Trip Start Jul 11, 2008
Trip End Sep 30, 2008

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Flag of Guatemala  , Western Highlands,
Thursday, September 4, 2008

Han -  So I've finally got round to filling you in on our time in Guatemala...
Our first stop in Guatemala was Xela, which we reached after a ridiculously long shuttle (or series of shuttles as it turned out) from Mexico. After finding a reasonable hostel Scott and I were pleased to find that one of the local bars had an entire section in the menu dedicated to gin and so our evening was sorted...
The following day we were taken by private car, with a guide to ourselves, through 3 local villages mostly populated by indigenous people. In the town of Zunil we visited a glassware shop and were able to see behind the scenes at the craftsmen blowing down tubes to expand glass at something like 1500 degrees at the other end. We then moved on to visit the local 'San Simone' - an effigy of a saint believed to act as an intermediary between the people and the Gods - part of Mayan traditions. It was a pretty bizarre spectacle; the effigy itself was a pretty scary looking plastic model with a cigarette in its mouth (the smoke acts as an offering to the Gods) dressed in an American flag and various other pieces associated with the modern world. After visiting a pretty church and a women's cooperative weaving shop in another nearby village, we took a break in some hot springs high up in the mountains. It is without doubt the hottest water I have ever sat in, it was absolutely scorching! Scott loved it but I had to take breaks every few minutes or I'm sure I would have passed out. By the time we were done, the clouds had rolled in and you couldn't see the beautiful views anymore.
The following day we caught 2 buses along windy roads and rolling hills and there were amazing views. Eventually we reached our destination of Panajachel, known by the rest of Guatemala as 'Pana'. It was ridiculously touristy with row after row of stalls selling all kinds of crap, so naturally Claire and I were in shopping heaven much to Scott's frustration... It also meant that there were plenty of places to eat out, along with lovely views of the volcanoes across the Lago de Atitlan. We spent the day exploring the various markets and in the evening we found a bar selling 2 for 1 gins and Claire had her 'rum night'. Needless to say, the following day was a bit of a wash out...
After forcing down some brekkie we concluded that we probably wouldn't make it to the nearby national park so we caught a boat across the lake to the 'Casa del Mundo' - a beautiful hotel set into the cliff face of the hills surrounding the lake. It busted the budget for a couple of days but was totally worth it for the gorgeous view from our bedroom of the lake and the volcanoes on its edge.
The following day we walked around the edge of the lake to the nearby village of San Marcos. I found the 2 and a half hour walk pretty challenging, not least because Claire and I had seriously underestimated the power of the sun, even in the highlands, and jeans were a regrettable choice. We spent the afternoon chilling out on the balconies at the hotel. Later on as the clouds gathered we began to see lightening in the distance. The storm got closer and closer until a huge bolt of lightening struck the lake right in front of us! It was a ridiculous sight, so much so, Scott wouldn't stop talking about it for about an hour. After dinner we spent the rest of the evening in the hot tub watching the lightning in the night sky as it silhouetted the volcanoes.
After returning to Panajachel the following day, we took a bus to nearby Chi Chi to explore the Thursday market. It wasn't quite what we were expecting, much more aimed at tourists rather than locals, so we decided we'd move on to Antigua in the afternoon rather than waiting until the following day.
We caught a 4pm shuttle and, after an insane ride on winding roads and through constant rain that brought us pretty close to death several times, arrived in Antigua in the evening.
Antigua was very reminiscent of San Cristobal and it was easy to spend 5 nights there, with plenty of boutiquey little shops and cafes. After arriving we soon booked a tour to climb volcano Pacaya. It was a gentle-ish walk up the first part of the volcano (in the pouring rain unfortuanately) and we soon reached the peak which was a pretty bizarre experience. With the heavy mist and dark gravel underfoot it had a pretty spooky atmosphere - it felt like we were on another planet. After further climbing and a lot of sliding (the volcanic rocks were extremely slippy to walk on), we finally saw it - real life lava! It was very surreal, I only really believed what I was seeing when the wind blew towards us and it almost burnt your face the air was so hot.
It was the next day that we found the Irish pub that eventually led to my day of doom. It was pub quiz night and I've never before witnessed a more obscure quiz in my life. For example, rounds included 'organic farming and naval lint (belly button fluff)'. 4 litres of beer later we were chatting with one of the winning team's members (we came 4th out of 6 I believe), a Guatemalan called Raphael who had a remarkable knowledge of battles that have taken place in Britain. Several gins later, closing time was upon us and we headed back. We'd decided over the course of the night that we'd stay another day in Antigua so we could watch the Tennis US open final the next day. Which was lucky for me as I could barely make it out of bed in the morning, let alone catch an 8am bus! Definitely the most horrendous hangover I've ever had.
And I'll leave it there - we caught a bus to El Salvador the following day. Sorry I took so long putting this on here!
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