After a leisurely breakfast, we made our way downtown to catch a bus to Benque, the last stop before the Guatemalan border. Many people here told us to just take a taxi as it works out to only a little more than the bus (from Benque you have to take a taxi to the border anyway), and after waiting around for a bus with no luck we eventually gave in. $12 and a relatively short ride later we were at the border crossing, where we paid our exit fee, got our passports stamped and were out the other side rather painlessly (compared to our mishap at the Belize border!), where we were immediately hassled by some taxi drivers. I forgot to mention earlier but in Mexico, many people speak at least some English, Belize is primarily English (or a mashup of various languages), but in Guatemala we didn't encounter too many English-speakers, so it was a good chance to practice my fairly poor Spanish! We ignored the taxi guys and asked around about bus schedules and prices to Tikal, and in doing so ended up getting a good deal on a taxi. Our driver's name was Rene and he rather enjoyed the chance to practice his English, telling us all about his family and pointing out landmarks along the way, letting us stop to take pictures or look at birds every now and then (added Ringed Kingfisher for the trip) and even stopping to buy us some delicious mini bananas. The cab ride ended up costing $40, which seemed a little steep compared to the bus fares but is much less than the $60-90 that is usually charged for this route by taxis and tour companies.
Along the road to Tikal
Since the cab is also much faster than the bus (speed limits are mostly ignored in Guatemala), we ended up having to wait around at the Tikal entrance restaurant until 3:30, after which the tickets they issue are also valid for the next day. Luckily for us, a tour company (Pacz tours) was also doing this trick, and gave us a ride into the park for something like 5Q each (about $0.75). After securing our campsite for the night behind one of the hotels (free wi-fi by doing this!), we went for a bit of a wander around, but got cut short by a downpour so we called it a day. New birds for the trip during our little walk were Brown-crested Flycatcher, Gray-breasted Martin and Gray-necked Wood-Rail.
Running trip total: 296 (225 MX, 171 BZ)
We were up well before dawn so that we could make it out to some of the most productive birding areas at first light (Templo VI)! We managed to pick up a Great Curassow along the trail by doing this, just before some tourists went by and spooked it. Collared Forest-Falcon was also heard as part of the dawn chorus, along with many of the more common tropical species. We ended up walking through the southern part of the ruins in the morning, making our way from Templo VI to the Grand Plaza and out to Templo IV, the tallest temple which has a great view over the canopy. Unfortunately they were doing some maintenance work on the temple so we could only go up the back side and didn't get to see the famous view from the front.
The Grand Plaza
The view from the top of Templo IV
Some giant chairs in front of a small-ish ruin
Luckily we had decided to avoid the sunrise tour in favour of birding, as it was completely clouded over all morning, and just as we were getting down from Templo IV it started pouring! We waited out the downpour under a shelter along with a horde of other tourists, but it didn't let up for several hours, and eventually we had to give up and finish our loop of the ruins in the rain, which wasn't very productive for birds! Back to before the rain started though, the birding around the ruins was actually pretty fantastic, with mixed flocks here and there and some good tropical birds scattered throughout. New trip birds were Slaty-breasted Tinamou (actually seen extremely well on a path), Pheasant Cuckoo, Chestnut-collared Swift, White-crowned Parrot, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Rufous and Speckled Mourners, Northern Schiffornis, Red-capped Manakin, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Golden-crowned Warbler and Gray-headed Tanager. We also found a pair of Orange-breasted Falcons in the Grand Plaza, which unbeknownst to us were nesting and had actually been found earlier in the year.
One of the pair of Orange-breasted Falcons!!!
After the rain started our only new bird for the day was Black-throated Shrike-Tanager, a pair in with a small mixed flock which ended up being the only ones I saw on the entire trip. Back at our campsite, we had to pack our tents up in the rain (which at this point had lightened up), and had lunch while drying off a bit. In the afternoon we caught a collectivo (little bus) to Flores and wandered the town a bit before walking to Santa Elena, grabbing dinner and buying our bus tickets to Guatemala City.
Taking a $1 tuk-tuk ride in Flores
The bus station was a bit sketchy, and we had heard many tales of buses to GCity being held up at night and robbed, but most of those were with the cheaper line which makes a few stops along the way. I think our tickets ended up being around $35, with the bus leaving Santa Elena at 9pm-ish and getting into the station in Guatemala City around 5am. Sleeping on the bus proved much easier than I thought it would be and saved us a night of hostel expenses as well as a day of travel time. However, the bus station situation in Guatemala City appears to be dynamic, and the station that was listed online for our next bus (and was about 2 blocks from the station we arrived at) no longer existed. More on that later as this post is bleeding into Feb 10!
Running trip total: 310