Published: January 31st 2006January 14th 2006
View from the top
No bandits in sight.
For the first time in a long time I actually sat next to strangers on a plane flight that were interesting. Gayle and Scott from Nebraska were next to me from Dallas to Guatemala City and the three-hour flight flew by (no pun intended). They were the exact opposite to me - conservatives from the mid-west who were very religious and home schooled their children. We had a great time discussing American foreign policy and the problems facing the USA. We decided it was mainly high fructose corn syrup. Surprisingly, we were in agreement on a lot of issues and they invited me to call on them next time I happened upon the mid-west. Scott was heading down to Guatemala for knee surgery as it was too expensive to do it in the USA as he didn’t have health insurance. Interestingly, he still thought that not having universal health care was a fair price to pay for having a large, strong and well-equipped military.
On arrival in Guatemala we met up with Julian who had come from Australia via El Salvador (airport). We took a shuttle down to Antigua, detouring the supposed ‘gang lands’ of Guatemala City.
... and not a Maccas sign to be seen. This is heaven!
a beautiful town that has been World Heritage listed because of its buildings. As a result of this listing none of the businesses in the town have huge signs outside their premises which makes for some picturesque streets. In fact, on first impressions, it reminded me a lot of Lund in Sweden with its cobble stone streets and large cathedral next to the town square.
Antigua is the home of a lot of Spanish language schools and so it is full of young foreigners. It is quiet in the mornings while most of the students are in class and then becomes incredibly busy in the afternoon as the students fill the bars, cafes and internet shops that lie all over town.
On our first day in Antigua we explored the town. In the afternoon we walked to Cerro de La Cruz (basically a hill with a big cross on it). This hill lies just outside of the town (about a 15 minute walk) but tourists are discouraged from walking up there by themselves because of the fear of bandits robbing them. I am not certain of the prevalence of bandits in Guatemala but I am just as uncertain
It looks fine from the outside but was destroyed by an earthquake a few times over.
of how effective the local solution to the bandits is.
We had to sign up for a local tourist police escort up the hill where some guy with a baton led 20 or so fat tourists up the hill in single file. To be honest, I didn’t like my chances if a bandit (I keep imagining someone in a Zorro mask, popping out of the bushes, Antonio Banderas style) decided to hold us up with a gun. The guy with the stick probably wouldn’t put up much of a fight and I can’t imagine a more efficient way of robbing tourists as en masse rather than in small groups.
The view from the top is quite impressive. Antigua is surrounded by three volcanoes - one of which is still active (Volcan Fuego). If you look towards it at any given time you’ll see smoke gently rising from its apex. A pretty cool sight I must say.
After walking back down the hill we went and organized to get a tour that allowed us to walk up a nearby active volcano the next day. While in the central park I ran into Bec who was at UNSW with
me and is studying medicine. Bec and her mate Jimmy had come to Guatemala to do one of their elective terms in medicine. Bec was working at one of the local hospitals and doing a great job considering at the start of her stint she spoke practically no Spanish.
A few of Bec’s housemates were leaving Antigua that night and so we joined a group of them out for dinner. While at dinner we discovered that for the past few weeks the remaining members of the Buena Vista Social Club had been playing at one of the local hotels. In fact one of Bec’s housemates had stumbled upon a street party and the BVSC were playing. We arranged to go and see them the next night.
The next morning at 5.30 AM I piked on he guys who were off to climb the volcano. I was too lazy and still subscribing to the “seen one - seen ‘em all” travel mantra I figured that my trip up Mount Bromo in Indonesia was enough to sate my volcano conquering appetite. All reports from the volcano adventurers suggested that I missed out big time but I will certainly climb one
So many expensive cars as this is one of the wealthiest areas of Guatemala.
once I get to Xela.
That night we headed down to watch the BVSC but because we had spent too long at a roof top bar watchng the sun set behind the volcanoes (and drinking beers by the bucket full) we were late and the place was full. Alas, like in Vegas where we missed the Black Eyed Peas, this time there would be no BVSC for me! Next time maybe. Our first taste of Guatemala was great. Walking around the markets with the locals in their amazingly colourful clothes; practicing my almost non-existent Spanish; annoying all of the shoe shine kids because of my ugly, un-shinable shoes. Great fun and I am certain I will return to Antigua soon.
Thanks to Ben and the Leprechaun for the photos. The disk with my photos on it has died!
There are more photos below