Volcanoes, coffee and near death experiences

Trip Start Dec 21, 2009
Trip End Jul 17, 2010

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Flag of Guatemala  , Western Highlands,
Saturday, January 23, 2010

There's something special about Antigua. We were pretty excited to be back here again but not sure exactly why. Maybe this was the first place in Central America that we landed in for our honeymoon 3 years ago. Or it could also be that the streets, houses and buildings here are just beautiful and very pleasant on the eye.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Antigua was the epicentre of power for Central America until a massive earthquake in 1773 smashed the city and they moved the capital to Guatemala City. They plundered it for material but the locals never really gave up on the idea of their city and rebuilt it. You have to give to them, a city surrounded by volcanoes and on a fault line would be enough to make me want to start up someplace else but not these guys.

We got our bearings in the city again and Nic went and found us the banana bread shop that we remembered from 3 years ago. She got there without even using a map, pretty impressive stuff. The next day we went coffee picking with the locals at the bottom of a volcano. We met two brothers in a family of coffee farmers and they showed us how to pick coffee off the trees. I now understand how manually intensive coffee making is. It’s all done manually and often, the same trees are picked over 3 weeks to make sure that only ripe coffee is picked each time and that they get all they can out of each plant.

There are many steps involved which I won’t detail here but if you want to find out a little more, buy me a coffee and I would be happy to describe it to you. Better yet you could come over and have some of the Guatemalan coffee that we roasted and sent home. We had a chance to roast the coffee old school on a clay pan and also grind it on a big mortar and pestle before drinking it. We had a great time and 6 cups later, I was ready to head off to find a place to empty my bladder.

The second half of the day was reserved for climbing one of the nearby volcanoes called Pacaya. Pacaya volcano is 2.5kms above sea level. We got a van up some of it but the rest was going to be done on foot. The big attraction here is the lava that flows down the volcano. There are plenty of videos of people roasting marshmallows and burning sticks as the lava flows by. We were looking to do the same. Climbing up this volcano is some serious work. The first third is made up of a forest trail that just goes straight up. The second third is made up of this volcanic sand and once you leave the forest, you’re met with this barren black sandy landscape which is something else. Walking this sand is dense, a real case of 1 step forwards and a couple back. When you’ve finished that and you’re panting like a dog, you’re greeted with volcanic rocks which are extremely sharp and the terrain is of course up some more. For the first two legs, you can chicken out and hire a horse and a guide to drag your arse up the mountain. Pride didn’t allow any in our group to be branded a pussy so we all walked.

As the volcano is an active volcano, the lava flow changes every day so the guides know which way to head up and what is safest. I’m pretty sure that taking tourists up a live, changing volcano would not be allowed in Australia, no matter how experienced your guides were. Unfortunately, on this day, the volcano wasn’t being kind to us and the lava was about 40m away and sliding down the side of the mountain. No marshmallows were getting toasted today. It was still very cool to see live lava flowing down the mountain. While we were perched on the volcano, an old American guy (who took the horse up) decided that he wanted to walk to the edge and see the lava like everyone else. At this point, you should also know that this was a guy who used the horse to get up there AND he also had crutches. I’m all for equality but this was a little silly. Needless to say he went sliding down and if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of a guide, the mountain would have got a sacrifice that day for sure. There are loads of stories of people doing stupid stuff and plenty of people getting up there and freaking out because they wanted to get down but so petrified with fear that they couldn’t move. Sadly, there was one red-headed Aussie girl do dropped her bundle on top of the volcano. There was no mistaking she was an Aussie. Very sad. All the marketing our diggers did in Gallipolli and Kokoda were undone in a few short minutes. We got back down but not before our guide decided to run off into the dark and left us to get lost before we had to scream out to him to come find us again.

The next day was spent walking around the city and we ended up at a really cool restaurant that was closed a few nights before when we wanted to go. They have all of these clay pots lined up with meats and stews, then a whole table of condiments and sides that you can choose from. We couldn’t let the opportunity pass and got some for dinner that night.

One of the cool things about Antigua is that it’s heritage listed, so all the buildings have to maintain their old school look. It becomes interesting when you have a Burger King housed in an old colonial building. To have a look around one of these modern conversions, we had to go into a Burger King and have lunch there (purely for historical and anthropological reasons).

We left for the airport to catch a plane to Miami for a day. We had a ton of things to do there and not much time to do it in so we decided to skip the sightseeing and work through our list of things to buy and things that needed to be sent home. So, in the end we would call it a 'shopover’, rather than a stopover.

In our next blog, we head to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for some pampering before we have a couple of weeks in a favela, the biggest one in the Southern Hemisphere in fact. If you don’t know what a favela is, spend a few extra minutes now Googling it.
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Judi Becker on

...wow thats incredible.....all of it....the coffee we so seriously take for granted to the height of that volcano and the danger it entails. Amazing experiences for you both.....keep them all coming......it lets me/us see things that we would never have a chance of seeing, through your eyes.

karen magnussen on

Your travel blogs have been so amazing and interesting to me. You are so lucky to get to see so much of the world. Thanks for sharing your experiences. You would make great travel guides!!!

Vinny on

I'm so jealous!

Sheri Nissen on

Wow ! You guys are having an awesome time !

Jaelle Berkovits on

I did have to google 'favela'! Sounds like you are having an absolute ball. Beau is very jealous of your live lava viewing!

Kylie on

Hmm...I think this is one of my fav places that you guys have been so far!
Love the pics too :)

Oh yeah...I still have those chrissy presents for Ash! Haven't heard from him. They're not in the way or anything, I just think it's a bit rude that you went to the effort to get them and he hasn't come to pick them up!
You might be re-using them this year!

Take Care you two...Lots of Love xxx

Allison on

Colin, you write just like you talk and it's like we're all still traveling together when I read them. I really enjoyed the clever pics as well.
I miss you guys!
Hurry up and post another entry!

erin on

Nice blog.

The hummingbird

travellingtans on

Thanks for all the comments, in the middle of getting some new blogs up for consumption. We appreciate you sticking with us. Nicole has given me the hurry along and expects me to get some serious writing and picture selecting done while we are on the overland truck instead of just falling asleep. The goal is to get up to date before the end of this month, that's factoring in poor access to internet as well. Miss you all and plenty of hugs from us both.
Col & Nic

Lauren on

Very well said!!! Antigua is an amazing place!

travellingtans on

Thanks Lauren. We're glad you guys have a great time there as well. Hope you keep travelling, even better if you keep the awesome foursome going!

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