The trip wasn’t going how I imagined. It had been full of ups and downs, literal highs atop a volcano, and lows at Lake Atitlan. It started off with a fight with my sister, who I had traveled to see. But after we parted ways, I decided to make the best of the trip that I had already shelled out my own money for.
The past few days had involved long distance buses to get to remote places around Guatemala. It had taken thirteen hours to get to Lanquin to spend one full day at Semuc Champey before turning around and spending another fifteen hours on a minibus to get to Flores, the gateway to Tikal. It was on this particular journey that we got a flat tire and the driver lay underneath to fix it with only rocks to keep the vehicle from rolling. But I made some new friends on those two back-to-back trips.
My time in Flores was laid-back as I was using the remaining days in the country to explore the Tikal ruins and catch up on emails before returning to the capital. I would catch an overnight bus back to Guatemala City, saving me one night’s accommodation and getting me to my destination for cheap.
I’d heard that it was cheaper to get tickets from the bus station in the main town, Santa Elena, than from the travel agencies on the island. Plus, they charged you for transportation between them. So I covered myself up with a scarf to protect myself from both the sun and catcalls to make the walk from my hostel on Flores island into town.
I passed stores selling clothing, vegetables, auto parts, and everything in between. I’d looked at the map on my phone, but at some point got turned around. I first asked a woman and her daughter for directions. “Estacion autobus?” I asked in my butchered Spanish. She just shook her head, saying she didn’t speak English.
I was about to give up when she came back to me with another woman in tow. She was probably in her sixties, her face weathered but her eyes bright. She took my arm in hers and led me down the street past the market. Along the way, we spoke in broken English and Spanish. She told me that she lived in Mirador, a village near Tikal, home to another sprawling Maya complex.
When we arrived at the bus station, she took me to the counter for the bus that I needed to Guatemala City, the same company I’d written on a piece of paper. She kissed my cheek and shook my hand before saying goodbye. I was so grateful for her kindness that I could have cried. What could have been a moment of frustration and stress was one of travel’s serendipities.
The next night I packed up my belongings into the backpack I had lugged around the country for the last two weeks. I said quick goodbyes to my new friends and asked at the hostel desk for a taxi to Santa Elena. “You going to Santa Elena?” a guy with an American accent asked. I remarked that I was and he offered to drive me. I’m not one to take rides with strangers, even ones from my home country, but he explained that he was taking the same bus. He was selling his truck to an employee of the hostel, who drove us before keeping the keys.
We settled into our seats on the packed bus as I took an Ambien and lowered my eye mask. When I woke, I’d be in Guatemala City, my last stop before home.