Tuk-Tuks and Cobblestone: 3 Weeks in Antigua
Trip Start Sep 26, 2010
34Trip End Jul 26, 2011
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Where I stayed
With Familia Cruz near Avenida Santo
We got to Pershy's hotel where the Spanish speaking receptionist charged me 5 dollars to make a final call to Robert, but I still got no answer. It looked like I was paying for a room tonight. The hotel was full, but the receptionist called his sister hotel where I stayed in a one room- three bed hotel with internet access for 35 dollars. Way over my budget, but it would have to do tonight.
The next morning I explored Antigua, searching for 6a Avenida Norte where my school was
Things quickly got sorted out, and I took a Tuk-Tuk (Took-Took) back to my hotel to get my bags before going to my host family's house for lunch. A Tuk-Tuk is a covered three-wheeler that can turn on a dime and rides like an old wooden roller coaster. This is the cheapest and easiest way to get around Antigua, besides walking of course. The ride cost me 25 Quetzales.
1 dollar= 8 Quetzales, so about three dollars.
After meeting the family and enjoying my first typical Guatemalan meal, I made the two-minute walk to school for my first four hours of class. Things were finally starting to become routine.
WEEK ONE IN ANTIGUA (10/1):
Antigua is an old colonial town, with colonial architecture and many old churches. Antigua means old in Spanish. It is surrounded by two dormant volcanoes: Volcan de Agua (Water) and Volcan Acatenango, and one active Volcano: Volcan de Fuego (Fire). It has rained every day since I've been here, which is typical this time of year. The temperature has been in the 60's and 70's, getting down to as low as 55 at night.
Nevertheless, I have had plenty of time to explore Antigua and see some of the ancient churches and ruins
My Family: There are six people in my host family. The two Grandparents: Ignacio and Lucia, the parents: Edgar and Elsa, and the two children: Brian (5) and Kimberly (12). This is typical in Guatemalan culture for the family to stay together. Lucia cooks the majority of the meals and is an outstanding chef. I have had the luxury of enjoying home made tortillas with almost every meal, arroz con pollo, frijoles negros, aguacate, fried plantains, various soups, chile relleno, pancakes, papaya, tamales, and hand-squeezed lemonade.
I have my own room and bathroom with a hot shower (a luxury in Guatemala). The showers are tricky to keep warm; however, as it is electrically heated in the shower head, so the higher the water pressure the colder it gets. It forces me to find the perfect balance between warmth and pressure.
Their house is less of a house than a duplex connected with hundreds of others on each side. The top floor is where the family lives and is an open balcony overlooking Volcan de Agua. There is a small living room with one small tv, and a small kitchen with just enough room for an eight person table in the dining room
Cerro de La Cruz: Today (10/4), after a 376 step walk up the stairs through the forest, I stepped into the clearing with an awe-inspiring view of Antigua that I shared with a cross perched on the hillside that is as old as Antigua. The Guatemaltekos recommended I take a police escort to the top and back down, as the thiefs expect rich tourists to visit here. But after following Isabel, my police escort, to the top, I couldn't leave in the 20 minutes she gave us. I hope you can enjoy some of the pictures I took, but there is no way they do it justice.
La Escuela: My School is very good. Other than the mix up the first night, I have had no problems. My teacher's name is Lisbeth. My classes are four hours long with a thirty minute day, and it is just one on one. Classes consist of grammar and vocabulary practice, but it is generally just us talking about our days or culture or random stories, which is really the best practice. Lisbeth is funny and laughs at my attempts at jokes in Spanish, so the four hours usually fly by and my Spanish is getting better quickly.
Nothing is better than when someone I just met tells me my Spanish is good
Nightlife: The national beer is Gallo (Rooster). This is what pretty much everyone drinks, other than liquor. The drinks are cheap at the grocery store (4 dollars for 750mL of Rum, 3.50 for a liter of Gallo), but expensive at the bars, as expected. Antigua is a decent sized city that is known for it's Spanish schools, so there are many bars and clubs where both the locals and extranjeros have a good time together. Maybe I'll share some stories at the end of my time here.
The most popular bars are Monoloco (crazy monkey), a two story Americanized bar that shows every sporting event on one of the 30 TVs scattered throughout the bar. Sin Ventura is a dance club next door, which is a perfect place to go after having a few drinks at Monoloco. The Black Cat is a hostel/bar where many people hang out and drink, and there is a famous Irish bar called O'Reilly's that many people visit for the festive Irish drinking atmosphere. With the many Spanish schools and visitors, there is always something to do in downtown Antigua.
Volcan Pacaya (10/5):
A week ago, I overheard a conversation in Spanish, "So are you going to visit Volcan Pacaya?" "No, I think its too dangerous with the recent eruptions and all."
The first clear day we had in Antigua I signed up for the trip to Volcan Pacaya (Puh-kie-yuh). We left at two in the afternoon packed 15 deep into 12 seater bus. An hour and a half later we arrived at the base of the Volcano with an hour and a half climb ahead of us. (Side note: don't waste your 10 Quetzales on the sticks the locals sell you at the base of the Volcano. Definitely buy the marshmallows, but trust me, the locals didn't clear every damn stick from the volcano.)
We had one guide, and a caravan of horses trailing us. The guide explained that you can spend 100 Quetzales on a ride up, and 100 to come back down. Everyone laughed at the offer, confident in their abilities to make it to the top, and not eager to waste their money. Me and an Irish man named Rob led the way to the top, talking about our travels. Rob is traveling from here down to Argentina as well, so I may have made a good contact/ travel partner on my way south. Thirty minutes into the hike, we were passed by a man and woman trotting by on horseback, 65 Quetzales later.
With every step, Volcan de Agua grew larger to our south, as the peak of Pacaya slowly came into our grasps
We then set off the beaten path, led by our guide, and stumbled over 200 yards of razor sharp lava rock until we were blasted by a wave of heat. There we stood, 3,500 feet over civilization, with underground rivers of lava flowing just below our feet and a parking spot-sized hole next to us where the heat could escape. The summit had grown cold, so the pockets of heat were a delight, but standing within three feet was unbearable. You could actually see the heat rippling out of the ground, blurring the view of anything behind it.
This was as far as we could go. Between the sulfurous gases, intense wind, and lava heated rock, any closer to the top was too dangerous. Some of these rocks gave off fumes that dotted the field of black rock with dancing smoke. The Volcano felt alive.
"Es tiempo para cocinar los marshmallows."
I whipped out the free stick I found on the way up and toasted three marshmallows to perfection. It took all of 2 seconds for them to cook, and the hair on my left arm seared away, but I must say that lava cooked marshmallows surpass any others. Graham crackers and Hershey's would have made my life complete.
Just as we began our descent from the top of Pacaya, the sky to the south cleared allowing us to see Volcan de Fuego, Agua, and Acatenango each peering over the clouds, with the sun setting behind it all. It was absolutely breathtaking.
We skied down the gravel path in less than 30 minutes fighting the 35 mph winds and left Pacaya by 6:30pm. At 9pm that evening, the ground shook, followed by a small eruption from the Volcano we left not three hours prior.
It was alive.
Last Week in Antigua (Updated on 10/16):
Yesterday, at a quarter to six I sat on the second floor of my school about to finish class when my teacher knocked the table making my drink fall over, but our table wasn't the only one shaking
The Ruins: Scattered throughout Antigua are ruins from ancient churches that were destroyed by the earthquakes that have plagued the city. Generally a place for tourists, I've found that the locals use them, after a 5 Q ($ 0.60) entrance fee, for mischief. The ruins are almost always empty at first glance, but after exploring a bit I have seen couples making out in the shadows and roaches scattered about from the local mota. In a crowded city, the isolation inside the ruins attract those looking for a place to do 'cosas indevidas,' as they say in Spanish.
The Markets: I wanted to get some new soccer shoes for cheap, so I made my way over to the local market. Beyond the front border of the market that attracts tourists with t-shirts, necklaces, shot glasses and Mayan handywork, is four acres of the true mercado. As I
entered the covered market I got lost in the maze of shops and vendors
Owners are constantly yelling “Buen Precio! Discuenta!" Every where you go is a distinct bark coming from the shop owners trying to attract customers. Deals were being made, bargains bought. The local Mayan woman, dressed in their colorful, traditional shawls pass seamlessly through the crowded walkways with three feet wide baskets balanced delicately on their head. I followed a Mayan woman through a short hallway that I had to duck to get through, as I inspected the tray shaped basket on her head that was filled with gum, cigarettes and candy, I noticed a baby on her back wrapped up and sleeping peacefully amongst the shouting and confusion that is the market.
As I searched for shoes I indulged in the aroma of tamales and warm tortillas, and I rounded the next corner to find raw chicken feet and a stench of raw pig carcus and human feces. The diversity was intense. It was as if an entire mall packed itself into one giant room. You could find any sort of fruit, vegetable, meat, hardware supply, pirated cd, pinata, school supply, plant, refreshment, or live animal all within a stones throw.
I managed to find the clothing section
Finally, the young worker asked me, "Quieres el otro?" Wow. Yes, could I have the other one please?
I learned a valuable lesson on Guatemalan anti-theft at that moment. They only display the left shoe, what's anybody going to do with just a left shoe?
Life here overall is life as you and I know it. People go to work, they make money, they support their families, they laugh and play, they are happy and sad
Everything is just a little different here, and thats what makes it so unique. People live on only a few dollars a week, but can do so because things are sold for so cheap. The middle class here is our lower class. But there is also a greater appreciation for family, and the little things. The way my family's faces light up when there 5 year old son laughs is priceless, and everyone is greeted with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
There are no stop lights and people drive no faster than 15 mph. The bigger intersections may have a guard directing traffic but no more. On the highways people drive fearlessly. Passing on a blind curve is no problem, nor is cutting people off and literally driving into other peoples lanes while honking so they move
Overall, I had a great experience in Antigua. I was melancholy this morning having to say goodbye to my amazing host family, my friends from England, Ireland, Australia, Korea, Germany and Guatemala, and the Spanish teachers at school.
Tomorrow, I am traveling to Lake Atitlan, which is said to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. I met a Canadian named Marshal at my school, who is my age. We both finished class at the same time and have similar ambition to travel through El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, so we may be traveling together for a while. He speaks minimal Spanish, so I am helping him out with his travels, and he is making things that much safer by having two of us. Funny how these things work out.
The real traveling is about to begin. Antigua is safe compared to what we have in front of us, as we will be in El Salvador by next week. Practicing safe travel and being smart will be a must, but my language skills and Marshal's new machete purchase will hopefully keep us safe.
Hasta Pronto. Internet will be less common, but I will try to update from the Lake as soon as I can.
"Viajar es Vivir."