Day 5 – Dec 7, 2009 – Visit the Bank before going to Tikal
Banking In Guatemala
Monday morning is not a good day to go to the Bank in Guatemala. I hear Fridays are just as bad. People line up outside for hours waiting for the bank to open so that they can do whatever they couldn’t do over the weekend. I was desperately low on cash. I needed to get some money and complete 3 other errands all before my 9 am bus to Tikal’s Mayan ruins.
In the end I was able to buy my replacement digital camera, an overpriced ripoff memory stick for the same camera and some snacks for the day’s excursion. The first bank I tried however would not exchange my travelers checks. I ran down the street in desperation and passed at least 4 other banks or bank machines without any luck getting my bank card to work or finding a bank open before 9am.
My kids and I zipped from place to place in half a dozen little TukTuk cabs. These convenient 3 wheeled cabs cost about 50 cents per person per ride. We could not go more than 30 seconds without seeing an empty red jalopy zipping along each bumpy little street. It did not matter how far we went. The price was always the same whether 1 mile or 3.
After a frustrating run from place to place I finally headed back to where we were catching our shuttle to postpone our departure by an hour. This I thought would give me the time I needed to exchange some travelers checks, enough to pay our admission costs into the UNESCO historic site of Tikal.
I rushed into the bank at 9:15am and found about 10 customers there. I already knew the drill. I was going to have to visit the receptionist at the greeting desk before going to the tellers to exchange my money. There were however two customers with the two receptionists and I would have to wait for them to finish. I watched impatiently as the receptionists took their time filling out paper after paper. It was as if they had nothing urgent to do. Looking at my watch every 30 seconds did not seem to give them the hint they needed to speed things up a bit. 20 minutes passed before they finally finished and had time to look over my ID and documents. My main problem however was that they had to fill out a dozen forms and enter a bunch of information in their computer before they could give me my stamped document that indicated the day’s exchange rate. After signing the paperwork I rushed into the teller lineup to find 2 others in front of me. I only had 10 minutes to spare.
The problem was that the three tellers spent the next 10 minutes with the same people or in the back room on what seemed like a coffee break. They were in no hurry and seemed to be on a different time schedule than the rest of the world around them. In the end, the person in front of me spoke English and was kind enough to allow me ahead. It was already 10am, the time that the last shuttle to Tikal was to leave. My only hope was that the shuttle would be late as usual.
It only took a moment before I had the cash I needed in my hand. 45 minutes after entering, I ran from the bank as if I was being chased by a nest of hornets. I waved down the first TukTuk I saw so that they could take me to where my shuttle was leaving from. Within seconds I was bouncing down the cobblestone side streets of Santa Elena and over the bridge to the island of Flores. I was only 7 minutes late and to my relief, others were still waiting for that last Tikal shuttle of the day.
Our shuttle to Tikal from Flores took about 1 hour and 15 minutes. I was just happy that I now had a camera to document the experience. I did however make the mistake of suggesting to our shuttle escort that we may want a guide. Before I knew it he was picking up a “friend” on the way that was going to be the best person to tour us around Tikal for three hours. The worst was that this guide was going to charge us $60 for the tour… probably a weeks wage for most people in this part of Guatemala.
Our guide did give us some interesting information on this historic site and showed us the shortcut paths, but his tour was rather boring and dry. I would highly recommend skipping the guide and bringing along the Lonely Planet guidebook that includes a description, map and summary of the Tikal site. The main spots to go to are the photographic hot spots which include Complex Q, Temple 4, the Lost World, Temple 5 and the Grand Plaza. My favorite view was from the top of the ladder-like stairs that went to the top of Temple 5. From here we could see the tops of the nearby temples and the jungle that surrounded the massive acres and acres of historic land. The Grand Plaza was fun to explore and photograph as we were able to climb around the passages and stone walls that were built thousands of years ago.
As we left Tikal we waited with about 25 other people for our shuttle. It was a mad rush as we all swarmed our 12 passenger shuttle van. My kids and I were among the last on the shuttle before another one was requested for the others that could not fit on.