles y una pequeña milpa. Un hombre bebía cerveza al lado de la puerta de la casa, y Antonio me dijo que él era el único habitante de la isla. Tiempo atrás, hubo un hospital sobre esa islita que fue desmantelado a causa de las inundaciones y no pude evitar pensar que ese hombre era bien valiente.

And my little adventure was coming to an end. As we were really close to the island, I asked him to stop for me to swim one last time, he obliged and then left me safe and sound in Flores, where I said good-bye and walked to our hostel to find Samu, who had spent all that time speaking to a British guy about politics. It was then I realised I had only spent a couple hours on the boat, whereas I felt as if it was an entire day.

Y así acabó mi pequeña aventura. Antes de llegar a Flores, le pedí que parara para lanzarme al lago una vez más y cuando me cansé me dejó sana y salva en la isla. Le dije adiós y me fui al albergue a ver a Samu, que había pasado todo ese tiempo hablando con un inglés sobre política. Ahí me di cuenta de que sólo habían transcurrido un par de horas…

And that’s it about Flores. I could speak about how I lost my cell phone on the next day, how we went shopping for typical clothes, how I made friends with the fattest and most adorable baby ever or how I fell into the lake that same night, when I wanted to feel the temperature of the water, but this is really one of these experiences that just stay with you. La Chatona dancing, the iguanas, the bag Antonio was knitting, hearing about all kind of things that are relevant in someone else’s life, a fantastic afternoon in Flores.

Y eso es todo lo que os voy a contar de Flores. Pasaron muchas más cosas en esa ciudad: perdí mi celular, fuimos a comprar ropa típica (y salimos con las manos vacías), me hice amiga del bebé más gordito y adorable del mundo, me caí al lago cuando intentaba ver si el agua estaba caliente… Mil anécdotas, pero esa es la más grande y la que me llevo conmigo: la Chatona, las iguanas, el bolso de ganchillo de Antonio, escuchar las cosas que son tan importantes para personas ajenas a nuestras vidas, una tarde fantástica en Flores.

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