Semana Santa

Trip Start Dec 30, 2010
Trip End Jul 06, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hostal El Caminante

Flag of Guatemala  , Western Highlands,
Friday, April 22, 2011

Day 107 April 21st continued - I cross the bridge, walk up a steep hill, walk into immigration and receive and entry stamp. No tax to pay (C4 rule) but happy to receive a stamp. I change some money after saying no to the guy 3 times and each time I say no he offers more. I wander around and feel a bit lost. I see some tourist police with big guns so approach them, they speak English and advise to wait for a mini bus to take me to a nearby town to then connect to Guate (Guatemala City).  I find a mini bus and it takes 30 minutes to reach a small town. From there, I board a larger chicken bus (official name for those school buses) and it takes another 3 hours to land in Guate.

My plan was to stay in Guate, due to Semana Santa (Easter celebrations) in Antigua, I have booked a hostel but not for this evening, so a night in Guate would give me some time to rest, experience the city slightly and I can head out next day.

The bus drops us off south of the city centre, I grab a taxi and he drives me through a very quiet and empty city up to Zona 1 to an old pension style house I'll be staying in. Guate is rough and is dangerous, I have been advised to only stay in Zona 1 or 10 and not go far from these zones, well, we'll see. I'm dropped off at the pension house, very friendly people, very safe environment and I arrive just in time for an episode of Lost.

The room is comfortable, luckily still feeling unwell, I have an en suite. I pop out to find some food, there are homeless people scattered everywhere, taxis beeping their horns, crowds of people moving in one direction, either from an event or to an event. I want to find an Internet cafe, but I'm too late. I settle on some chicken and take my bottle of vinegar with me. The meal was OK, but it was on of those occasions when you're not really hungry but still know you need to eat something. I pick up some fluids and enjoy the rest of the night in my safe little pension house, comfy bed and an exhausted ginger cake man!!

Miles walked: 0.65
Temp 24C

Day 108 April 22 - How frustrating. I jump in the shower and there is a hot tap!! If only I had looked last night! The shower is perfect, I stand there for so long!! I head out again to try find some Internet access, but today is Easter Friday and almost everywhere is closed, I manage to find a coffee and a small breakfast then decide on just heading to Antigua.

I grab a taxi, I assumed I explained where I wanted to go and twenty minutes of driving later, he wants to drop me off at the side of a motorway, being British, maybe I'll just assume this is correct, but the traveller inside me jumps up and asks, umm where the hell are we? I don't think he understood I'm off to Antigua, when he finally understands, we are at a chicken bus stop within five minutes. I jump on my chicken bus and I am off to Antigua.

It only take an hour to arrive into Antigua. The empty chicken bus soon filled up on the journey to the Easter capital of the world, seeing as I squashed my large rucksack in the overhead shelf, I'm last off the bus. I cross a small bridge and work out that I'm just a couple of blocks away from the hostel I actually booked 11 days previous.

At the hostel, I can drop my bags, lay on my bottom bunk and catch up on some emails. I've been in contact with an old school friend, Claire-Louise Nobbs, that I haven't seen for about 15 years and I'm not sure whether we are meeting tonight or tomorrow night. Turns out it will be tomorrow night.
I was under the impression all hostels were packed out for the Easter celebrations in Antigua, but my hostel dorm room was only 30% full. Well, that reduces the chances of snoring!!

I sort myself out and head out. I wanted to explore and find some lunch. Antigua is set among a valley of tall mountains and volcanoes. Because of this, it does not reach the same temperatures I have been experiencing throughout Central America and the reason why there is a blanket on my bed instead of just the usual one sheet. Sadly, today there is much cloud cover and I am unable to see the volcanoes clearly. Seeing as I have already climbed a volcano, I won't be attempting this one, I have half an eye on the USA and my budget, a couple days of soaking up the culture in the city will be fine for me. 
I walk up and down the avenue my hostel is situated on and witness one of the gates to the city and the decoration on the gate is quite something. The city is designed in a grid fashion, block by block and is very easy to navigate around. I leave the entrance to the city and make my way towards the centre. The more I walk the more I stop to look at the buildings and architecture on offer. I can see why the small city is so popular and if it wasn't Semana Santa, maybe even more beautiful. I guess I should have mentioned that every street is packed, the place is going crazy and there is an excessive amount of tourists and locals in the city. I still enjoy seeing tourists, well, when comparing them to travellers. Their clothes are so clean and ironed, they look clean shaven and continue with annoying tourist habits of being noisy, ignorant and sit in expensive coffee shops and overpriced restaurants. I on the other hand look a mess, I need a haircut again, have an uneven messy beard, smell funny, my clothes need washing but I no longer seem to get sun burnt??

Anyway, I come across a small park with local stalls selling food and drink and it has a small pond like feature inbetween some arches. To the south of this park is an angelic small church, inside it is busy with locals, again, I feel uncomfortable about going in, so I don't.

A few more blocks later I come to Parque Central. It is packed. Many local Guatemalans are in town for the religious ceremonies and it is wonderful seeing little families, sat in the main park, eating ice cream and enjoying the long weekend. In the park is the main cathedral of Antigua. I spend some time in the park, wandering around, standing, watching the world go by. The amount of people is unusual to me for such a small city, and sadly, all the pickpockets from Guatemala and nearby towns are here as well, so I'm being extra careful and extra paranoid. 

The city is unique and I feel so lucky to be here during Semana Santa. My good luck has continued, I didn't plan on being here for this specific date, but my schedule just happened to find me here on these dates.

Around the park, many of the streets were covered in decoration on the ground. People layed a base of green leaves and included a decoration or pattern on top of this. Only later did I see that the processions walked over these displays, again, something I have never seen before.

Ginger gringo was now hungry, after exploring around the market and outer streets and avenues, I found a cheap and cheerful restaurant and for once got some chicken with sauce. Most of the chicken I've had recently has been quite dry and tasteless, but this meal was so so tasty!
I left the restaurant a happy gringo. The day was getting pretty late now, things were dying down so I found an Internet cafe and caught up on a few things.

When I left the cafe a couple of hours later, I heard this loud slow drum beat. Those who have watch Lord of the Rings Two Towers, it was as if an army was slowly approaching, the louder the drum beat, the closer they were getting. In some ways it was scary, but when I left my film fantasy, I went to go see what was going on.

A procession was carrying a coffin around the city, with a loud drum and a long line of people following. Crowds flocked to the streets to watch the procession walk past. The first procession I saw, were walking off into the distance. I managed to grab a quick snap and went against following this particular one. Instead, it was time for an ice cream. The city is full of ice cream vendors and after resisting for a few hours, I could no longer resist. I forget when my last ice cream was, I doubt it was that long ago. So, as I was ordering my small ice cream sundae, from some giggling women, another drum beat started and it was moving towards my direction.

I stand outside of the shop and witness a procession, again carrying a coffin, walk alongside the ice cream shop and walk over the decorative displays on the floor. The mood was quite somber, I remember thinking isn't this supposed to be a celebration but I should undertake more research, the sound of the drum and the atmosphere felt as if they were at a funeral.

So, I finished off my ice cream, and it was now pretty late and getting dark. I walked back to my hostel, passing the cathedral again where one of the coffin processions had just arrived.
Throughout the day, men and children were dressed in purple, they either walked in large groups or with their child. It made the experience even more real and unique. From a distance I am respectful but I am not going to join in with any of the processions or celebrations as I am not religious. I am here to witness the event and to experience Easter in a very different way, but religion, is just not for me.

Back at the hostel, I lay on my bed for some time, before an older woman from California talks to me. She has been travelling throughout Guatemala for over a month and was sharing her experiences with me. She also told me about the tasty cheap food on offer inside the market, so I shall be there for breakfast tomorrow morning. Another drum beat is heard outside so she goes to see what it's all about, I end up chatting to an Irish girl sat watching TV outside my dorm room. her name is Mary, she used to work IT for HBOS but with the Lloyds merger was offered redundancy and got a years salary, so she packed a bag and went. We ended up discussing football for a couple of hours while Erin Brokovich was playing in the background. I guess the main part of our conversation was about the boredom of meeting too many people. I think I blogged recently about having the same conversation with 6 people in a row on the same day and some people are desperate to increase the number of 'facebook' friends they have. I think it's more rewarding when you can drop travel chat and discuss something more topical, funny or relevant. So, Mary was fun to talk. My plan was to wake up early for the Utd v Everton game, so I went to bed at midnight.

Miles walked 2.87
Temp 22C

Day 109 April 23 - My efforts to get up at 545am for the first half were poor, I was happy to wake every now and then and check the live text. I did crawl out at half time and sat patiently and nervously till Hernandez headed one in with less than ten minutes to go. Sorry Dave boy. After, was Spurs v West Brom and seeing how I was still feeling unwell, being near the restroom facilities was advantageous! Some people joined me for a few minutes, and I was reminded of my time in New York City, where I could wake early on a Saturday and watch three games on the bounce before going out. Fun times!

The food at the market was my destination after the Spurs game finished. It took around a twenty minute walk through the centre to get there, the walk becomes longer with the cobbled streets, the delicate precision of placing your feet where you won't go over on your ankle.

Once at the market, I found a small passage way to inside the market and the first left turn I make, I interrupt a woman breast feeding. She not only had one milk bottle out, she had her top off and both milk bottles were out. I mumble I'm sorry while looking away, this was in the middle of the busy market!! It takes few minutes to locate the food area and it's very similar to Chiclayo in Peru, everyone stall is wanting your business, they are grabbing your arms and trying to convince you to eat at their stall. I sit at the first one I find, and have some delicious Pollo Sopa and rice with beans. They also added some veg/fruit things, but I left those. Including a 7UP, the meal was a sixth of what you would pay in a restaurant and it was incredibly tasty!!

After my late breakfast/early lunch, I tried to walk it off some, I strolled north of the city to an archway associated with many pictures and artwork from Antigua. I wander around this area for a while, enjoying the warm sunshine, food in my belly and the relaxed atmosphere. There seems to be less people now that it is Saturday, maybe they are still sleeping.

Unfortunately, the early lunch was proving too much for me and I had to return to the hostel for some shut eye, I guess the early morning didn't help either. I had a good couple of hours nap, and managed to position the door so I could lay out and watch some of the Chelsea game, but next thing I know, it's two hours later. During this time, a couple of American girls arrived but headed straight out.

Early afternoon, I went out to explore some more, the city is pretty big and you have to keep your eyes peeled to see various hidden and amazing sights.

I spend some more time back in the main Parque Central, I find a bench to sit on and spend time watching the world go by. Seeing as I'll be going out for a few beers in the evening, I head back to the market to find dinner. This time I settle for chicken again, asada, with surprise surprise, rice and beans. The food is delicious and cheap and the people who serve the food are so friendly and welcoming as well. I saw very few gringos eat here, which is sad seeing as they will be wasting their money on fancy restaurants or chains. I walk back towards my hostel to shower and get ready for the evening. I pass the Parque central one more time and enjoy the large buildings that surround the park.

At the hostel, I walk into my room and get chatting to the American girls, Christie and Alison. Alison used to live in Guatemala City and was bringing her friend Christie to Antigua as Alison used to go to Antigua regularly to get away from the crime and pollution filled capital city. They were both currently working in Mexico, near the border with Texas and we chatted for an hour or so. Fun girls, they invited me out but I was very happy to be seeing an old friend from school than going clubbing with those two, man I must be getting old. 

I was meeting Claire in a bar near the central parque, as I get to the park a few minutes before I am due to meet her and her boyfriend and parents, I try to take a snap of the cathedral all lit up in the evening when my camera tells me no camera card. Again!! Earlier I had stopped off at an Internet cafe to upload some more pictures and I must have left the card and usb connector in the PC. I run! It's only 3 blocks away and hopefully it's still open and hopefully, they have my card. I turn up, the card is not in the box I used but the owner recognises me and passes me my lost item. Twice now I've done this!! I slowly walk back to the park and take the picture,

The evening was awesome. Claire's parents had taken the brave decision to come to south america for four weeks. When I say brave decision, well, they have never been this far away from home before but they are loving the experience and obviously enjoying time with their adventurous daughter. I also got to meet Claire's partner for the last eight years, Jordan, a really great guy. We met at 830 pm, Claire's parents left around 1030pm and before we know it, we are being kicked out by the owners of the bar. It was so good seeing Claire again, as kids, we only lived a three minute walk away, we attended the same high school and middle school but over time, contact disappears, but this is where facebook is a genius idea. It was so great catching up with Claire and hearing all her travels stories, including meeting one of their favourite UK celebs, Bill Bailey in Indonesia!! Funnily enough, before they set off on their latest adventure, the topic of who would you like to meet came up and Bill Bailey was number 1!! How funny!!

We say goodbye and I walk back to my hostel, I guess I had more beers than I realised as walking back to the hostel was pretty tough. As I came to the street my hostel was on, I saw a blonde thing kissing some guy on the opposite side of the street to the hostel. I look again as I ring the bell for the hostel, and it's Christie, who I met earlier, she seems embarrassed as she says hi, I just reply 'Hola Hola!' with a big smile on my face. Her friend Alison was inside the hostel and apparently crept into the room expecting me to be asleep and was surprised I wasn't there. Me too! Turns out it was 130am! Ten minutes later Christie comes in and they spend ten minutes whispering and giggling!! I should drink some water, but I'm asleep before I know it!!

Miles walked 2.13
Temp 22C

Day 110 April 24 - I wake after everyone else. I talk to the girls briefly, what they got up to last night, Alison who is 27, got chatted up by some 21 year old USA kid but milked him for a few drinks before turning him down, ouch! Christie had met some local lad and wanted to practice her Spanish so that was why she was outside, maybe talking very close to his mouth?? They are up early as Alison wants to show her friend all the sights. I say farewell. I pack my bag, and head off to the market from where a chicken bus has my name on. Before I board the bus, I shall grab some food from the market again. I just love the market food. Outside the market I bump into Claire and her parents, they were buying some fruit for breakfast and were off somewhere fancy for lunch.

My early lunch consisted of, ahem, some more of what I've been having. It's utterly delicious. I leave the market, find the bus station and have to catch a bus to a town which will connect me to Panajachel, which is my next destination.

As the bus leaves the station, I am fixed in a day dream, my eyes are blurred as I watch the road pass by beneath me, all I can think about is how happy I am and how much this trip has done me the world of good.
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Pete on

Maybe every time you leave an Internet cafe you should get in the habit of taking a picture of it and then you'll know if you have picked up your memory are like a cat....9 lives and all that....

El on

Stupid tourists and their fragrant ways!!!

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