Accentuate The Positive, Eliminate The Negative

This blog entry about the events of Saturday, November 24, 2007 was originally posted on November 29, 2007.

DAY 5:  “What is there to do here?” Camilla had asked Leon, the bartender at Lazy Lizards near the Split in Caye Caulker.

“Nothing,” the big bear of a bartender answered after giving it some thought.  “Snorkel…  This is the relaxation island.”

Camilla and I had heard similar answers from other travelers: 

“There’s not much to do here but look for a snorkel tour or do nothing.”

“It’s nice, but I think you only need a couple of days here.”

With that said, Camilla and I packed up and hopped aboard the first water taxi back to the mainland.

BACKTRACKING TO THE MAINLAND wasn’t our original idea; we had been on stand-by to do a three-day/two-night fishing/snorkeling voyage aboard a sailboat with Ragamuffin Tours, along the Belizean Barrier Reef to the southern beach haven of Placencia.  But with the questionable weather and skeptiscism of travelers, the special full-moon trip departing that Sunday had been canceled.

No matter, we’d travel to the big must-see site in the northern region before heading south: the great Mayan ruins of Tikal.

BACK IN BELIZE CITY by 8:15 a.m. in the marine terminal, Camilla and I secured tickets for a tourist “luxury liner” bus direct to Tikal that would leave at 9:30.  We had time to kill and just sat out on a bench to catch up on reading and writing while munching on snacks.  A local guy loitering around started talking to us, giving us his sap story about how everyone hates him and wants to beat him up and kill him — he had scars to prove it.  “I will kill them,” he casually told Camilla.  His name was Ray; Everybody Hates Raymond as Camilla put it.

“Don’t kill them,” she told him.  “You have to be positive.  Use positive energy and set an example in the community.

“But I have to kill everyone first.”

“When you say that, you give off a lot of negative energy,” she continued, lecturing like a motherly new age bookstore owner.  “You have to be the better person.”  She continued her crazy wisdom, hoping it would sink in, as he listened attentively.

“You are my mother,” he said to her before looking over to me.  “And you are my dad.”  I laughed.

“Don’t laugh.  I am your Black son!”  He put his fist up for me to touch with my own.  When I gave him a pound, he left us alone for a while to get our bearing on the journey ahead.

AMONGST THE OBVIOUS-LOOKING TOURISTS waiting in the marine terminal with us was this Indian-looking couple, Jim and Tilu, from Berkeley, California that sat near us.  We made with the introductions and I mentioned I was from New York.  “You live there?”

“I’m sort of in between apartments right now,” I answered.  “I live out of that bag over there.”

Where to live for the night once we all arrived at Tikal was the issue at hand, but it was easier scheduled than we thought with use of my cell phone; we simply called the Jaguar Inn hotel within the Tikal National Park and set up a reservation for two rooms.  Everything was settled for the journey ahead and we just had to say our goodbyes to a certain someone calling us over.  “My mom and my dad!  Take care,” said the scarfaced Ray.

“Take a picture of me and my Black son,” I requested. 

“Take one with my mom,” he said.  “When will you be back in Belize City?  Ten years?”

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe I will be under the ground.”

“Don’t say that.”

“Ah, okay,” Ray said, smiling.  “Bye, my mom and my dad!  Take care, mon.”

“We’re not very good parents, are we?” Camilla said to me.  Ray asked me for some money and I gave him a one-dollar allowance, which made him happy.

“Never give your kids money,” Jim joked.

THE BERKELEYS JIM AND TILU had purchased the same bus tickets we had, that direct “luxury” bus to Tikal, or so we thought.  When the bus finally arrived and our ticket vendors led us to it, something was off.  “This is a lot different from the picture [on the brochure],” I said.  We remained optimistic, using that “positive energy,” figuring it was just another bus in their fleet, and the one in the picture was just perhaps their best one.  (Regular buses didn’t depart from the marine terminal anyway, only tourist buses — there was a public bus terminal for the other ones.)  It wasn’t until we departed and saw the nicer-looking bus pull up that we realized we’d been baited and switched — but it was already too late.

The landscape got more and more rural the farther we drove away from Belize City.  Houses became less and less frequent, and there was more and more green foliage.  Along the side of the road, cyclists zoomed by with their brightly-colored spandex clothing.

Sure enough, about two and a half hours later, we arrived at the border with Guatemala at San Ignacio, where we paid our exit fees, got our passports stamped, and exchanged some Belizean dollars to Guatemalan Quetzales from the many currency exchange hawkers loitering around the street.  (There were no counterfeiters this time, like that time on the Ecaudorean/Peruvian border.)  Soon we were back on our rickety bus on the Guatemalan side with the others on board:  some locals going to Flores, and seven of us going straight to Tikal — or so we thought.

GUATEMALA, “the place for culturally adventurous budget travel in Latin America,” (according to my Let’s Go guide) wasn’t always a country a foreigner could enter in as easily as we had.  Once a part of Spanish-controlled Mexico, Guatemala went independent in 1821, but faced a century and a half of turmoil since.  For a hundred years, the country went through different leaders, from dictator Justo Rufino Barrios to the democratically elected Juan Jose Arevalo, each trying to better the country and its relations with the United States.  Like many of the Central American countries, there were spurts of modernization, usually thwarted by behind-the-scenes corruption and opposing parties.  Everything exploded in the late 1950s when guerrila warriors soon became synonymous with the region — the violence of civil war continued through the early 90s over land disputes, political and social reform.  Ultimately a cease-fire was ordered in 1996 by Alvaro Arzu Irigoyen and the guerrilas were suppressed, paving the way for a future where tourism would bolster the national economy. 

As soon as we entered Guatemala, we could see the differences between it and its neighboring Belize.  First of all, everything was in Spanish, and everything was a lot poorer.  Little shacks of houses lined the road with miles of rolling green jungle behind them.  Development was evident in the country, although it wasn’t completely there yet; the rocky road that followed the border crossing was so bumpy, it made my already illegible chicken scratch notes even more unreadable.  “It’s like the road to Hell,” said an older, laid back surfer-type from Long Beach, California on the bus with us.

“No, it’s the road to paradise,” said an ethnic woman from Queens, NY.  “It’s a good experience anyway.”

“There you go!” said Long Beach Guy.  However, his optimism left the bus when he had been dropped off at a sooner stop that he had pre-arranged, leaving all positive energy to come from a certain Black son’s mom and dad.

“Does this bus go to Tikal?” Tilu questioned the driver, wondering if we should have gotten off with Long Beach Guy, who was already gone.  The driver didn’t understand.  We all knew that at some point, there would be a fork in the road; one that went to Flores, and one that went to Tikal.  We speculated we were going the wrong way.

“But they told us this was the bus to Tikal!” Tilu said.

“No, this is the bus to Tikal,” demanded Rudy, a guy from L.A., with a bit of attitude.

The driver shrugged his shoulders, not understanding anything.  We knew that at some point there was a possibility that we’d have to switch to another transport going on the road to Tikal — but where that point was, we didn’t know.

“Does this bus to go to Tikal?!” Tilu asked again, starting to freak out a little bit.  “Does anyone here speak Spanish?!”

“I do,” said a bilingual guy on the bus.  “This bus is going to Flores.  It’s not safe to wait here.  There is a bus waiting for you in Flores.”

“No, this is the bus going to Tikal!” Rudy the L.A. guy demanded again.

We put faith in our driver — we had no choice.  “I guess we’re at their mercy,” Tilu said.  “They can do whatever to us.”  Case in point, the driver randomly stopped on the side of the road and ran off, presumably to use the bathroom somewhere.

“Why would we go to Flores?” Rudy asked me, knowing it was half an hour out of the way — a full hour round trip.  “We have to go back and forth?  With the price of gas, it doesn’t make sense.”

I remained calm.  “Worst case scenario, we just get a taxi together,” I told him.

The bus finally took us to a welcoming sight: a “turismo” minivan on the side of the road waiting for us with a couple of Spaniards(?) inside.  However, we deduced by our direction that we were still not going to Tikal and ended up in Santa Elena, the town right next to Flores.  We were dropped off at the San Juan travel agency there, the name of the company on our tickets.  The people there told us to wait for another bus to Tikal, which wouldn’t come for another hour and fifteen minutes — bringing us to Tikal after the park’s closing time.  We had fallen for a scam after all — not like ones I’d been in before (coincidentally on the way to the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia), where tourist “agencies” string you along and detain you so that you can spend more money with them and their cartel of commission-giving services.

Not surprisingly, our little travel troop wasn’t happy.  The complaints started to fly left and right — in English — to the three women at the travel agency counter who stared blankly and shrugged their shoulders.

“That’s not right!”

“We were supposed to go directly to Tikal!”

“How can you not let us use the bathroom!?” Tilu demanded.  “We’ve been on a bus since nine thirty!!!”

“If you want to get us out of here, put us on a bus!!!” added Rudy.  “Why do you have to lie to us?!  You just sit there and nod your head and shrug your shoulders!”

The room was flowing with negative energy and the group’s complaints weren’t going anywhere, quite possibly because the women didn’t understand a word of English and just heard the trumpet sounds that adults make in a Charlie Brown Peanuts cartoon. 

Camilla and I just watched the chaos progress before us, never adding bellows to its fire.  We simply stepped aside, called Jaguar Inn on my phone where we already had a reservation, and asked if they could arrange a shuttle for us.  They told us something could be arranged right away and that we should call back in ten minutes.

“We should get a beer,” I suggested. 

We left the bad vibes of the travel agency and went across the street to a little bar where we sat a table outside.  “Dos Brahvas,” I ordered.  “Por aqui.”  Camilla and I clinked our bottles of Brahva beer and analyzed the situation with our angry mob. 

“They have to understand it’s not like the States,” Camilla said.  “You can’t just yell at people.”

“I could care less.  This is good writing material,” I said, drinking my beer and jotting down notes in my regular illegible way. 

“I think this is fun!”

“Yeah, it’s fun,” I seconded.  The others apparently hadn’t been in a situation like this before.

Camilla used my phone to check in with Jaguar Inn; they arranged a private shuttle for us and we had to describe our current location so a local guy could pick us up.  “I’d say ‘tell them to look for the gringos,’ but none of us are white,” I said.

Camilla drank her beer while I went back across the street to report in with the restless troops.  I started with a single clap of my hands.  “Okay.  They can take us.  They’ll be here in fifteen minutes.  It’s ten bucks a pop.”

With a dumbfounded look that their problems were suddenly solved, Rudy simply said, “Yeah, I’m down with that.”

A SHORT, JOLLY GUATEMALAN NAMED GENER (pronounced “hen-errr”) picked us up in a blue minivan.  He was happy to take us albeit a bit frazzled.  He explained to me and Camilla in Spanish.  “[Oh, it’s been a busy day.  I took two British tourists to El Mirador this morning.  Then I came home and started cleaning things up, but I was tired and slept for an hour.  Then the phone rang and now I’m going to Jaguar Inn.  It’s Sunday!]”  Still, Gener was all smiles.  “[Where is everyone from?]” he asked me in Spanish as I sat in the front passenger seat.

“[I’m from New York… San Francisco… Berkeley, California…]”

“[I am from California, but that’s the name of my barrio!]”

“Que es tu nombre?”


“Erik.”  We shook hands.

“Mucho gusto.”

“Mucho gusto.”

It was Camilla who was more of the point person in our group though, as she was better in Spanish and could have a conversation with our driver that was beyond my Spanish 101.  The two conversed while I sat up front, watching the people in pickup trucks ahead of me (picture above), with a camera in one hand and a road beer in the other.  The rest of the group in the minivan was finally happy, content that things were finally going right for a change.

“[Who is the leader of your group?]” Gener asked me.  “Tu?”

“[No, she is,]” I said, pointing to Camilla.  “Habla mas Español.”

“Ella es la presidente!”


“Y tu estas el vice presidente!”

“Ja! Si!”  I reckoned Camila and I were a good team; Rudy and Tilu were amazed when I revealed to them that we’d only met about three days prior.

Applause filled the vehicle when we finally passed through the boundary and into Tikal National Park.  The road continued onward to the Jaguar Inn, near the entrance of the ruins.  Animals sightings were occassional on the way, with road signs painted with icons of snakes, raccoon-like quatis, and jaguars.  However, all that we saw were wild turkeys and the nests of weavers. 

It was nearing dusk when we finally arrived at our final destination, the Jaguar Inn, situated right near the entrance to the ruins.  It was a nice looking small resort, with private bungalows or, for the budget backpacker, hammocks or rental tents to pitch on the mosquito-aplenty grounds.  Regardless of your price range, the entire place was automatically romantic at 9 p.m. when they shut the electricity off, and everything is illuminated by candlelight.

We checked into our respective rooms and bid the jolly Gener goodbye — but not without some photos with him

“Gener, gracias por todo!”

IN LIEU OF GENER was another Guatemalan named Caesar.  Within ten minutes of our arrival, after a long day, we were approached by a guide with an east L.A. accent, who was just about to take advantage of the full moon by taking a tour out.  He asked us if we wanted in.


“We gotta go now then,” he said.  “Lock and load.”

It was only three of us with enough energy left to go with him:  me, Camilla and L.A. guy Rudy.  Our guide Caesar led us to the entrance and drove us to one of Tikal’s temples, where he’d left a group waiting for him. 

With the others, we watched the sunset below the silhouettes of famed Mayan temples that we’d learn about and see in full glory the next day.  Dusk turned into nighttime and the full moon finally rose over the jungle canopy.  Stars and passing satelittes shined above our heads as we walked around in the darkness — and serenity — of the Guatemalan jungle.

“Can you imagine we were in Caye Caulker this morning?” I said to my presidential traveling companion.

It may have been a long day of travel to Tikal, but at least getting there was half the fun.

Next entry: Little Caesar’s Apocalypto

Previous entry: Are You As Wishful As A Sixth Grader?

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Comments for “Accentuate The Positive, Eliminate The Negative”

  • HERE’S ONE MORE for your Friday fix…  I hope to have one or two more up by EOD, and more for the WHMMR.

    Stay tuned!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/29  at  03:17 PM

  • First! SBR here loving the new Blog Erik. Thanks for keeping us all entertained

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/29  at  04:57 PM

  • that made for some good writing material in deed…nice on the history lesson of guatemala…

    Posted by markyt  on  11/29  at  05:03 PM

  • Love the new blog!  I did a similar 6 week trip from San Jose to Cancun in 2000, so it’s bringing back some great memories.  Like how our pre-paid mini-bus from Flores to Tikal never showed up at our hotel.  And how the offending travel agency refused to give us a refund for some ridiculous reason.  And how my girlfriend (now wife) hung out in front of this travel agency for almost 2 hours telling all their potential customers to go elsewhere, until we finally got our money back. 

    Ah, good times…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/29  at  08:39 PM

  • Aww, such fond memories of being in the middle of Cambodia on a broken down bus… “Where are you from?” “The Moon.” Hahahaha.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/02  at  02:44 AM

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This blog post is one of thirty-nine travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: The Central American Eviction Tour* (*with jaunt to Colombia)," which chronicled a six-week journey through Central America, with a jaunt to Bogota, Colombia.

Next entry:
Little Caesar’s Apocalypto

Previous entry:
Are You As Wishful As A Sixth Grader?


Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

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The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

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1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.

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