A Long Haul and Guatemala Begins

Trip Start Jan 11, 2012
Trip End Aug 09, 2012

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Flag of Guatemala  , Sacatepequez,
Sunday, July 15, 2012

No more visitors. Boo. With Han and Lanie safely back in the home of the brave and free people, it was soon time for the lonesome twosome to continue their journey north. We had an incredible time in Nicaragua, definitely one of the best countries that we have visited. Great people, excellent value, delicious food and an array of landscapes provided the perfect platform for some memorable experiences. Our journey out of the country would be just as memorable, only this memory might be associated with increased blood temperature, watering around the eyes and the sound of numerous four letter words.

After watching the Fed Express break Britain's heart at Wimbledon (David Rafa Lynch, you are still 1 rumbler in the red), it was time to begin our epic journey through 4 countries to Antigua, Guatemala. First up was a brief bus trip into Managua, Nicaragua's capital. Our next bus was only scheduled to leave the following morning so we found a place to stay and we both immediately agreed that we probably would have felt more safe sleeping in a tent in the middle of Hillbrow. After killing 23 mosquitoes in our room (we counted), we finally managed to get some rest before a 4AM alarm marked the start of what was to become one hell of a long day. Fortunately the bus company that we had chosen was really professional and punctual, so at 5AM, in moderate comfort, we hit the road. Two hours later we stumbled upon a truck that decided to jackknife itself across the whole highway. The four hour delay was a bit of a boggy, but at least we were able to watch the rescue effort. Concern for safety didn't seem to be a big priority for the crazy Nicaraguan salvage "experts", but after a few broken chains and lots of swearing, they eventually managed to pull the truck out of its predicament and we were able to continue north. Not far up the road was the Honduran border. After driving for a few hours through the nation that gives America 80%25 of its recreational drugs, we eventually reached the El Salvador border. After just a bit more bussing we finally arrived in San Salvador, 16 hours after leaving Managua. The bus company conveniently owns a hotel inside the bus terminal so every gringo on the bus checked in there, slept for a few hours, awoke at 4:30AM and then jumped back on the bus. A few hours later we cleared customs at the Guatemalan border, continued on to Guatemala City, changed buses and then finally arrived at our destination, the small colonial town of Antigua. 32 hours, 4 countries, ruptured kidneys, slipped discs... memorable? Certainly.

Antigua is a beautifully restored colonial town about one hour away from Guatemala City. The cobblestone streets are filled with colourful buildings, grand cathedrals and to top it all off, it is located at the base of a beast of a volcano. All in, Antigua is definitely one of the more livable places that we have visited on our travels. It seems that a whole lot of tourists agree, the town contained much more gringos than what we had seen on our travels in the rest of Central America. This can sometimes be a hinderence, but Antigua has somehow managed to retain an authentic atmosphere whilst still providing an array of professional tourist activities and incredible restaurants.

My dad has been giving me a hard time for making Don climb volcanoes, cycle through deserts, white water raft etc. without us ever indulging in some of the more feminine activities on offer. My answer is usually that it would be sexist of me to assume that Don doesn't want to wear a green jumpsuit and slide down a volcano on her bum, but Antigua fortunately provided the perfect opportunity to redeem myself with more than just words. First up, a chocolate making course.

The chocolate course started with a brief history of chocolate in which we learnt about how the Mayans were the first humans to take a fancy to the sweet stuff, then the Europeans saw the light and these days the majority of the stuff is grown in Africa, but the western world is still the main gobbler. After our history lesson we were shown how the cacao bean is converted into a delicious slab of chocolate. It was then time to make some of our own. Now everyone please pause here and have a look at the photo of us making chocolate. More specifically, please take note of the gender of everyone taking part in the course. I'll take a high 5 from my dad, thank you. It might be a -1 in the man column, but the course was brilliant. We both had a great time learning about everything chocolate and we certainly enjoyed tasting all of our decadent choccies that we had made for ourselves. But it didn't stop there, the next day we enrolled in a Guatemalan cooking course. Another high 5 please Dad!

Before commencing, again please note the gender of our cooking team. I think I've redeemed myself sufficiently, Don better get ready for some bungee jumping and skydiving. The cooking course was a bit disappointing in that we basically learnt how to prepare some Guatemalan dishes without actually doing much of the cooking ourselves, but we still really enjoyed the afternoon with our German cooking partners and the Guatemalan food was delicious.

We spent a great few days in Antigua, but with our return date now set for 9 August, it was time to get a move on. Next stop was the picturesque Lago Atitlan, 2 hours west of Antigua. The lake, surrounded by three volcanoes, is probably one of the most beautiful that we had ever seen. The main town on the lake, Panajachel, was not quite as impressive, but we still enjoyed two days exploring the streets and wandering around the numerous markets. We had planned to go kayaking on the lake, but unfortunately the wind was a bit too strong and we were still in feminine mode, so we decided to rather go for a massage and a manicure. Jolling! The line has to be drawn somewhere.

We were fortunate to be at Lake Atitlan on a weekend as a nearby town with an awesome name, Chichicastenango, hosts Central America's largest market every Sunday. It might not have been as big as we had expected but it was certainly more crazy than expected. We spent a few hours in the hustle and bustle of the vendors selling anything and everything, from pieces of cement to Crocs. The most bizarre sale was probably the 2-for-1 combo of a chicken and a kitten, both attached to a lead. This probably gives you the option of having them as pets or having the convenience of being able to drop them into a frying pan simultaneously. We unfortunately missed out on this excellent offer as the seller wouldn't budge on his asking price. We did, however, win a bidding war over a colourful beach towel. Good purchase, but damn, we should have closed on those kittens. Missed opportunities aside, the market provided an interesting glimpse of some genuine Guatemalan culture.

Once the vendors had packed up, it was time for us to head back to Panajachel and the following day we made our way back to Antigua. Nicaragua blew us away, but Guatemala had started strongly. The next leg of our Guatemalan adventure would show us some of the country's incredible natural wonders, including one of the most unique places that we have ever seen...
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