Antigua, Guatemala

Published: December 6th 2008
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Antigua was the original capital of Guatemala until the citizens got tired of having to rebuild the city after numerous earthquakes in the late 1700s and moved to what is now Guatemala City. Prior to Antigua the capital was at another site ruined by a big mudslide in the 1500s and so Guatemala City is probable on borrowed time.

The trip from Tikal was on a local long distance bus with a nervous Swede sitting in front of me how didn´t like the idea of overnight buses which are more prone to being robbed. Taking a day bus to Guatemala City would get you there in the evening, which is not a good idea, so the night bus was the lesser of two evils. What I did see of Guatemala City was a sprawling, single-story and dirty city with the odd maize field in an otherwise very urban area. Haggled with the taxi driver to get to another bus terminal but he ended up only giving me the change for the original amount he offered (my bad for not having change). Got on a chicken bus (mostly old yellow USA school buses, that have been pimped out on the outside,
Main square in AntiguaMain square in AntiguaMain square in Antigua

Taken in front of the cathedral looking South
but retain child-size legroom and people are packed 3 to a seat that was designed for 2 children) and paid 10 Quetzales instead of the quoted 8 - again, due to not having the exact change.

The first thing that you notice about Antigua is that, apart from the ruins of old colonial buildings that hint at the glory days of the city, the houses are rows of single story box-shaped dwellings. I think that this was due to people preferring as little concrete above their heads as possible in this earthquake city, but no-one else I spoke to seemed to get this. I arrived around 9am, found the Kafka hostel (50 Quetzales, 4 GBP) and got some breakfast, searched around for the cheapest tour to the nearby active Payaca volcano and went for a nap.

Pacaya is active complex volcano in Guatemala, which first erupted approximately 23,000 years ago and has erupted at least 23 times since the Spanish conquest of Guatemala. After being dormant for a century, it erupted violently in 1965 and has been erupting continuously since then. Has had some bad press with robberies on the slope in the 90s but the tour people said that the 3 GBP tour included transport, a guide and security but wouldn´t confirm whether this would be one a pistol slinger or one of the many armed guards outside pharmacies and non-descript shops packing sawn off shotguns. Turns out that the guide had a hiking stick but looked like he knew how to use it.

Although only 25-30 km from Antigua the minibus seemed a bit over-careful in slowing for speedbumps, especially compared to how the chicken bus guys driving the bus like they just stole it, and it took forever to get their. This could have felt longer due to a French guy taking me through his new business idea for fast-food style spa treatment in great detail. 40 Quetzales for entry to the volcano and after 1.5 hours we saw lava and with much difficulty (like walking up a sand dune, but more slippy and hand-cutting dried lava rocks) scrambled to the oozing lava. Walking down was more fun as you could slide down on your feet while being as careful as possible not to send any head size boulders hurtling down toward other hikers walking up. Had a 20 minute conversation with 2 Spanish
Ruin and toritoRuin and toritoRuin and torito

Similar ruins are scattered around Antigua and are just shells of buildings.
ladies on the minibus back and although my Spanish is very basic I am able to get my point across alright.

Back at the hostel I sat in with some language students having a beer and went out with them to a salsa club. There are loads of students here to learn Spanish but the way in which they do it is quite extreme. 4-6 weeks of one on one language study with a teacher sitting in front of you for 5-8 hours per day. Although I don´t have the luxury of time (need to be in Panama City by end of Dec), this seems a brutal way of learning the language. Salsa bar was busy but wasn´t feeling it so went to bed. Next morning I decided to go to Lake Atitlan.

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