. Also provided at the hotel is purified water, internet, kitchen use, and daily maid service. We realize that maid service is mostly expected in the states, but most of the places we have stayed in on this trip (both hotels and hostels) only clean the room when you vacate--whether you stay 1 night or 8.
Antigua is a really beautiful colonial town, and filled to the brim with gringos. There are a lot of Spanish schools here, and a healthy party scene, but most of the gringos appear to be considerably older than you find in beach towns.
We spent some time at a museum devoted to bookmaking and printing. Andrew was very impressed, while Jacque got bored after one pass through it. There are loads of books on display, including one printed in Antigua in 1660, as well as a replica of that original press. There is also a fragment of Universal Catolica printed by Gutenburg.
We had seen a few advertisements for a $5 volcano tour (to Volcan Pacaya), but had mostly written it off as some sort of scam until talking to a guy at our hotel that had gone...4 times. We decided that if he thought it was that cool, we should go. And he said that he saw lava most of the times. The $5 turned into $6 with taxes, plus another $3.25 or so for the park entrance fee, but hey, still really really cheap when you consider that we were gone for over 6 hours (three of those hours were spent on the bus).
The hike was not excruciating, although a large German group with us seemed to find it difficult
. There were also a few Spaniards who chose to ride these teeny little horses. The sight of a 250 lb. man on something barely larger than a pony was a bit sad. It is the height of dry season here, so there was a lot of dust being kicked up, and we were promptly coated in it. As we approached the area where the vegetation gave out, we were psyched to see steam rising from the volcano, thinking that this would be quite a sight when we reached the crater rim. However, after hiking another 1/4 mile, we came around a corner to see our path blocked.....by a river of lava flowing down the volcano. Andrew achieved a few lifelong dreams: throwing rocks at lava, poking lava with a stick (and singing his facial hair in the process, as the only stick he could find was about 14" long), and melting a penny. He was thrilled. It was the best $20 we have spent on the trip. The guide told us that the lava was flowing at a rate of 8 meters every 5 minutes, and that the lava flow went on for about 9 kilometers. It had only been flowing for about 3 days. We counted ourselves lucky to see such a flow.
Today, we went to some church ruins (Antigua is plagued by both volcanic eruptions and earthquakes) dating from the 1500s. Entombed there are the remains of Santo Pedro (yeah, I can't remember his full name--you can look it up). He was only recently made a saint, by Pope John Paul II, in 2002, I think
. He died in the mid-1700s, and was revered here because he opened hospitals to care for the poor. We saw an entire room dedicated to thank-you notes to him, as well as pictures of many of the people that received miracles after praying to him. There was a large display of crutches, leg braces, stretchers, and even a few photocopies of college diplomas that Pedro helped with. There was also a display of his clothing, including a hair shirt and hair undies. As our guidebook noted, they were "curiously well-preserved".
Unfortunately, the knickknack shop was closed....
We have also eaten a lot of good food in Antigua, and not once has that food included gallo pinto or fried chicken, or plantains. Our first night here, we had the singular experience of eating excellent Japanese food while being serenaded by mariachis....in Guatemala. The Japanese restaurant also had great kimchee. Yes, we know it is Korean, but hey, its all a long long way from Antigua. Antigua can seem sort of pricey for food, but you just have to search out the menu del dia. You don't get any choice with the menu del dia, but it is always a LOT of food for under $3. Yesterday, we had spinach gnocchi with blue cheese sauce, salad, soup, and tortillas (yes, tortillas with your gnocchi), as well as a lemonade for about $2.38 each. Also, Guatemala takes the prize for best national beer. Moza is a dark brew (as dark as Guiness, and actually heartier), and really really tasty after the blight of Budweiser-imitators.
Tomorrow, we leave for Xela and the volcano climb...Jacque is getting nervous.
Antigua has been good to us. Our hotel is perhaps the best we have stayed in yet on the trip. Perhaps, then we should tell you the name: Casa Amarillo/Yellow House. It doesn't look like much from the street, except one of any 100 or more travel agencies here in Antigua, but oh how looks can be deceiving. Inside, there are decorated (?!) rooms, a nice cool courtyard, a great balcony, and REAL HOT WATER in the bathrooms--no death-showerheads here! The hot water is solar heated, to boot, so you can sleep easy knowing that you're not the most evil of travellers. The best part of the hotel, though, is the included breakfast. This is no US Holiday Inn continental breakfast. Breakfast at Casa Amarillo includes coffee and cookies (the cookies keep you placated while you wait for your food, which is supposed to start at 8, but never really appears until at least 8:30). From there, you get a large plate of fresh fruit, nice bread, and jam, followed by oatmeal, and possibly an egg scramble or pancakes. Apparently, on Sundays they have a blow-out breakfast, but sadly we will miss it