Cobbled streets and arches.
Antigua is the tourism show piece of Guatemala, according to the bible (‘Lonely Planet’) and it isn’t hard to see why. It has a very colonial feel to it. All the roads are set out in a grid and amongst the new concrete buildings are the old Spanish stone built ones. There are a few that have been restored, or didn’t get knocked down by earthquakes. Most of these were the town council buildings or the churches. There are plenty of relics that are about, tumbled down archways and walls of buildings.
It’s very hard to tell the Locals from the ex-pats and the travellers that have forgotten to go home. There are a lot of Spanish schools here and many people seem to come here for a few weeks or months. It’s very hard to tell that you are in a developing country in Antigua, everybody seems to be going about their business as you might expect to see in any Western town. Outside Antigua, I’m sure that it’s a much different story.
We checked into the Black Cat Hostel, which is famed for its huge breakfasts. Most free breakfast with accommodation is a tiny bowl of some soggy fruit. Here it’s a Bagel, fruit and homemade chunky chips, or a bacon and egg sandwich, fruit and homemade chunky chips. It was enough to keep you full for most of the day.
That evening we decided to try out the Cinema Restaurant. The tickets were free but you had to buy a meal and a drink. The seats were normal cinema seats, but spread out more with coffee tables. It could have fit a few hundred people in there with normal seats but with the tables, there was only room for about 50. There were only 5 of us in the cinema so it can’t be paying for itself. The film was a dvd projected from the back of the room and it took a while to skip forwards through the adverts to the film. The meal was huge. The plate of Taco Ensalada, Taco Salad, was enough to feed 2, may be three.
We were looking to climb a volcano in the area which there’s quite a few. The day hike up the 3rd tallest in Guatemala looked a good trip but the company only had an overnight trip going the next day, up Acetenango, almost 4000m high. We met the group the next morning at 8am and made the 1hr drive up the valley to the start of the walk. There were 2 English speaking guides, and 2 locals who were acting as guides, porters and with the machetes, a bit of security. We packed the rest of the gear, lunch, tents and mats into our packs and started to make our way up the Volcano. The rest of the group was made up of a Scottish and Irish guy and 2 Australian girls. They weren’t exactly the model mountaineering example. They were wearing jeans, slip on shoes with no grip, small bags with tents and sleeping bags hanging off the side. No warm clothes and barely any water proof clothes to hand. They made it, and there bags were a lot lighter than ours but they were very wet and cold by the time we got back, o, and very miserable.
It was a 7 hour trek to the campsite just short of the summit. We started our walk up through the village’s maize, lily and sweet pea fields. Then it was into a rain forest section, that which hadn’t been cleared for food production. Next it was on to a cloud forest. Each of the section was very clearly defined, as to where the different plants were growing.
We stopped for lunch at a wooden shelter where we met a group of locals coming down from a night on the Volcano. The volcano had been closed for a year because of to many incidents with travellers and locals and it had just been reopened. May be we were Guine pigs for the reopening of the treks. One of our guides was a bit worried when we first met them, so he told us later, but the group seemed to be fine, enjoying their pot noodles, and soon headed off.
We kept walking and the terrain got harder and the air thinner. It isn’t the highest Volcano, but the hardest to climb. It’s covered in a fine soft and very movable layer of ash from the last eruption. This makes walking very hard work. It’s like walking up a sand dune or powdered snow. The rain washes huge channels out of the slopes eroding away the fields and the footpaths. The famers try to slow the water down with dams made of twigs and branches, which works to a point but it’s not that effective.
We made it to our very windy and exposed campsite, quickly set up camp, and helped the less out door people put their homes up for the night. The local guides went off to find some fire wood, whilst we found some more warm clothes to put on. The clouds were coming down fast and think, and the wind picking up. It hadn’t changed much by the next morning, and the last 30mins to the top was miserable. It was just like being in Wales in the middle of winter. It wasn’t raining but mist that got you just as wet. The rest of the group sat at the top of the crater, very tired wet and miserable. There was no view to look at and no exploding lava on the next door volcano that we were hoping to see. Me and Line made a quick trip around the crater, before pointing the new English speaking guide the right way down from the top. We found where the rest of the group were sitting, just where we told him they would be, ran back to find him and show him where they were. Who knows where we would have ended up if we had followed him? It was a quick trip down from the crater to the campsite where the other local guide had got the fire going again. Most of the group hid in their tents and sleeping bags and after breakfast it was time to break camp and make a quick descent to a more hospitable climate. We found the mini bus at the bottom of the path. We parted company with our local guides and headed back to Antigua. Half way back to Antigua we came across a tree that had been felled across the road. There were vehicles backed up on either side of the road. A couple of guys with chainsaws were cutting up the larger bits and a couple of boys with machetes were cutting up the smaller bits of tree and clearing the road. Some of us jumped off the bus and went to help clear the road. All of the other drivers stayed where they were watching the tourists move the tree out of the way.
When we got back to Antigua we booked some tickets for later that day to Panajachel, to go and see the lake surrounded by volcanoes. We had arranged to leave our bags with the tour operator and went for lunch. The bus was due to leave at 4pm, and we were told that they would be back from lunch at 3pm. The notice on the front of the shop said that they would ‘Be back at 3.30pm, Gone fishing’. At 4.05pm with our minibus waiting to depart, they eventually turned up. We got our bags as quickly as possible chucked them in the bus and we were off. The first part of the journey we were stuck in a traffic jam trying to get out of the city. The second part of the journey was part of a rally course. The old driver thought he was Lewis Hamilton, over taking on blind corners, summits, and accelerating down hills and around corners. Thankfully we made it to Panajachel in one bit.