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Tikal to Tulum – San Juan Transport And The Hellacious Day of Buses

Tikal to Tulum - San Juan Transport And The Hellacious Day of Buses

We left Tikal at 7:30am after a wonderful birthday trip to Tikal.  Heading from Tikal, we thought we might spend the night in Chetumal, Mexico and then move on to Tulum in the morning and then spend the rest of our time there, before flying back home from Cancun where we had started.  Leaving Tikal was hard, and we were in for a day of hellacious buses, shuttles and border crossings.   

Leaving Tikal to Chetumal

We got on a small shuttle bus headed for the main highway from Tikal. The San Juan Transport company was the one we had contracted to take us all the way from Tikal to Chetumal. It amazes me how skeptical I am of operations and what they promise and how safe they really are. I guess I should have more faith that things will just work out. But, then again, It might be what keeps me out of trouble sometimes.  Needless to say, I was skeptical of the San Juan Transport Company but, had little choice due to their transportation monopoly in the area.

Short Ride to the "Big Bus"

There was a driver and a his "sidekick" who sat toward the back with me in the small minivan. It was about a 40 minute ride in the minivan to the main highway junction where we were "GUARANTEED" a seat on the next much larger minivan that seats no more than 25.  I had a great conversation about life with the "sidekick" about everything from snakes to religion.  Shelly pretty much just sat there. I feel bad for Shelly that she doesn't have a clue what we are talking about at times.  I usually tell her, what we were talking about, but somehow.... an hour after a conversation, even if you know what we're talking about... at that point you don't care.

We got to the main cross roads and sat under a shady tree.  Within a few minutes I felt a prickly sensation on my feet and realized I was getting bit by fire ants on my feet.  Jumping around batting off the ants, the other people waiting for the local bus under the tree were chuckling at me.

Not a Big Bus, and Over Capacity

Well the bus showed up and it was packed full. From the outside, I started looking and saw that there were no more seats left. T he entire bus was gringos, and when I did a head count there were 24 passengers! Wait that would make us 25 and 26.  So once again, lied to and truth stretched about what was going to be expected with our trip.  I was a little miffed, but what choice did we have? We loaded our luggage on the roof with 24 other's baggage, and got in. There were fold-down seats that came out from the regular seats into the aisleway of the bus, that were considered "our seats"

An American student who was on his way from Costa Rica gave up his seat to Shelly and sat in the fold down "aisle seat", and I sat in the aisle seat in front of him.  It was cramped, with no air conditioner again!  SIGH!  At least everyone on this bus was seated, and friendly. The students were 25 year olds, one male and one female who said "like" every 2nd word.  It drove me crazy for about an hour before putting on my headphones and totally ignoring them.



The Belize Border Crossing

Tikal to Tulum

The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round

Sometimes I like to count how many times someone says "like" in a conversation. I gave up after 150 with just the girl.... 🙂 The other people were very nice on the bus. We actually had a pretty good time overall. There were 3 guys in their 50s from the Czech Republic. The guy and his "like" girlfriend who were early 20s from North Carolina.  3 Girls from Sweden.  One guy from Germany. Another girl from Germany. An Israeli, and his girlfriend from Europe somewhere (Who met only two days before) Some girls from Holland. A guy and his girlfriend from England.  Another guy and his wife from France. A greasy Italian (quite literally). And some others I didn't get to know.

Anyhow we chugged along now 5 hours into the trip, until we go to the Belize border and got held up for at least an hour by some Israeli who needed a visa to enter Belize. It was HOT!!!! DRY!!! and somewhat miserable standing outside the bus, with no shade for an hour waiting. The Israeli thought his US visa would work in Belize, because someone told him so in a travel agency. Some people!?!?!?



Belize City

Tikal to Tulum
Tikal to Tulum
Tikal to Tulum

Arriving in Belize City

So anyhow, we get to Belize City and I pretty much stood up the entire way from the border to the city. (Few hours) It was easier to stand in the doorway of the minivan than to sit anymore on that fold out chair in the aisle. I listened to music and generally just watched the countryside go by. I actually really liked it. Kind of reminded me of Ohio's landscape. Rolling hills, green... etc.  It was OK until we got to Belize City. YUCK! One giant slum.

Sugar Cane Field Harvest

One thing I did notice is that most of all the houses in Belize even in the interior are on stilts. Meaning that they have no foundation.. and most of them sagged, and generally looked like they were falling apart. Really weird to see English signs everywhere though. English is the official language of Belize, and to go from all Spanish for nearly a month to English, but still seeing the same poor people, and general trash lying around was weird. On the way to Chetumal, it seems this part of Belize is well-known for sugar cane. There were countless trucks packed to the top with sugar cane, and frequent fires where they slash and burn the cane, before cutting it and putting it on the truck.

Belize City - Not the Paradise We Had Hoped For

Belize city was absolutely unremarkable. I am sure the Cays are nice, but Belize city was kind of a shithole. The food from the street stand however, was excellent! We got some local Caribbean food of chicken, rice and beans at a roadside stand where we dropped off people.  Then, we loaded up for another 4 hours to Chetumal.  Our plan was to spend time in Belize, but Lanquin, Rabinal, and more time Honduras made it impossible to spend any time going to the Cays and enjoying Belize.  We will be back someday, I am sure.



The Mexican Border at Chetumal

Tikal to Tulum

Mexican Border

I got a seat for this next leg of the trip, as some people got off in Belize City!! YEAH!!  And we got to Chetumal and Mexico at about 6:30 - 7pm.  We all made it through the border without incidence and got dropped off at the central terminal of Chetumal to catch a bus to Tulum.  So yeah, we've basically been in a mini-bus without air conditioning, packed to the gills, for nearly 12 hours.  Ahhhh the joys of travel.  We decided to push on directly on to Tulum for more bus riding enjoyment.

Taking a Luxury Bus from Chetumal to Tulum

We all headed to the ADO bus stand and booked our tickets.  14 of us got to the bus terminal and bought our tickets to Tulum. The bus left at 7:30 pm and is a luxury full-sized bus with reclining seats and A/C.  As Shelly and I got on the bus, there was one more seat.  So I gave Shelly the seat, and again I stood on the bus. Only about an hour this time, when someone got off and I was able to sit and relax. We got to Tulum at 11pm. A LONG DAY OF TRAVEL IN BUS!!! AND THE LAST WE WILL HAVE FOR AWHILE!!!

We took a cab to the Hotel Addy which was near the center of town, and CRASHED! It was a very long day. It seemed like a week ago we left from Tikal. Oh yeah, and the internet is not available again!!!! BROKEN.



Chetumal Beach

Tikal to Tulum

Change In Perspective

You leave the peaceful haven of Tikal with its jungles, fresh air, and the beautiful Guatemalan people for a bus ride, packed with sweaty tourists for umpteen hours and it is easy to get upset.  Get upset that the San Juan Transport Company said that we were guaranteed a seat, but didn't tell us what kind.  Upset that I stood for hours on the trip from Guatemala to Belize City and then again had to stand on the next bus from Chetumal.  Upset that all we had to eat all day was some chicken, rice and beans.  Or upset that we had to wait an hour for the Israeli to get his visa while the entire bus waited on him in the heat.

But, this wasn't the case.  The perspective of myself and Shelly, was one of tolerance for the problems.  Understanding that it's just the way it was.  Nothing we can do about it now.  Why get upset?  At least we are going somewhere new to see something awesome.

It was what we had to look forward to that made getting bit by fire ants, packed into two buses, and not having internet bearable.  We simply didn't care much.  In fact, while standing in the door well of the mini-bus, listening to music, there was even a Zen moment.  A moment of happiness, looking out on the flat horizon of Belize, marveling at where I was.  It made everything seem ok.  It's too bad we can't pull into this state of mind whenever we are hit with adversity.  Maybe we can.  Maybe it's just a matter of how you look at it.

What do you think allowed us to put up with it, and keep such a good attitude?  Have you ever had a similar experience?  Share with us your experiences and how you dealt with it.

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