Travels with V
Guatemala, Belize, Mexico
Like a Sicilian fishing village
It’s a six-hour drive from Semuc Champey to Flores by minibus, Some of that time on the same terrible road that we got there on. But now we’re here where we plan to get some rest and sleep some road dust off. Flores occupies every square inch of an island in the Lago Petén lake, connected to the “mainland” by a causeway. Mayas were here first with a settlement, now it’s a charming town with a mediterranean atmosphere.
The streets are narrow and the brightly coloured houses lie close together. Flores has a welcoming air and clearly many tourists find their way up here. Hotels, restaurants and bars are everywhere. But the islander’s own lives dominate the streets.
In Flores the narrow streets can be very busy. We are caught up in a traffic jam just as we have arrived, it turned out to be caused by a noisy and swirling street dance with lots of spectators and fireworks. We had unknowingly arrived in the fiesta week when “La Chatona” a doll dressed as a young woman is danced through the streets of Flores, day and night.
La Chatona is very popular, even our hotel had its very own Chatona doll parked in the reception. Nobody knows exactly about the roots of this tradition, but according to one legend she was a beautiful Mexican cook working in a mining camp. And she was so highly appreciated that they honour her with a week of celebration in Flores. Which means that we can’t get a good night’s sleep, firework bombs go off outside the whole night thorough. Guatemalans love fireworks!
We hop on a lancha, a passenger boat and hop off on a small bridge on the opposite shore. Here there’s a rehab center for wild animals taken care of after being subjects of illegal trade. We meet some beautiful cats like ozelot, puma and jaguar. And the adorable margay, a small leopard-like cat. Here’s also lots of birds, parrots, macaws and others.
But we too often find it depressing to see such majestic animals in this sad state, with too small auspices or cages. The puma and the margay are definitely not well, that’s obvious, and the spider monkeys, usually so lively sit still and hang their heads. Some of these animals will eventually be released into the wild, but many have been in captivity for too long and can’t cope with freedom. We wonder if not at least some of them had a better life when they were mascots on farms.
But of course there’s wildlife here as well. Flores is surrounded by water so there’s lots of fishing birds here.
Lago Petén is a peculiar lake, it’s surface level periodically slowly rises, or slowly sinks. It’s probably due to volcanic activity under the lake’s bottom. The level has now been rising for many years and as a consequence whole islands have sunk under the surface, and so has this stylish bridge, built only some ten years ago.
Next we take a taxi and drive from Flores down highway 13. After just under an hour’s drive we stop at Cooperativo Nuevo Horizonte, a commune built by former guerilla soldiers from the civil war. Come with us!