Antigua and Pacaya volcano


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Published: February 22nd 2011
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The chicken bus from Coban to Antigua meant a change of bus and of bus station in Guatemala City (“Guate” as they call it here) which I wasn't too keen on and I'd been told the journey would cost about Q80. So when I found a shuttle direct (4-5 hours) for Q100, there really was no question. Also, it wasn't leaving until 10.30am, which gave me plenty of time to get ready in the morning.
I was still awake at the crack of dawn and up for breakfast at 7am. Then I remembered that the football was on and managed to find a channel showing the game live. It was the start of the second half by the time I got in front of it, but it was good to watch a bit of home footie. We won, so that was all the better and made me determined I was going to have a great day.
The bus driver arrived to pick me up shortly before 11am and as 2 other guys from my
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This isn't a cloud, this is the smoke coming out of the volcano
hostel were trying to come along, he advised there was only 1 seat left so they would have to go on the chicken bus instead. But what I wasn't expecting was that when I got to the bus, I found a 15 seater and 3 boxes on the floor, all to share between 17 of us... Hardly the level of comfort I was expecting but still, I wasn't terribly fussed. As I was the last one to hop on, I was left with a box and as I went to sit down, the driver intervened and announced to another girl that seeing as I'd bought my ticket the night before and she was the last one to have bought one, she had to sit on the box and give me her comfy seat... She wasn't most pleased but reluctantly moved, while whingeing about how unfair it was. I kind of agreed with her, as I'm sure when she'd bought her ticket, she'd paid the same price and hadn't been told she had to sit on a box. I said to her cheerfully “we can do half and half if you want”, but she declined and carried on moaning instead.
As
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Close up
we drove along, I was thinking that if we all shared the boxes, we'd only have to do 40 minutes each and I wondered whether I should suggest it or just mind my own business. I decided I would wait until we were half way and offer to swap again as I thought it would be a fair offer. Then she moved to a more comfy box so I thought I'd offer to the guy on the non comfy box instead.
Time went by and I couldn't sleep, so I listened to some music as the atmosphere on the bus wasn't the best. After 2 and a half hours, as planned, I offered to swap seats with the guy but he declined saying he was quite comfortable. After that I did manage to sleep for quite a while and I when I woke up, his friend had swapped seats with him, so I offered again and she agreed. Little did I realise that we had almost arrived to Antigua and I only ended up on the box for about half an hour. But at least my intentions were noble!
The shuttle dropped us not far from the centre and the
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Our guide roasting the marshmallows
driver pointed me in the direction of the hostel where I wanted to stay (which had been recommended to me and was apparently Q40 a night.) I walked passed another hostel I'd heard good things about but they wouldn't go below Q45. Then a tout who said he was working for the tourist office saw me and took me to where I wanted to go. There I was also quoted Q45 so decided to look elsewhere. The tout then took me to somewhere which wasn't in the guide book and I haggled the price down to Q35 a night, with wifi, kitchen, hot water and a dorm all to myself – result. It was pretty central and after dropping my stuff and grabbing a map from the owner, I went for a look around and a trip to the supermarket.
While I had a look around, I asked at a couple of travel agencies about climbing a volcano and ended up booking a trip for the next day, Going up to Pacaya volcano, for Q40 for transport and guide. I had a good walk around the city but hadn't remembered to take my camera so couldn't take any pictures at
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Me! Eating my marshmallow in the wind
that point. I had heard and read that Antigua was a very beautiful colonial city and also a very touristy place. It was pretty indeed, but nothing compared to some of the cities I had seen in Mexico and once again (this is generally the case with Guatemala so far) I felt that maybe my hopes were too high and was almost disappointed. I headed back to the hostel to drop off my food, only to realise that there was no fridge. Thank god I hadn't bought a lot of stuff. After another quick jaunt before night fall, I then settled at the hostel with some food and internet catch up, ready for an early night (the Pacaya tour the next day started at 6am). Then I decided to go and have a quick shower to give myself an extra 10 minutes in bed the next morning. The shower was one of those funny electric ones with cables hanging out (they are pretty common and in my experience warm throughout the length of the visit but never hot). I turned it on, ready to wait for a minute before jumping under, just to give it time to warm up. It
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Vicente, Marcial and I inside the "hot hole"
was a good idea, otherwise, maybe I wouldn't be here to tell the tale... As soon as the water started coming out of the shower-head, sparkles emerged from the electric cables and within seconds I was looking at the shower-head on fire... I turned it off, got dressed and went to tell the bloke at reception. Now, this was not the sort of Spanish conversation I was expecting to have so I hadn't quite prepared for it... It went something like:
“There is a problem with the shower.
Yes, the hot water, you need to wait for a minute.
No, it's not the hot water. When I open the water, there is fire. Fire! Lots of fire.
Ah... Yes. You shouldn't use it then...”
That was it! “you shouldn't use it”!!!! So what about the next person electrocuting themselves? I was sent to the other showers upstairs and managed to have a quick fresh shower (not even warm) and then went to bed, where I surprisingly fell asleep quickly despite the excitement of the evening.
The next morning, I was up at 5am. I had been told to be at the travel agency for 5.45am and had checked with my
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Main touristy area
hotel that there would be somebody there and I could drop off my washing (filthy clothes getting their first machine wash in a month). I was ready to leave at 5.30 and there was nobody at reception. I wasn't terribly surprised and thought I'd just leave the bag with a note asking for my stuff to be washed. Then I went to the door, only to find there was a padlock on it and I didn't have the key... Unimpressed, I started banging and shaking the door in a bid to wake up whoever was supposed to let me out, which eventually worked (but I probably woke up half the hostel in the process) and then gave him a piece of my mind as by that point I was running late (silly me, there is no such thing as late in Latin America). I ran nearly all the way to the agency and just made it for about 5.45-5.50. There was nobody else there and I wondered if I'd be all on my own, which isn't necessarily a good thing when you're hoping to meet people.
A few minutes later, the minibus turned up and the driver explained that there was a group of 5 people we were picking up from a hotel on the other side of town. When we got there, there was nobody to be seen. We had a little drive around and eventually found 2 people: Marcial from Venezuela and Vicente from Brazil. They explained that there was a party the night before and although Marcial didn't go and Vicente made it (with no sleep), the others had decided to bail out of the volcano hike. So off we went, just with the 3 of us. It turned out that the 2 guys were working in Guatemala (one short term, one long term) and their group was made of all work colleagues. The bus ride to the volcano was about 1h30 so we had a good chat, half in Spanish, half in English, talking about the cultural differences between Europe and Latin America and between the different Latin American countries. We also talked about Guatemala City and I explained I was going to skip the place because I had been told it was too risky. The answer went something along the lines of:
Marcial “It's not so bad, you just don't go on the city buses,
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Music in the main square on Sunday
but other than that, as long as you stay in Zona Viva, it's OK”
Vicente “Yes, but somebody did get shot in Zona Viva a couple of days ago, near the Radisson.”
So that was the end of that... I am definitely not going to Guate!
We were at the bottom of Pacaya before 8am and after telling the little boy insisting we needed walking sticks for Q5 where to go, we set off with our guide (Jose I think he said his name was) for the 1h30 climb. A few people followed us with horses, just in case we changed our minds on how we were going to get to the top. Marcial was struggling a little but we made plenty of stops to catch our breath and have a look at the view. The guide explained to us that Pacaya erupted on the 27th of May last year. Up until then, you could climb up and see lava, but not anymore. Now you walk up the dark grey path, which is just cold lava rubble. The volcano is still very active and there is a cloud of smoke over the top (it is 70 meters shorter now than
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The ruins of the Cathedral
it was before the eruption). We were told the story about the 27th of May: it erupted for one hour. Nobody was expecting it and our guide told us he was on the hill at the time and just had to run down as quickly as he could to get away. Thankfully, it was raining, so as the volcano spat fire and some houses in the village started burning, the rain extinguished the flames quickly and saved many people and their homes. In the end, only one person died: a journalist who (so the story says) wanted to get a bit too close to the action.
As we got to the highest point of our hike (and Marcial did the second half of the climb on horseback) we had a great view of the volcano, but it was really windy and cold, not exactly what I was expecting... After that we went down and back up on the side of the volcano itself and as we went up, we could start to feel the heat. Eventually, our guide (who had been carrying some wood he'd gathered at the top) stopped and started piling up the wood over a “hot hole”. Within less than a minute, the wood had caught fire from the heat generated from the ground and we were very impressed. That's roughly the point when he opened his bag and presented to us a bag of marshmallows! So we ate volcano roasted marshmallows. That was really cool! Although I did nearly fall in the hole...
We walked a little bit further up and into another hole, which was like a sauna and we only managed to stay in for a minute or so. This marked the end of the ascent, as it was too dangerous to go any higher (and probably too hot for the soles of our shoes). We headed back down to the village and then onto our bus, talking about football and generally agreeing some not very nice things about the Argentinian team in general and Tevez in particular... On the way back into Antigua, I had a little snooze and when we arrived, we agreed to go and have lunch together. This is a lesson on how to f*ck up your budget in 5 minutes... I thought lunch was a nice idea because I really got on with the two guys and I thought it would be nice to hang out a little longer. To me “lunch” probably meant street food, but to them it meant restaurant... Oops... In the end, I spent Q100 (£8) on lunch! Eeek! Especially as I had plenty of food back at the hostel. But never mind, I had Chicken “a la Guatemaltec” (grilled chicken served with nachos, guacamole, frijoles -black bean purée- corn and rice), which was really good and I also enjoyed the company, so it was worth the expense!
After lunch we said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways. For me, it was time to pop back to the hostel and then head out into Antigua (camera in hand this time) to try and see as much of the city as I could. But first of all, I picked up my clean, sweet smelling clothes. I must have looked like a woman in a Lenor advert because I was just sniffing the cleanliness and feeling the softness for 5 minutes... Small things...
I walked around the city for the next 3 or 4 hours and did a really good tour, trying to get away from the main streets a little bit. It was very pleasant and I thought the city had a nice feel to it. Also, it was Sunday so there was music and people dancing on the central square and all the pedestrianised areas were busy with shoppers, tourists and locals alike. I managed to get some decent pictures and walked through the main market, having a look and a listen at all the traders.
All in all a good day, which ended back at the hostel with another quite cold shower. The next day, I was destined to go to Quetzaltenango on the chicken bus, which I had been told by one person would take 4 hours and by another 7 hours... So it would be another reasonably early start to try and arrive by early afternoon.





Additional photos below
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Main square
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By the main square
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Crafts Market
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Main square
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By the main square
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Crafts Market
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Craft's market
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Main bus terminal


22nd February 2011
Antigua

j'adore les couleurs. est ce 1 couleur par destination?
22nd February 2011

coucou, bon j'ai adore ton histoire avec la douche, a se rappeler: avant de se deshabiller, il faut tester la douche. TU ne lui as pas dit que c'etait anti Health and safety!! joli volcan ca donne bien envie... bises

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