Monday, August 18, 2008

The Rest of the Story - Tikal

When the van pulled into the drive to the Jungle Lodge just outside the ruins at Tikal, we could see small orangey-red bungalows snuggled under the jungle canopy. It looked just like I thought it would, a little primative but a comfortable place to enjoy all that the ruins and the jungle have to offer. But when we stepped into the Lodge to check in, I started to feel uneasy. Between the van and the building we had broken out in a sheen of sweat. You could feel the oppression of the heat and humidity and stepping into the lodge did not afford any relief.

The sight that greeted us was even more depressing. There were piles of luggage everywhere and on every couch there were people looking wilted and like they were drugged.....a ragged look of just being beaten down. Resigned to their fate. At the desk there was a long line that wasn't moving. After a few minutes of trying to figure out what was going on, we could see that one person was trying to check out but the desk was covered with small green sheets of paper. The accounting system at the Jungle Lodge was that you signed tickets for food and drink and that was added to your bill at check out. I do mean AT checkout. Little expanding folders held one thing or another that had to be all pulled back together at check out. Nothing was automated. But even more astonishing was that no one did a daily tally so that when check out time came all that had to be added was the most recent tabs.

At 2 PM a bus pulled up and the wilted people lined up and got on the bus and sat in the heat of midday on the bus as their luggage was loaded. That convinced us that we would hire a van when we were ready to leave. We wanted to avoid the fate of the "wilted." there is a problem checking out but it was also a problem checking in. You needed a credit card and a passport and you had to write the same information on several forms even though all the same information had been given when the reservations were made. Check in was slow, slow too. The sign said that we couldn't get keys to our bungalow until 4 PM. So after we check in we went to the dining room to get some lunch. We were tired, hungry, thirsty and hot. The dining room looked very nice with white tablecloths and the menu looked good.

The waitress came to take our orders.
Me: A limonada, por favor.
Waitress: No limonada.
Me: Coke cola.
Waitress: No Coke Cola.
Me: Okay, I'll take a cerveza.
Ned: What is the soup of the day?
Waitress: We don't have a soup of the day.
Ned: Okay, the Tortilla soup.
Waitress: We don't have the tortilla soup only the bean soup.
Ned: Okay, I'll have bean soup.
Me: I'll have the chicken sandwich.
Waitress: We don't have the chicken sandwich.
Me: I'll have the club sandwich.
Waitress: We don't have the club sandwich.
Me: Which sandwiches do you have.
Waitress: We don't have sandwiches.
Ned: Tell us what you do have that is on the menu.

Well you can see how things are going.....downhill. Eventually we were able to find something on the menu to order. The bean soup was thin. The tomato sauce on a pasta was thin. I guess they were being "stretched" because we found out that they were expecting delivery of supplies that should have been there the day before. The kitchen was in disarray and the service was spotty but before we left the restaurant someone told us that supplies had arrived. What a relief. Now we'd be able to have a nice dinner.

Dinner didn't work out too well either. There were still things on the menu that they didn't have. And the drinks were small and expensive. The glass was about 5 inches tall and about 2.5 inches across....maybe they had a 1/2 jigger of rum or gin in with the mixer. The bartender was very slow and then the server would take so long to bring the drink that most of the ice had melted. We thought we would just have wine but they only had white wine by the glass. But the next day the bartender didn't show up and so there were no drinks. Silly us, we should have been happy with the drinks the night before.

My suggestion is that if you want to eat in Tikal, don't go to the restaurant at the Lodge. Instead head down the road to the Comedor Tikal.....where they do have sandwiches and all the rest of the items that are on their menu. Where the kitchen is organized, the food comes out in a timely fashion and the prices are reasonable.

The Jungle Lodge is lovely. No problem that the electricity is on and off. We expected that in the jungle with solar power and a generator. The rooms and baths were clean, the windows had screens and there were mosquito nets above the beds. The pool was refreshing. But the disorganization of the administration and kitchen was an aggravation to say the least, especially at the prices that were being charged.

We left the Jungle Lodge looking forward to a nice hotel in Flores, Hotel Isla de Flores. We checked in only to discover that the hotel had air-conditioning but on that day did not have any water. We wanted water! The woman behind the desk didn't seem to know if the water would be fixed or not. By this time we were beginning to act like ugly Americans. Joe and I left Ned to deal with the situation. He speaks the best Spanish and he is always nice where I just get angrier and angrier. He talked to the main office in Guatemala City and somehow a plumber showed up who said it would be fixed in no time. No time meant about an hour later but the important thing was, we had water. And we had a wonderful, relaxing dinner at La Luna. It looked like a nice ending to our trip.

But wait, there is more.

The next morning the van to take us to the airport was to be there at 7 AM. The woman at the desk from the day before, hadn't made the reservation for us as we had asked. We did manage to get to the airport in time to make the airplane......

But now you know the rest of the story about Tikal.


Carlos Ponce-Melendez said...

Kind og tipical of small places. It's sad because they don't get much business that way.
I also want to ask your opinion about the Starbucks in San Miguel. I read an article in a newspaper today about this starbucks and how some Americans are boycting this places as a desperated effort to keep San Miguel clean.

jennifer rose said...

It seems as if an essential part of the dialogue with the waitress was missing:

Waitress: Would you like some pretzels?

Exhausted and hungry patron: Sure, that would be fine. Anything.

Waitress: We don't have any pretzels. How about some ice cream?

Patron: All right, some ice cream.

Waitress: We don't have any ice cream.

Jonna said...

I probably shouldn't write this and I hope no Guatemalans read it, but Guatemala is Mexico but more so. All the little irritants here are larger there. Also, everything is tougher when it is hot and humid. But then, you are from Houston and know this well ;)

Good for Ned and good for you for knowing when to leave a situation alone. I'm so spoiled by traveling in our RV, with out own generator and AC and water and sheets and bath. I will have a hard time traveling in hotels again. Now I feel like I have to say "but, it is a very small RV" to avoid sounding like the worst of US travelers.

Steve Cotton said...

Ah -- for every yin there is a yang. Or is it: for every yen there is a dang?

Babs said...

Happy trails! How were your "tuk tuk" rides? Aren't they fun?

John W said...

Re Carlos' comment about the Starbucks in San Miguel: I find the place is well patronized with many Mexican customers and many Norteamericano ones. Some people protested when it opened, but others seem happy to buy Starbucks coffee and use the WiFi.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Billie, thanks for your post. It sounds like a fantastic trip and brings back beautiful memories. The Jungle Lodge appears to have not changed since 1969 except not as crowded and we arrived in a DC-3. Tikal is a magical place especially late in the evening and early in the morning. I am so pleased you experienced it and told us about it.

Bill O.

Cynthia said...

Love this post and the way you are able to look back with humor. As I was reading, I felt as if I were right there.

pitchertaker said...

Remind me to not go there in my old age....