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Published: October 10th 2018
We left Panajachel in some pretty overcast conditions. Higher and higher we went as we started to make our way to CHICHICASTENANGO (yeah that is a mouthful). The views, as we were driving, were still stupendous as the lake stretched out below us with volcanoes visible as far as the eye could see. What a natural spectacle. We started getting into the highlands where it was really, really rural. The drive was awesome as we saw small towns and people just going about their daily lives. A lot of people were carrying wood so the obvious assumption is that most people still rely on wood almost exclusively for heat and cooking (also fairly evident from all the smoke). We were pretty high up in altitude so in places there were views for miles and miles with the cloud cover pretty close to eye-level. In some areas we literally drove through the clouds. The condition of the roads were fine - I am just noting this because people always complain/ worry about the roads and the condition of them in these countries. These roads were fine. At some places there are some pretty hair-raising turns and inclines, but it only adds to
Found this guy on the side of the road and he would not leave us alone
the excitement. I stopped at one of the turn-off spots. Miles and miles of lush green landscape with mountains and clouds filling in the picture. And I just stood there and kept wondering "How can people not want to get out of their little world they live in and explore this incredible planet"? There are so many amazing things. It does sometimes boggle my mind but then again we were all created differently and different things make us tick.
You may ask why we would go out of our way to visit a place like Chichicastenango. One reason and one reason only - the MARKET AT CHICHICASTENANGO ON THURSDAYS AND SUNDAYS. We do love these markets. For this particular market people from all over come to sell their stuff. This market is also so central to the entire area that people come from all over to buy what they need for the week ahead. We finally made it there pretty late in the afternoon. The town is pretty run-down. It was raining like crazy and we sort of had directions, but at some point after driving up this pretty steep hill we ran into the heart of the market
Miles and miles of views
and there was no going further. This was a pretty narrow street, it was pouring rain, I could not see left or right, and there was no u-turning this so we slowly backed up down this street. We finally made it to the HOTEL MUSEO MAYAN INN
. We checked in and were assigned a butler. Are you kidding me - a butler (this was like a $110 room)? They helped us with our bags and got us settled. The room was really nicely decorated with some traditional Guatemalan artifacts. I was most excited about the fireplace. It was already dark and we were definitely not going to wander out since we figured there would not be any restaurants so we just ate at the restaurant in the hotel. We were the only people in the dining room and the whole situation just had this English-colonial feel to it (maybe it was the butler). We felt so awkward, but Nikkie started talking to him in Spanish to find out more about the area and asking about his family so it got better as he got a little more talkative. The food was nothing special. We got an avocado and tomato salad w/ onions and
Someone built this so people like me can sit and admire the views
a hard-boiled egg (ok) to share. Nikkie got chicken soup w/ noodles and avocado (good) which was good for the cold weather and I got a steak sandwich on toast w/ chips (the steak was really tough). We got some coconut flan which was probably the highlight of the meal. It was a great night for a fire which our butler started for us. Nikkie fell asleep in front of the fire while I did my blogging thing as the fire crackled away. Life is good.
We got up early the next morning and had breakfast (this time there were more people around) of coffee, tea, papaya (interesting and thick) and orange juice, fresh fruit (mango, pineapple, banana, papaya, cantaloupe), and eggs w/ tomato salsa, beans, and plantains. As at all other places the fruit were just so fresh and it was a decent enough breakfast to get us going.
We stepped out the front door and boom the market was right there. I read this was a big market, but I have been to markets before where they exaggerate the size a little bit. At first it was stall after stall of masks. Then clothing. Then blankets.
Hotel Museo Mayan Inn
Fresh salad with some local produce
Then souvenirs. More clothing. Then shoes. And we finally made it to the beautiful white church - CHURCH OF SANTO THOMAS
- that stands in the middle of all the chaos. People sit on the steps selling gorgeous colorful flowers. We hit a hard left and suddenly it was food. Stall after stall of fruits and vegetables. Blue corn tortillas being made over oil drums and little hands going slap-slap-slap as they make them. That whole section we walked and you just hear slap-slap-slap-slap. We finally got to this building with the meats and poultry. Up the stairs we went and finally you look down into this beautiful courtyard of people sitting and selling chilis, potatoes, carrots and any other imaginable produce item you can think of. It's a hustle and a bustle with narrow isles and everyone in a hurry. It's a quick hi and bye with lots of bargaining in between. A kaleidoscope of colors as these natives in their beautiful colorful dresses sell their wares to each other and navigate the narrow lanes. We went down to the courtyard and slowly made our way between the rows and rows of produce. This is the stuff that makes me happy.
Hotel Museo Mayan Inn
The steak sandwich was a little tough
The FOOD AT MARKET as always is the stuff that makes me happy. Chicharones was everywhere (fried pork). They give it to you in a little bag - about 10 - 15 pieces (really as much or as little as you want). Crispy and crunchy on the outside and moist and soft on the inside. Oh I was happy. As we were walking the streets a little girl came up to us and asked for money because she was hungry. Rightly or wrongly we offered to buy her food. We sat down at a table and she sat down with us. We got some FRIED CHICKEN with fries and salsa and BLUE-CORN TORTILLAS. We also got her a coke (which kid does not like Coke). She sat there and ate while Nikkie tried to make a little conversation. Again probably not the best look for a white couple to be sitting at a market table with a local kid. We did get some looks. When she was done we bought her a bunch more tortillas to take to her family. The first time we have ever done something like this and deep down we probably did a good thing. We
Hotel Museo Mayan Inn
Nothing like chicken soup on a cold Guatemalan night
continued walking up and down the food section. Smoke everywhere as they make the chicken. Everyone wandering around, searching and trying to find a spot at a table to eat. More rows followed of dried-out fish and other more every-day items for sale. What a place. What an event. I can spend days here just wandering the stalls. What an incredible experience. We left buying some blankets and various other smaller items. A highly recommended side-trip for anyone who can swing it, but for us it was time for the next stop.
As you most likely know by now, Nikkie has worked for Starbucks for all of her adult life and coffee is a big part of us and our story. So since we were in Guatemala DRINKING COFFEE was pretty high on our priority list. LOS TARRALES COFFEE PLANTATION
was listed in one of my books. A pretty hard place to get a hold of and make a reservation, but I managed to do it so off we went. Driving to the coffee plantation was also our first full fledged "chicken buses driving like crazy" experience. These guys don't mess around. We finally made it to the plantation. We decided to
Hotel Museo Mayan Inn
Fireplace, sleeping wife, and blogging away
STAY ON LOS TARRALES COFFEE PLANTATION for the night. The accommodation was very, very basic. Honestly this was as basic as it gets. No air-conditioning, lots of bugs and in general the room was pretty run-down. It was clean which is generally the only thing we ask for. If you are not fussy you can probably make it for a night, but otherwise I'd recommend to do a coffee tour and find another place to stay the night (not sure how many options there is in the area). We checked in and that was the activity for the day. There was not much to do. We took a hike up a hill among the coffee plants and back down to the pastures with the cows and horses. Definitely a lot of quiet time. There really was no town close by to speak of so we decided to just have dinner at the house (again just Nikkie and I). They served us some pretty basic Guatemalan fare for dinner and for breakfast the next morning it was the same thing with grilled banana and eggs w/ black beans and oats pudding (there was always coffee). They were very accommodating and we
appreciated the food as we really had no other options (that we were aware of). That night was quietly spent with a book before we got some good sleep.
The next morning we were able to do a really informative coffee tour. They first explained to us all the processes and various stages on creating the coffee plants. Come to find out these guys were tied-in with Starbucks so that was a really pleasant surprise. We have done several of these coffee tours, but here we were able to speak to the people as they were working and ask lots of questions. After the tour of the plants our guide took us through the harvest, the drying of the beans and how they finally get us the final product that we enjoy so much every morning. Definitely the best coffee tour we have done to date. I will warn you - you are not able to pay upfront and these guys don't do credit cards so make sure you have plenty of cash (again I don't think there is an ATM that is even remotely close to this place).
It was that time again to pack up and
head out to the next destination. On our way to ANTIGUA we had to drive through ESCUINTLA TOWN. Not sure why this was in any of my books. This place was busy, dirty, and just plain did not look safe or pleasant at all. We did a courtesy drive-through, but nothing to see here (in my mind anyway). The drive to Antigua was beautiful with VOLCANOES everywhere (ok it's not like there is one around every corner, but there are many). We arrived in Antigua with high expectations. An old town unlike any other in Guatemala and lots of expats apparently because of the cheap cost of living. We got there and checked into the CASA DE SANTO DOMINGO
. A beautiful hotel located on the grounds of a former monastery. We just dropped off our suitcases and started exploring the old streets.
Old cobble-stoned streets and gorgeous wooden doors were some of the first things we noticed as we wandered the streets. OLD CHURCHES and ruined buildings were everywhere which just really adds to the character of this city. We paid a visit to the CONVENTO DE LAS CAPUCHINAS
. Another 18th-century convent that tried to endure all the earthquakes in earlier centuries. The portions left
is gorgeous and there was not really anyone else around so it was a really peaceful stroll as we walked the property. The one thing that really stood out was this one area where you had all these nun cells built in a circular order around this sort of courtyard (I think they called it a chamber). These cells were tiny and it was pretty extraordinary trying to imagine that people lived in there. We took a stroll past LA MERCED CHURCH
. A beautiful yellow church with this gorgeous facade in the front decorated with white trimmings against the yellow building and all sorts of figures/ statues (also white). A magnificent structure.
ANTIGUA has lots of and is kind of known for its CAFES. We settled on Epicure which has a lovely patio. We stuck to coke and limonada soda for drinks. Nikkie went for the BLT and chilled tomato soup while I got the fish and chips and we concluded with the chocolate ganache for dessert. A good meal. We explored a little bit more of the ARCHITECTURE of the town and also paid a quick visit to the ARCO DE SANTA CATALINA
for a photo-op. A beautiful arch that use to serve
as a walkway many years ago so the nuns did not have to come out on the street. This is now a beautiful landmark and if you get all your settings and angles right you can get a beautiful picture of the arch with a volcano dab-smack in the middle.
We headed back to the hotel for some R&R and pool time. We got ready and headed out for a quick meal again since our flight the next morning was pretty early back to the states (we had to make it back to Guatemala City). It is about a 15 minute walk and to be honest it just felt a little sketchy at times. Of all the places we were in Guatemala this is the place that should have been the safest and yet I did not feel it. We made it down to the PARQUE CENTRAL/ PLAZA MAYOR which is kind of the central square and gathering spot in town with a small little park and beautiful buildings surrounding this square. We settled on a quick meal at the Cafe Barista. OUr drinks included a latte, mango smoothie, and a limonada con soda. We got a couple ham
and cheese crepes and shared a dulce de leche crepe. A decent little place to sit down and have a snack and recharge (not really a dinner spot, but it is what it is). And that sort of concludes the trip. We got up early the next morning and made it back to the airport in time after driving some very winding roads through many smaller towns so the going was fairly slow. Good
- doing coffee tours and drinking coffee at the source is always a highlight no matter where.
- this market is as good as it gets in my mind. The colors are incredible and like nothing we have ever seen. Bad
- honestly not much we can bring up here. Watch out for those chicken buses and their crazy driving. Actually on second thought. On these back-country roads there are tons and tons of ... wait for it... speed bumps. Yes - speed bumps. The most annoying thing ever. You'll go 5 minutes at normal speed and then hit 2 or 3 speed bumps. You'll get up to normal speed and 5 to 10 minutes later more speed bumps. But then I guess
if that is the worst we can say about this trip then it's all good. Advice
- the fried chicken in the market at Chichicastenango was incredible - try it
- as far as accommodation in Chichicastenango goes. You are in this town for one thing and one thing only and that is the market. The Hotel Museo Mayan Inn is literally steps away from the beginning of the market and the service is pretty impressive with a butler and all for pretty cheap
- we had a fairly early flight back to the states. If you plan on driving back to Guatemala City for your flight from somewhere make sure you leave enough time. This is an extremely mountainous country. Roads are windy and steep and the going is slow.
And that is the end of our Guatemalan adventure. Things we crossed off included the Market at Chichicastenango and Antigua. So 302 down and 5,479 to go.
Til' next time from the land of coffee and monasteries
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