On the whole, Isla de Flores was just what I needed after leaving the lake. It was always going to be kinda sad, and slightly unsettling, but thankfully I met Brooke, who made the entire first week an absolute joy.
We met on the bus from San Pedro to Isla de Flores, which took a solid 10 hours. It’s amazing how well you can get to know someone in 10 hours in a bus the size of a matchbox. They say trauma bonds people, and they’re not wrong. Brooke and I became fast friends, and she kept me company for the first half of my time on the island.
The island can be walked around in about 25 minutes. It sits in a lake that is so warm it feels like a bath. The island was in down season, so it was pleasantly quiet, and it offered all the tranquillity I needed to find my traveling feet again and get my head into working before my brother arrived. I stayed behind a beautiful café with two dudes who run the Airbnb along with their restaurant.
All the houses look like European, single-story, tiled roof buildings, but colored amazing pastille. Tiny little winding roads tie together the one, single-directional road that circles the whole town. There is one other road that runs along the waterside, but it is so flooded that fish live amongst the pavements.
Brooke and I packed in a whole load of the tourist stuff nice and early on before she had to continue with her journey. We went to Tikal, the local Mayan ruins. The sun was blisteringly hot, but the ruins were fantastic. I was tempted not to bother with them, having seen so many already on my travels, but I’m glad I went.
The ruins were huge and beautifully restored. The ancient city was home to a quarter of a million people once upon a time, an amount I found staggering. Our tour guide was a big sweaty Guatemalan who did the whole tour in both English and Spanish simultaneously. Honestly, by the end, I thought he was going to end up as the newest sacrifice to the Mayan gods as his poor, straining heart dragged him around the grounds.
The views were fantastic from the tops of the towering structures, looking out across the vast jungle of the country. I could see why they would worship the land and skies the way they did. The huge green expanse of trees was only countered by the almost endless sky visible from the top. At night, the view of the stars must be absolutely phenomenal. The more I learn about the Mayan faith, stories, and philosophies, the more I think it might be the one.
Brooke and I sweated our way around the huge grounds, slow cooking under the relentless sun but finding humor in it all nonetheless. Her calm demeanor was a very thin vale for her quick wit and astute cynicism. Spiritual, yes, but sharp as a pin. She had me laughing plenty; it perked up a lot of the feelings I had about leaving behind the lake.
We spent a whole morning trekking around the island, searching for cheap Kayaks to hire. We must have started at about 10 a.m. and circumnavigated the island twice. The issue was we had found a place that rented kayaks for almost nothing for a whole day, but they only had a double available, and that was way too intimate. People might think we were lovers or something, so we searched for singles. However, everywhere else with a kayak was charging through the nose for their boats, and we are both stingy travelers. We ended up opting for the double and set off on our voyage into the lake.
A few kilometers to the east of the island is a small retreat, usually only accessible by boat taxi. It is a hostel on the side of the water that provides all the swinging joy you could ever need. Long ropes hang over the warm water, along with a few diving platforms. The hostel has a few chairs, benches, and of course, hammocks to relax in and dry off. It takes seconds to dry in heat as intense as it was in Flores.
The kayak there was an easy one. I took the back, and Brooke took the front. A decision she made as she believed that the back of the boat was where the effort was put in. Little did she know, I used it as a chance to slack off. She couldn’t see when I stopped rowing, but I could see when she did. However, she never stopped and pretty much single-handedly powered us all the way to Jorge’s rope swing. Thanks, Brooke; your traps will thank you later in life. Never skip shoulder day.
We chatted and laughed and paddled, did some sick swings, jumped off some platforms, enjoyed a beer in the sun, and then ventured back out into the vast lake to head west into the sunset. We pushed our tired bodies until we had managed to paddle to boat right back to the island and across to the other side.
The sun was just starting to set over the lake as we finally put our oars down and relaxed in the boat. Many of the sunsets had been masked by the clouds over the past few days due to it being rainy season, but this evening we had a full, open sky. In front of us, at least. Behind us, over the island, a furious storm was brewing, promising to tear the sky up. We weighed up our options and betted on the speed of the sunset over the storm.
The sky blew up with reds, purples, oranges, blues, and sky-splitting rays. The water mirrored all of these with the rippling, metallic effect of a lake gently whipped up by the approaching storm. It was stunning, and everything turned to gold for a solid half an hour. It was a lush send-off for Brooke, and it was a nice way to end our time together. She had been the pick me up I needed, something I was soon to realize. The approaching storm stirred up the lake and threatened to break. It made the paddle back into the wind rather a struggle, but the home stretch felt like an achievement, and we had been spoilt by the evening.
After Brooke left, I settled down to work. I stopped drinking, something that lasted a total of 8 solid ass days, and tried to get as much work done as possible. There had been a few new game releases, and I was at the forefront of writing for them. I sat, sweated, and lamented the lack of aircon for the rest of my time there. Once the distraction of Brooke and alcohol was no longer present, I began to feel forlorn. The color drained from things, my will to socialize disappeared to nothingness, and my will to write for myself was non-existent.
This isn’t unusual, and it isn’t any more of a struggle than the surface-level lack of motivation and inspiration. I recognize the feeling, and while I don’t welcome it, I know how to house it in my mind and wait for it to leave like an unwelcome guest. There are a lot of worse places to be feeling shitty, and my lovely room with my hospitable housemates and the stunning small island was more than accommodating for my moping.
I felt like I was probably just a little homesick from somewhere I was so settled. I had left behind friends and familiarity, which is why I travel in the first place, and I think somewhere in my mind, my subconscious was worrying I wouldn’t have it so good again. That is a stupid thing to think, and as I sit here now, on a beautiful Caribbean island, about to go drink on a catamaran and move with people I find funny, interesting, and beautiful, I look back on it with wiser eyes. However, sadness is often cyclical, and the small Islas de Flores hosted that one. Life can’t always be island vibes.
Not drinking made me feel like shit. Groggy, hard to wake up in the morning, and queasy. I’m blaming it on the lack of booze and not on the big sad. Keep drinking, folks; it’s all there is.
I didn’t completely hermit myself, of course. I also went to see Coco, my old housemate from Atitlan, the hammock hog. She had decided to come to Isla de Flores at the same time as me and quickly decided this was where she wanted to start her career as a hostel volunteer.
The island has a rather renowned hostel right in the center, known as Los Amigos. The small gated door at the front does not give away the huge sprawling hostel within, run by a Dutchman making a name for himself in the backpacking world. The hostel is great, beautifully laid out, and hosts one of the later nightclubs on the island. Coco nervously applied, got the job on the spot, and within one shift, was over the moon with her decision. I knew it would be the right choice. Volunteering in hostels, although not something I would do at my age, is an amazing way to travel.
She works the late-night bar, has all her rent paid, gets fed, drinks for cheap, hangs out with cool people, and lives on the beautiful island. I take no responsibility for her; she’s her own person doing her own thing. But it certainly makes me very happy to see her so pleased with her choices, even if she was a shell of a human being any time before about midday.
I found out there were some caves just outside of Flores, too, on the mainland. They were a quick Tuktuk away or a 30-minute walk, which apparently, on my return, I found was a terrible idea. My hosts look horrified at my adventure. It took me through some very rough parts of the outskirts, but I am still about 2 feet taller than most of the locals, and my stinkeye is enough to put them off making a grab for the camera strapped to my chest.
The cave was a funny one. The entrance was just some guy in a hut. He gave me a helmet and head torch and explained that I was to follow the white arrows to go in and the yellow ones to leave, not to go past one certain point, and not to stray from the path. I asked about a guide, but he just shook his head. This was me against the underground, and by the looks of it, I was the only one there.
The cave system was absolutely enormous. I spent a good hour or so in there, just strolling around the huge caverns on my own. I took the time to sit, turn my light off completely, and just see how long I could be alone in the purest darkness there is. My mind took a total of about 35 seconds to start filling the whole room with all sorts of unreasonable horrors from the Mayan deep; it was fantastic. I like to see just how much I can make myself terrified, and that was a whole new flavor of fear.
I took a few little trips off the beaten path. Many people had been down there, and a number had started to create their own paths using the mud on the ground to point the way and name the routes. I scrambled around one rock fall to find a path labeled Centro de Terra. Following it down slowly led me into a widening tunnel that resulted in a cavern with a huge drop-off in the ground that even my light couldn’t penetrate. Throwing a rock off the ledge only resulted in silence and, eventually, a growl. Images of the Mountains of Madness by Lovecraft flashed through my mind, and I made a hasty retreat.
Coming back out into the outside world after being in the dark and cool of the cave alone for so long gave me a surprising sense of peace. I was in the jungle, and it had just started to rain those big fat tropical raindrops. I pulled up a plastic chair with the groundskeeper under his tin shack and listened to the rain running off the roof and trees.
Flores was a halfway house between living for so long in one place and switching to rapid-fire hostel travel. It was what I needed and not the worst place for the creeping sads. Onward and upward.