Chicken buses and volcanoes

Trip Start Apr 06, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed

Flag of Guatemala  , Western Highlands,
Saturday, July 3, 2010

We decided to throw ourselves in at the deep end and make our first journey in central america on the 'chicken bus'. The chicken buses are old american school buses, blinged up and painted in every bright colour going. The general idea is to pack as many people as physically possible onto these buses and then drive as fast as possible over mountains and around blind bends, overtaking everything else on the road. The driver knew the road so well he had it timed to perfection so that as we hit a bend he leant out of the bus and held onto his window to make sure he stayed in his seat. It is unbelievable how many people cram onto these buses - the whole time a conductor on the bus leans out of the door, shouting at the top of his voice 'antigua, gua, gua, gua, gua' and another 10 or so people squeeze themselves on and pick an already full seat to perch on until everyone moves over a bit more! It was cosy to say the least and a good way to get familiar with the locals...every time we hurtled round a corner I (Lou) ended up with a Guatemalan lady on my lap, who after getting thrown out of her seat one to many times actually decided just to stay in my lap for the rest of the journey.

It set us back less than $1 for the 2 hour journey to Antigua, a beautiful colonial town that is surrounded by volcanoes and that is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. Most of the buildings in Antiqua were built in the 17th and 18th centuries, including huge churches and cathedrals, and there is a parque central and plaza full of market stalls, live music and cafes. We checked into our room at an OK hostel and were quite happy with our room which was up on the roof and had a terrace with great views of the town and volcanoes. We spent the afternoon wandering around and booked for a volcano trek early the next morning in the hope of seeing some fresh lava! In preparation for this and after all the excitement of the day, we headed back for a couple of beers on the roof and a good sleep ready for the alarm at 6am. How could we have been so naive? Around 1 o'clock in the morning, after finally managing to fall asleep, I thought I felt something in my hair. I know I do have a vivid imagination sometimes and had some bad bug experiences during travels in south east asia a few years ago, so I tried to ignore whatever it was I thought I had felt and looked over at Dan who was happily asleep. But then I felt it again, and again, and in more than 1 place at a time, so I shot out of bed and turned the light on, to find that our bed was full of tiny cockroaches. Yuk. We (I actually - Dan was still asleep and snoring blissfully until I woke him up) had the dilemma about whether this was normal / acceptable / just something to put up with in central america, or whether we should do something about it...a very pleasant time, kind of had the same feeling as the night we spent in death valley with similar conversation topics like 'what the !@#! are we doing here and whose idea was this'. In the end, I went to speak to someone downstairs at reception, who genuinely seemed quite horrified, and he moved us downstairs to the 'honeymoon suite' complete with 2 twin beds separated by a cupboard and right next to the smelly communal toilets...good times. 4 hours later off went the alarm and you can imagine we really felt like nothing more than climbing a volcano in the scorching sun.

Volcan Pacaya is 2552m tall and is an active volcano that frequently erupts leaving huge lava flows around the base. Health and safety doesn't quite have the same meaning in Guatemala, and organised tours drop you off at the base of the volcano, set you up with a guide / security guard no older than 14, and waves you off up the mountain. So off we went, and it was well worth it as the views were amazing and really quite incredible to be able to walk over cooled lava flows. We think the volcano had erupted 12 days before our trek, so most of the lava had solidified and it wasn't bright red and glowing like some of the pictures the tour guides use to flog the trek, but some parts that we were walking on were so hot you could feel your trainers beginning to melt. There were still molten lava flows underneath where we were walking, and our guide / security guard who was working hard to earn his tip started poking sticks and pieces of wood down into the lava and setting it on fire. We stopped on the way to the volcano in a little village to buy some cakes and biscuits, so we stopped half way up for a picnic and took in the views. Even though we were so tired after the cockroach encounters and still getting used to the temperature / humidity / altitude, it was a great morning, made all the better by the thought of a cold shower and an afternoon siesta in the suite. We booked a bus heading for Panajachel for the next day and spent the rest of our time in Antiqua wandering around, taking some pictures, and drinking Gallo - the local beer.
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Claire H on

You hotel makes the one we stayed in at the weekend sound very nice. Our bed was still damp from someone who had wet it at some point, no cockroaches in sight though!!

Suzanna on

How cool - the volcano and walking over cooling lava bit, not the cockroach in your hair bit!

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