Three Countries in 10 hours and New Years Celebrations

Flores, Guatemala

I didn’t sleep well.  I was nervous.  It was sometime around 4AM in the twilight hours of the last day of 2009. I had an early bus to catch, was traveling on a holiday, would spend time in 3 different countries over the next 10 hours, and had to sleep with my camera. Why the odd bedfellow?  In the absence of an alarm clock, watch, or other time keeping device – the internal clock on my Canon G11 was my sole time piece.  Luckily my internal clock held true, waking me a half hour or so before I needed to be up.

Sunset - Flores, Guatemala

I stretched, groaned at the odd noises one of the local birds was making, and then stumbled over to my locker.  A few brief minutes later I found a bench outside my dorm room and sat down, carefully making sure I had everything as I tied my shoes.  The sun had just begun to rise.  It was the start of a gloomy, but invigorating day.  The type that was made for travel – gloomy enough that you don’t feel like you’re missing something, but nice enough that downtime between buses etc. isn’t miserable.

From there it was down the uneven cobblestone streets to the waterfront where my Flores (Guatemala) -> Chetumal (Mexico) bus would pick me up at 7:30.  I confirmed my booking, then opted for a bit of breakfast at the small cafe next door.

Flores, Guatemala

As I sat down at one of the outside tables, I chuckled while making eye contact with a vibrantly colored, inquisitive parrot who was carefully perched (dare i say stranded) on top of the “Break Fast” sign.

There were a few of us out and about. All bleary eyed. All wishing we were still in bed. My food arrived, as did a bland black coffee just as there was a loud POP! Crackle! POP! From somewhere overhead.  Startled I looked over and up in time to see the large power pole begin to spark and smoke.  The two locals underneath it jumped back as I leapt out of my chair and got under the cover of the building, carefully eying the power line which stretched directly over the table i’d been sitting at.

The owner quickly grabbed a wooden broom, then ran around turning off all of the electronics as the power pole/line continued to smolder and throw off periodic sparks. Eventually it died down…just in time for the local who had previously been standing immediately under the pole to walk over and tentatively touch it.  Luckily, the danger appeared to have passed and with a wary eye I returned to my table, plowed through my food, paid my bill and made my way to the bus stop.

The bus ride itself wasn’t anything special.  A long trip with brief pauses ever hour or two.  Two quick stops – one at the Guatemala/Belize border and another at the Belize/Mexico border where we disembarked, paid a plethora of fees, then wandered aimlessly into the country.  The highlight, however, was a wonderful husband and wife who were traveling together. The husband was a scientist and professor at UNLV who shared a wealth of insights with me about climate change, recently discovered micro-organisms in extreme locations, and other like-kind scientific insights.  Our conversation was both fascinating and extremely informative which went a long way towards speeding up the trip.

Eventually we arrived at the Chetumal bus station, where we would book the second leg of our trip.  For me it was onto a 1st class bus for the 4 hour bus ride to Play del Carmen where I hoped my hostel reservation was waiting for me.  Unfortunately, the first bus was sold out, leaving an hour plus layover and adding to my anxiety.  Nervous about losing my reservation I found a tiny internet cafe in one of the Bus Station coffee shops, from which I sent a follow up/confirmation e-mail to my hostel.  “Please hold my spot, I am coming from Guatemala today! If everything goes according to plan I’ll be arriving sometime between 10-11:45”.

I was exhausted, smelled, and stressed. The last thing I wanted to do was spend New Years on a Mexican bus.  Luckily, the bus eventually appeared, was on time, and got me safely to Play del Carmen by 10:30PM.

Nervous about my reservation I made a B-line to the hostel and was relived to find that they’d received my e-mail right about the time they were debating giving the bed away.  I was in luck, they’d kept a bed set aside for me in one of the dorms. I’d made it before new years – and I was ready to celebrate.

In a small mealstrom of activity I washed up quickly, deodorized, changed and made my way up to the hostel bar.  A couple of dollars later and with a beer in each hand I set to the task of making new friends.  I quickly fell in with a Dane and some Aussies. As the seconds ticked by we counted down,  drinks held in in the air:  10, 9, 8, 7 – whew I’d made it! – 6, 5, 4 – What an amazing year.  I’d kicked it off in the Plaza del Sol 12 months earlier in Spain and now I already found myself saying goodbye to 2009 on a different continent, with equally delightful people after a year of incredible adventure – 3, 2, 1…..and then the rooftop bar exploded with a roaring cheer.   Hugs and high fives were exchanged, glasses and beer bottles clanked together and as one, people from all over the world celebrated the start of a new year and a new adventure.

After another hour or so at the Hostel bar, a group of us formed up and set out to explore a few of the local clubs.  Before long we found one along the beach with an incredible view of the ocean and great music.   For the next few hours we danced, drank, socialized, and exchanged stories.  At 4AM I realized I was quickly approaching the 24 hour mark and that I was drained of every last ounce of energy I had.   I said by goodbyes and made my way back to the hostel where I crawled into my bunk, let out a great sigh and drifted towards sleep.

Unfortunately, I was in the top bunk located in the very corner of the room, immediately between two large windows. The good news was, that the sunrise was spectacular.  The bad news was, that between the sunlight and eventual heat coming off the windows I was awake and drenched in sweat by 8:30AM.  Hungover, I set out to walk the beach and get some fresh air. To my amusement and surprise the party was still raging at one of the beach clubs.  With more than a few people passed out along the beach in front, the bar itself was full of people dancing.  Many were still in evening dresses from the night before, though most had long since lost their shoes.  Most of the guys were in similar form, though almost all had long ago abandoned their shirts.

Beach New Years Day

As I strolled along the beach I paused and couldn’t help but laugh.  Immediately in front of the club, half buried in the sand a reveler was sound asleep.  Passer-bys had decorated the individual with beer bottles, sand breasts, and upended cups.  The only sign of life was a periodic roaring snore.

Eventually feeling refreshed I made my way back to the hostel where the Air Conditioning had kicked in.  I crawled back into bed for a quick nap.

By 1 I made my way to the rooftop common area, where I settled in with a large water and my book.  Before long Daniel and Jesse joined me.  We exchanged stories from the night before, and I quickly learned that after I’d left Jesse and Daniel had continued full force.  As it turned out, much to Daniel and my entertainment – Jesse was locked out of his room.  With nothing better to do, we opted to head down to a beach front bar for a lone drink as we recovered.

Play del Carmen

Before long we’d stumbled on the site of a week long rave/music festival that was operating 24/7.  Set up around a resort’s beach front pool the area was packed with people dancing, celebrating, and relaxing. The scene was an incredible chance to people watch and full of entertaining antics.  Before long, someone volunteered to grab the first round which obliterated any hope we’d had for a relaxing 1 beer afternoon.  As the part picked up steam we drank, danced, and met an entertaining mixture of locals, travelers, and vacationers.   In what seamed like the blink of an eye 1PM had turned into 6PM which had bled into 8PM.  Hungry we tore ourselves away from the party long enough to make our way back towards the hostel.  The walk there was amazing, mostly along the beach,  and under a full Blue Moon.  Once back to the hostel we picked up a few more people, changed quickly, then found a near by dollar taco stand.  The jokes were hilarious, offensive, and often told around a mouth full of taco and Pacifico.

With laughter and salsa induced tears streaming down our faces we eventually finished dinner, before striking out to find a nightclub.  The first attempt was a failure…apparently night clubs didn’t care for one of the Australian’s ball-bulge-spedoesque-swimsuit, which set off another round of jokes and laughter.   Making a scene as we ambled through the street – often laughing hysterically or making odd faces – we eventually found a club that welcomed us with open arms…and free drinks.  From there it was on to the Blue Parrot where we watched a fire show, danced, and laughed at each other mostly because  Daniel, Jesse and I had all begun to lose our voices and sounded ridiculous.

By 3 we’d all started to hit a wall and eventually opted to limp our way back to the hostel and turn in.  If New Years Eve/Day was any indication, 2010 will be one hell of a great year.