Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Saturday, July 22, 2006

We've been in Antigua, Guatemala, for a while now, and we're pleased to say that the weather seems to have sorted itself out. Rather than the pouring rain which plagued our first couple of days here, it's been warm and sunny. The clearer weather made us realise that Antigua is actually right next to a stunning volcano, Volcano Agua, which towers above the town. The friendly, bright people, have also been a refreshing change from the frequently dim-whitted Mexicans.

We first visited Antigua 3 years ago, and the change to this place, in such a short time, has been phenomenal. There seems to have been a fourfold increase in tourists, an explosion of restaurants and bars, and the prices have shot up no end. Fortunately, there are still colourful Mayan people wandering around, selling their handicrafts in the streets around the Parque Central, albeit quite a few less than before.
The cobblestone streets of brightly painted one story colonial houses, the town's charm, it's beauty, and it's special atmosphere, made us realise why we liked it so much, the first time that we came here.

Our main reason for coming back to Antigua, is so that Patricia can realise her dream of doing voluntary work, and Guatemala, recovering from a brutal civil war, and still suffering from extreme levels of poverty, is a place where the help is really needed.

We've also been looking forward to a break in travelling, and have hunted down some great accommodation in an friendly guest house, where there are long stay guests from all over the world. It's like being in a big family. There are quite a few volunteers who are working on projects in the local area, some language students and two American couples who have adopted Guatemalan babies, and are waiting for the paperwork to take them back to the states. We have cable TV, a private bathroom, a communal kitchen, and a large roof top terrace with a great view over the Volcan de Agua, and which is the perfect place to unwind in the evenings with a cold beer.

Patty visits Proyecto Mosaico ( a non-profit organization, which works with various charities in the local area, and which matches skills and interests with projects. They run by donations, but you don't have to pay money in order to volunteer, unlike many other organizations around here.

Patty checks out the projects on offer, and goes in person to visit two of them. The first one, a large school, with large financial backing from the USA, was well set up, and already had 4 people volunteering there. The second place she visited was a very small school, in a village outside of Antigua. There were just 35 kids there, but the school didn't currently have any volunteers. The conditions and lack of resources at the school made Patricia clearly decide that it was the project that needed the help the most. Alejandra, the Director of the school, gave Patricia a big hug and was almost in tears, when Patricia said that she'd like to start volunteering there the very next day. Apparently the school had not been able to get a volunteer for a while, so it was quite an emotional start.

Marc in the meantime, signs up at a local Spanish school, determined to try and get his head around this strange version of Spanish that they speak down here in Latin America. Marc, having studied Spanish in Spain, realises that the differences are not just limited to particular words, rather, grammar and verb tenses and huge swathes of vocabulary.

We won't explain more about Patricia's voluntary experience here, as there is so much to write about that we've saved it for a separate entry. So let's jump straight to the social scene section:-)

We've had a great month here in Antigua, it's been great to chill out and not have to worry about planning trips, looking for accommodation, packing, getting on buses, crossing borders etc. It's given us time to catch up, make new friends, cook our own kind of food and of course party!

The social scene is quite good here in Antigua, with around 75 Spanish Schools, probably the greatest number in Latin America. There are many bars and restaurants suiting all tastes. A couple of times a week, we go out with people from Marc's school, and have a fun, beer fueled time. We've taken part in a couple of pub quizzes in Antigua's only Irish pub, Reillys, and are pleased to say that we haven't come last yet. We've also had a couple of parties back at our guest house. What, with a friendly bunch of people from all other the world, and a great roof terrace, it would be a waste not to.

Guatemala has a reputation as quite a dangerous country, but Antigua, being the tourist capital, is very well protected. Back home, a fair number of whinging Brits go on about how they have to walk past 100 CCTV cameras every morning on their way to work/college. Well here in Antigua, every morning, we must walk past a hundred guns. They are everywhere, in front of shops, delivery vans, restaurants, banks. Even Marc's Spanish school has an armed security guard. So stop complaining Britain!

After one month in Antigua, we've really got to know the place. We have our favorite bars and restaurants, our favorite fruit stall in the market, we know the best place for an authentic cappuccino and when the sun is out, know where the tastiest ice-cream is sold. Many local people now recognise us and greet us when they see us walking around the streets. The place very much feels like home and it'll be a shame to leave.

But still, we need to get going, there is a lot more of Latin America to see, and if we don't get going now we may never get home, though maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing :-).

Proxima Parada, El Salvador!
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