Antigua, Guatemala – a quaint, touristy, well-preserved colonial town in the center of Guatemala- was our first stop. In the first three days of our trip, we visited a quirky restaurant, hiked up Volcan Pacaya, enjoyed our first hostel experience, and played gin overlooking the city from the lookout at Cerro de la Cruz Mirador.
This is us with the Cerro de la Cruz Mirador overlooking Antigua with the Volcan de Agua (water volcano) in the background. Antigua is ringed by three Volcanoes, of which the one pictured is the largest. This spot seemed to be popular for locals and tourists (and local perros seen below) as there were several families picnicking there for lunch while we were playing gin (in case you are curious our trip-long scoreboard stands at: Mike 3 – Anna 1). The hike itself was short but steep, and was well worth the little time it took for the excellent view of the entire town.
Antigua itself is a fine town and an easy introduction to Guatemala, but caters to tourists more than we expected (see, e.g. the photo of the Domino’s pizza delivery scooters above). Damn near everyone speaks at least some English, but they also good-naturedly humored our fumbling attempts at Spanish, which made our time here very painless. One of the best examples of their tourist hospitality happened at Por Que No?, a tiny bar/restaurant run by an extremely friendly married couple. Among the many quirks of the restaurant (rope railing helping you up the staircase, a bunch of crazy crap on the walls) was their request that customers graffiti the walls or decorations. True to her Nerinx Hall marker heritage, Anna left her mark of excellence on the wall:
The biggest adventure was our allegedly 6 a.m. hike (apparently Guatemalan 6 a.m. is actually 7 a.m.) up to Volcan Pacaya. Not one of the three volcanoes surrounding Antigua, this is one of the 3 active volcanoes in Guatemala (out of 36 total). The hour-long hike is extremely doable, but everyone in our mostly fit group was sweating and breathing hard as we reached our destination. Apparently, just a few years ago they let people hike right up to the lava flow and poke at it with a long stick, but unfortunately for us, we had to settle for a spot looking up at the volcano. On the plus side, we did get to see the volcano burp some lava and eject dozens of rocks out of the crater, which was one of the two major highlights of the hike. The other was our descent, which was basically downhill skiing on our feet in shin-deep granulated lava rock for about 10 minutes. I am probably not doing this experience justice, but it was incredibly fun.
After pounding all of the lava dust out of our tennis shoes and showering it out of our hair, we stopped for coffee at Cafe Estudio where we sipped excellent coffees while talking with the owner about his roasting process and his sommelier friend in Chicago. When we for back to our hostel, we were treated to Siobhan’s (our Irish/Australian friend at the hostel) Irish coffees and a few Gallos (the official beer of Guatemala).
Our first hostel experience at El Hostal was excellent. We lived out of a too-big private room, which was very nice, and lounged in the partially open air courtyard area with the rest of the travelers at tables or hammocks surrounding a small fountain. Their included breakfast was excellent, with a wide selection of food and a tea/coffee/juice and bread. Although Anna was tempted daily by the pancakes or granola/fruit dish, we picked the Antigueno breakfast every day: black beans, eggs, two kinds of tasty salsas, fried plantains, toast and coffee. Not only was this cost included, but it helped our budged by allowing us to split one lunch because the breakfast carried us most of the way to dinner. Well, it at least carried us through to the 4-hour long happy hour at El Hostal, which featured 2 Victoria’s (beer) for $2, starting at 4 p.m. every day. During these happy hours (and afterward) we played card games and Taboo with the rest of the residents and made some new friends.
Off to Xela (Quetzeltenango) to check in to our Spanish school and meet our host family.