Stick with me on this one.
In my misspent youth, I always viewed those little C shaped pillows as completely nerdy travel accessories. I can picture the type of dude who always had one. I can see him pulling his neck pillow out of his suitcase, slipping ear plugs into his eagerly awaiting earholes, and sliding an eye mask down over his eyes. He would then quite obviously be so sound asleep that getting him to MOVE when you needed to go to the bathroom was impossible for the rest of the flight. Back then, I was a seething cauldron of hostility toward Mr. Sensory Deprivation. Back then, I would happily Greyhound or fly across Canada without a neck pillow. Now; however, I realize that eye masks, neck pillows and ear plugs are the stuff that dreams are made of. Literally. Proper neck support is very 2015.
So when I boarded my plane two weeks ago, suddenly realizing that I had forgotten my neck pillow at my folk’s place I was reasonably devastated. Then when I realized my eye mask slipped into the abyss behind the bunkbeds at Mundo Joven hostel I was inconsolable. Folks, I can’t stress this enough, if you’re going to live a life of constant travel, you need these things to help you sleep. They make great little inflatable neck pillows now that fold up quite small once you’re done with them. And if there is ever a time in which you should not care about what you look like, or what people might think of you, it’s on the inside of a plane. When you’re crammed into a tiny seat, barely drinking any liquids and breathing recycled air for hours on end, any morsel of comfort is indefinitely more important than looking cool.
Luckily though, my Mum did send me off with this giant bag of ear plugs. And as a result, I’ve become some what of an ear plug fairy, handing them out like candy wherever I go; on planes, in hostels, at festivals, or just walking down the street! I’m really excellent at making friends.
So I’ve managed to get over the loss of the other two things, because I figured out how to fold one of my sweaters into something resembling neck support for the longer trips. And I also found a way to use the hood of the same sweater to slide down over my eyes. It’s amazing the things you’re able to make due with when you travel, and the things you’re able to do without. But something you should definitely try NOT to do without are friends to do these long legs of the journey with.
And considering I really had (have) no idea what I’m doing down here, I was thrilled when I met Jade and Justin in Cancun. They’re plan was to travel to Antigua (which is kind of in the south of Guatemala, but up in the highlands) to volunteer at a hostel for a month. At first I felt a little bit like a loser asking to tag along on their journey into Guatemala, but they truly meant it when they said “the more the merrier.” If people are going in the same direction, it just makes sense to combine forces. And it’s amazing how quickly you become friends with the people you slog through collectivos, chicken buses, overnighters, THREE different currencies, and a couple boarders with.
Despite lacking some of the travel essentials, I managed to pass out on the bus and slept like a drugged infant until about 4:30 in the morning when we were shuffled off the bus to get our passports stamped as we left Mexico. A woman in boarder official garb walked up to Jade, Justin and I and said we owed her 350 pesos for the exit fee. Which was a lie. This is by far the best travel tip I’ve gotten to date: when somebody asks you for money… they are probably hustling you. Always ask for a receipt. If the fee is a damn dirty lie then they obviously won’t be able to supply you with a receipt. And do your research. We had all checked into the fees before leaving Mexico, and found that it was included in your flight in. When we mentioned that to the boarder guard, she just said “okay,” and walked away. No shame. Hey, I’d probably hustle me too if I were her.
From there we entered into Belize where things were certainly more Carribbean to say the least. The boarder official on that side asked where I was headed and stamped my passport before I’d even really finished speaking, and the guy making sure we weren’t smuggling anything into the country was even more hilarious.
“Do you have anything to claim,” asked the sleepy looking official.
“Welcome to Belize!”
My luggage didn’t even go through a scanner. We then proceeded to get back onto the bus, which pulled out of the lot to follow the sloppily spray-painted neon orange sign on a peice of plywood that said “TO BELIZE.”
From there it was a plethora of taxis, chicken buses (which are old school buses that have been converted to schlep tourists and locals around) and a collectivo (which is basically a bigger van-sized taxi). We crossed into Guatemala on foot, and made it to Flores in the late afternoon. The whole thing took about 18 hours, and a lot of energy. But Los Amigos hostel in Flores was totally worth the stop.
It’s an indoor/outdoor space and has a really cool jungle vibe, and was a great place to spend a night. Flores was also my first foray into the beautiful, hilly, coblestone streets that are everywhere in Guatemala. They take a bit of getting used to.
Now, I’m sure I missed a lot of stuff in between Cancun and Flores, but unfortunately I don’t have unlimited funds. My goals were always to reach Guatemala, volunteer there for a while, and then make my way down to Nicaragua (though of course that plan has changed a floppity-gillion times by now). But I’ve always been focused more on cultural immersion and the longevity of my trip as opposed to seeing the many, many tourist attractions. Ultimately, doing things the way we did them was the cheapest, quickest, and safest way to cover that much ground.
Plus upon arriving in Flores, I met a Swedish woman who was thinking about staying for one night and going to see the ruins in Tikal the following day. And since according to well, everybody, Tikal was totally worth the stop I figured I shouldn’t miss it. Okay, I guess can be a tourist for ONE day…