Hola from Guatemala
Well here we go my final country and I have about 3 weeks here. I’ve heard great things so let’s hope I can go out with a bang (and not one from the volcano above) !!
I caught a taxi from the airport to a hotel near the bus station in Managua, let’s just say it’s not the most desirable area and I’d already met someone who got mugged here on his way to the bus station, he was so near he could see it. I too can see it from my hotel – fingers crossed !! I have decided due to time constraints to skip Honduras as I don’t dive (early readers will note my Koh Tao experience) and although there are supposed to be some great ruins at Copan I’m going to save myself for Tikal – according to the books the “mother of all Mayan ruins” !!
I bought my bus ticket to Guatemala City. This involves a 1 night stop in San Salvador (again I’ve heard great things about here so another visit). I have to be at the bus station at 4am – no wonder the muggings occur !! I wake up at 4.20am….I am late but make it to the bus station in 10 minutes and all is fine, which begs the question why do we have to be there an hour early ? I was in such a rush that I didn’t even think about the robbers. Although, I did hear a whistle going off several times last night which usually means police around robbers beware. We drove straight through the border, through Honduras and into El Salvador arriving in San Salvador around 4pm. The area the bus station was in looked a bit of a dive so I stayed in the adjoining hotel and went out for food. They drive like absolute maniacs here. Another early night as this time I have to be ready to go at 5.20am, there aren’t any facilities in the hotel so thank goodness for Sudoku !! This hotel actually knocks on your door in the morning to wake you up for the bus so I was on time and could even grab a coffee. We get dropped off somewhere in Guatemala City. There are 6 tourists and we decide to hop in 2 taxis to go straight to Antigua an hour away. Let’s just say Guatemala City doesn’t have the best reputation, robberies still happen in Antigua but it seems to be the safer option. None of us seemed to have been given any Nicaraguan exit stamp or Guatemalan entrance stamp so hopefully that’s not going to come back to haunt me, in Columbia you got a hefty fine.
In Antigua I get dropped off at a hostel called “Los Amigos”. A little confusion here as I knew I’d been recommended to stay there and then realised it was for a hostel in Flores not Antigua. It was fine, I got a room and then was offered my free drink by Tops the owner of the bar that’s been running for the last month. It’s incredibly relaxed and is called “El Chillout”, Tops must say chillout minimum 200 times per day. Time to go and explore….. Now if you were arriving here for a holiday or to start your trip I would say it’s the ideal place. You can basically arrange everything here, take Spanish courses a plenty and it’s a beautiful colonial city somewhat similar to San Cristobal in Mexico but bigger. This used to be Guatemala’s capital but as it was smashed to the ground by the 1773 earthquake, the capital was moved and hence Guatemala City was born. For me though coming towards the end of my trip there are way too many Gringo’s, I just feel like the place has lost some of it’s original ambience. Maybe, it’s just because I’m near the end of my journey, however there are some cool places to go from here so it’s not all doom and gloom. I spend the evening back at “El Chillout” chatting to a couple of my fellow inmates.
The next day I have one of “El Chillout’s” special Mayan breakfasts and in the afternoon I join my tour to see Volcan Pocaya. Now, I told my parents by phone earlier in the day that I was going to be toasting marshmallows in volcanic lava and I just think that they didn’t believe me, well Mum and Dad, there’s the evidence above !!
We arrive at the village below and are hounded by children to buy sticks. My advice is get a stick, otherwise you are in danger of falling over on the rocks and they do cut. We then start our hour or so hike up hill for 400 metres at altitude and stop at various look outs points along the way. You can also hire horses, but I need the exercise. Eventually we come across some black rocks that are a result of an explosion in 2006. There’s still a way to go and eventually we are having to climb up and down rocks. The rocks are starting to get warmer and then we see the lava. It is flowing and changing direction in front of our very eyes. Forget La Fortuna, this is where it’s at !! There are cracks underneath some of the rocks and you can see red hot lava below and we’re walking on them !! It’s crazy !! This would never ever be allowed in Europe. One explosion and we’re gone…. some people’s shoes even start to melt. I love the fact that even after more than 11 months I can go somewhere new and be totally dumb struck by one of the world’s natural wonders. Do I have to come home yet ? Oh well, time to toast my marshmallows. The temperature is so hot I can only get close enough to toast the end one (should have brought a longer stick), they still taste delicious !! We watch the lava for ages and then as the sky clears we can see the actual volcano it’s coming from quite far in the distance. Darkness will soon be upon us so we head back down. The children are waiting for us to collect up the sticks, for some reason they don’t want to pay us money for them can’t think why !! What they do want though is to play. We get roped in to football either with a ball or a makeshift one using plastic water bottles. They want to have photos taken and rather than ask for money they just ask if any of us have pens. Luckily, I have two on me so give them to them. It was really sweet and is going a long way to endearing me to the Guatemalan people. Game over, we drive back and I spend yet another evening at “El Chillout”, but am so tired I just head to bed.
The next morning I catch a bus to Chichicastenango, or Chichi as I like to call it (mainly because it took me 4 days to be able to pronounce the original). Today is Sunday and it’s market day and apparently this is the largest market in Latin America. It takes around 2 hours to get there and after a coffee I go for a wander. The women are all dressed in traditional Mayan colours but a lot of the stuff on the stalls was very similar and targeted at tourists. I liked the more local stalls like the corn man and the chicken sellers (pictured above). Around midday with barely anything purchased it started to rain so I took shelter whilst waiting for our return bus to pick us up.
The following day I decided it was time to explore Antigua. I visited some of the churches and colleges destroyed by the 1773 earthquake. Houses and such were mostly restored back to their original designs. I think my favourite was Casa Popenoe which had been rennovated and is a great example of how the important people lived in the city back then. Later on, I went to the market and bought a few bits and pieces to bring home, basically the smallest things I could find so they would fit in the rucksack.
Well Antigua is done, but I’ll probably have to come back as I’m off to the beach and Monterrico next, well I can’t come home too pasty can I ? The bad news is the bus is delayed from 8am until 1pm (just as well as I’d left my camera cable in my room – phew !!), that’s cutting short a bit of my beach time but there’s not a lot I can do about that. As I said earlier, Antigua makes a great first stop and Pocaya is incredible but I’m looking forward to seeing the real Guatemala…….
Plane = 26, Bus = 120, Train = 2, Boat =22, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 11, Books Read = 31 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.
Take care all