First day, long day with travel from Holbox to Antigua.
Arriving in Guatemala I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, I have heard so much from a lot of people about Guatemala. Guatemala City for one is a dangerous place with gangs ruling different zones of the city, and Guatemala being a strong candidate among the countries with the highest murders eat per capita. However it was a pleasure, nice and helpful people everywhere. The taxi driver who drove me and two Swedish girls to Antigua was the sweetest man.
I arrived in Antigua after an hour drive through the beautiful landscape up and down through the mountains. The first thing to catch my eye was the local busses, colourfully decorated old American school busses driving dangerously fast and literally stuffed with people some even hanging out the doors and sitting on the roof – on the freeway!
Arriving in the beautiful colonial city with cobblestoned streets at my hostel “Matiox” (Meaning thanks in Mayan). When I said I had an reservation the receptionist looked at me with a weird face. Looking at my booking I discovered I booked the same dates but in March, the hostel was full so I had to find another place which led me to “Maya Papaya” maybe the best hostel I’ve stayed at, the owner and the staff was wonderful, and beautiful Melany made the best mojitos I’ve had so far!
So to be sure I got rid of the bedbugs I asked the hostel owner for some help. I took all my clothes, bags and practically everything that could go in the washer and dryer to a laundry service. That meant I was now wearing bathing shorts, a t-shirt and slippers. So the first mission was to shop for some clothes, after looking through several Mayan clothing shops with colourful clothes to say the least, I found a surfer shop owned by an Australian. I bought a really l pair of bathing shorts and a cap, and had a good long chat about Guatemala with him. I bought a Gallo t-shirt (the Guatemalan Carlsberg) from a local shop, and I was set and looking unusually colourful and touristy.
I had a crêpe at “Luna de Miel” with guacamole, pesto and chicken a pretty good meal although not typically Guatemalan. Back at the hostel I had a couple of beers in the bar with Christopher the owner of the hostel a Guatemalan born in Switzerland, and a Canadian girl who recently moved to Antigua. I’ve had a loong day so I went to bed early.
The next morning I was up early having breakfast, the choice at the hostel was either scrambled eggs with mashed brown beans, salsa and a banana bread cookie or fruits, yoghurt and cereals and of course good Guatemalan coffee – I chose the first one. I walked around the city and went to the local market, a maze of different shops with second hand clothes and shoes, fruits and vegetables, electronics, machetes, meat and souvenirs along with an artisanal market with Mayan handicrafts. I had lunch at Café Frida, named after the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and located at the picturesque arch of Antigua, I had nachos supreme and a Gallo. At night I went out with the Canadian girl and a German girl, a tough night with beers and mezcal at the hipsterish “Café No Sé”, giant fishbowl cocktails at The rooftop bar “Lava” and finally beer pong at the “Lucky Rabbit”. In the end I had to follow the Canadian girl back to her place on the outskirts of town after she hit the cobblestone a couple of times. I hurried back to the hostel a bit paranoid of being alone in the street at 2 in the morning.
The next day feeling yesterday’s losses of beer pong I went out with a couple of American guys to eat and afterwards to see some sights around town. After a while I broke op with them to get some coffee and relax a bit. I booked a hike up the volcano Acatenango the next morning, and went to get some hot clothes for the hike. At night I cooked a good tomato sauce with pasta and Parmesan, and as expected the Americans were amazed of my cooking skills …. Americans.
Acatenango is an almost 4000 meters high volcano that has been sleeping for the last 26 years. It is one of the multiple volcanoes surrounding Antigua. From Acatenango you get a great view to the active volcano Fuego and Pacaya and the volcano Agua which is the closest to Antigua. I felt a little feverish in the morning and was in doubt whether to skip it or see if I got better. We were five people in the group a Danish girl, two Peruvians, a French guy and me, plus our local Guatemalan mountain guide. At the foot of the volcano we were met by local children who made walking sticks and each one was trying to convince us why their stick was better. The first 30 mins off the climb was hard, like really hard and I thought 5 hours like this would be my end for sure. Luckily the path changed to the better, and we passed a jungle like forest with lianas before hitting the base camp at 3500 meters 3,5 hours later. Exhausted but amazed of the view from the base amp we relaxed for an hour before climbing to the summit to see the sunset. It was another 1,5 hours to the top, and I could really feel the thin air, at times I felt like passing out. Eventually we made it to the top, a moonlike place and extremely cold and windy, clouds had gathered so we were unable to see a thing, and headed back to the camp. The descent to base camp was like skiing in the ashes, and the temperature dropped dramatically after the sundown. Back at the camp we got a big fire going and the guide made us some spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce, no culinary experience but at that point it didn’t matter much. We hung around the fire for a while drinking beers and hot cocoa before going to bed in the tents that was already put up for us.
At 4.30 the guide woke us, and we ventured up to the summit again to see the sunrise. After 200 meters I went back, my legs was not up for it. I pulled out my sleeping mat and my sleeping bag next to the fire and slept for a while, watched the stars and the sunrise. In the distance I could see the lava running down Pacaya and Fuego smoking an immensely beautiful sight. The others came back and we had breakfast cereals with powder milk and a yoghurt, before heading down. The descent was much faster but still really hard on the already strained legs. Happy to be alive and to have made it we had a beer and listened to reggaeton while waiting for the bus back.
Back in Antigua extremely dirty with layers of ash everywhere and totally exhausted I had a shower at Maya Papaya before I went out to find a new home (the hostel was full). I went past the Spanish school “Antigueña Academy” whom I had been mailing with prior, at the office the guy greeted me and said my family would pick me up in 10 mins, I was confused. The school offers home stays with local families in Antigua and I had been asking about the prices and conditions, but he’d taken that as a yes apparently. I was picked up and walked to a house in the outskirts of town to a family of 6 plus two other Spanish students. My room was like a small cell, no windows, mouldy smell and a terrible bed, trying not to be a better off European I said nothing and just ate some lunch which the lovely lady made for me before taking a big nap. When I woke up I decided to go down to the specify center to meet up with Tim my German friend who arrived in Antigua.
The next five days I did Spanish school from 8 to 13 in a beautiful garden “El Jardín” with my professor Judith One on one. It was pretty intensive since she didn’t speak any English, but quite good learning wise. I went to see a local Coffee plantation one day “Finca Philadelfia”, a old farm going back to 1850. On the coffee tour I met a Canadian girl which I had dinner with and a couple of drinks afterwards. The school also did excursions during the week we went to a little town (pueblo) “San Antonio agua caliente” where we visited a Mayans who showed how they weave by hand, cook over fire, and how they dress for weddings – apparently I was the bride!?
Before leaving Antigua in the last day I cooked some food and invited one of the Canadians over and then we went out. We visited a hidden bar “Sake bar”, yes like the Japanese sake, in a backyard with live music playing the most horrendous covers of eg. Pink Floyd, I ordered everyone a round of sake with did not help on my hangover the next day.
Antigua is amazing!