Peten is the northeastern state in Guatemala and five years ago, we crossed the border from Belize with only enough cash to last us a few days. We were hoping to find an ATM to replenish our funds since we did not want to carry around a lot of money. We parked ourselves in El Remate, a small lakeside village near the Mayan ruins of Tikal, then took a bus to the tourist center of Flores with debit cards in hand. We were shocked that after spending hours traipsing the urban center flooded with tourists and trying several banks with ATMs, we were leaving empty handed. We were just a few days away from being completely broke. (to read more from our 2010 trip, click here)
Flash forward five years and today we climbed into the front seat of the collectivo from Poptun and the ride was as smooth as your bottom. The minibus filled up quickly and before we knew it there were over thirty adults, many standing hunched over, with a handful of kids, in a twelve seater van. To keep from getting car sick, the children lean over the front seats so they can see out the front window. You loved looking back at all of the children who smiled at you with big dark eyes. We do our best to plan overland travel around one of your naps and after a short suckle, you fell asleep for the last hour of the trip.
We snagged a tuc-tuc into the center of Flores then I ran around the narrow cobblestone streets to find a budget room. Aside from a new ritzy mall and a lavish Ramada Inn, not much had changed on Flores. There were more tourists than locals and more restaurants than days in a year. After dropping off our packs, we walked 2km back into the urban center with debit cards in hand once again, eager to replenish our dwindling funds.
Having successfully used our debit cards several times in the less touristy Honduras, we assumed that in five years, the banking infrastructure must have been vastly improved throughout Central America. Turns out we were wrong. Again, with only 152 Quetzales (exactly $20US), we arrived in Flores which had exploded in tourism over the past five years, to find that our debit cards did not work again!
Asher, a few days previous, we received a notice from our car insurance company that our $3 per month fee had accrued a $25 insufficient funds fee because our credit card did not process. When we called MasterCard to inquire, we learned that they canceled our card after a “suspicious purchase” “compromised” our card. The suspicious purchase was us using it in Honduras which we previously informed them of, and they kindly told us of the automatic cancellation by mail. To our home address. In Canada.
So here we were, standing on the corner of a dusty, diesel filled intersection, disheveled after ten hours of overland travel in two days, with just 152Q in our pocket, a useless debit card in hand, and a shiny new credit card in our mailbox. In Canada. At the start of the trip, your mother and I buried some emergency US currency deep in our packs and so we pulled it out for just an occasion. The first bank turned us away because they only exchanged Euros – touche; but the second bank drooled over the crisp Yankee bills, exchanging them for 96% of their value. Though still not ideal, we at least added 754Q to our pot which would buy us enough time before Granny and Grumpy showed up with some more cash.
We were all exhausted after the runaround and had no trouble falling asleep with bellies full of yogurt and granola. We spent one night too many in Flores; the town that has no problem taking your money but every problem with allowing you to get more.