We left Livingston in the morning, but it took ages as the majority of people in the boat wanted to do the river tour (what we did going there) as opposed to going direct. Once we got to Rio Dulce, we went through the markets, then made the 6 hour journey to Semuc Champey, famed for being one the worst roads in Guatemala. It wasn't the worse road we had conquered, but you definitely need a 4x4 vehicle and be prepared for steep inclines/declines, massive pot holes, land slide pile ups and ending with a bridge crossing that rocked as we went across and had panels missing. It was sketchy at times. It took us 6 hours. We did go through some interesting indigenous towns, with people staring as if they had never seen foreigners (albeit Dougal gets a lot of looks even in the most westernised countries). We inquired as to the other route (along 13, via Modesto Mendez and Sebol), which takes an estimated 13 hours. We made the right choice :-).
We parked at El Portal hostel (just after the bridge) for a small fee and spent the evening chatting to other travellers. Much needed Gallos!
We went into Tikal ruins at 6:30am, although it opens from 4am-6pm. It was quiet and for 150quetzals it was similar in price to other Central America ruins. We didn't get a tour guide, but they're cheap. There was so much wildlife in the morning. We saw ocellated peten turkeys, howler monkeys, racoons and the 'royal rat'. The highlights included the Grand Plaza and views from Temple IV. Tikal is definitely a traveller highlight, not to be missed. It's one of our favourites - the site is huge, you can climb up the ruins, it's set deep within the jungle and the views on top of some of the temples are impressive. Unfortunately, Gwyn and I had an epic argument half way round, which started about the small fee we were screwed over-by from the border crossing the day before. It sounds ridiculous now, but things escalated. Tired, hot, hungry…after 5 hours walking around, we headed back to Jungle Inn for a cheap and filling bite. We made friends - it's amazing what a shower and a burger can achieve.
In the afternoon we made our way to Santa Elena, which is a developed town and more importantly, it had a bank to change up American dollars. After our first Guat coffee tasting session, we visited Flores island, which is just across a toll-free bridge. The town has a spanish colonial appearance, with gifts shops, BBQ food stalls and a giant Christmas tree all lit up in the middle in front of the white-washed church. It's a popular location for backpackers, which is evident by the amount of 'gap-yearers' walking around.
In the evening we started the journey to Rio Dulce down highway 13. The roads are paved and fine, so there's no reason to join a tour. Gwyn had some jobs on Dougal, so we stopped half way. This time, the full beams decided not to work. Argh.