Wednesday, February 29, 2012

2012 February 22-28 Earth Lodge

February 22nd

Wednesday morning I packed up, made a quick breakfast and was at the Jungle Party hostel in time to see Dobrosia on her way (and chat with her for like 30 minutes because her shuttle was late, as they always are!) and then I went to catch my shuttle to the Earth Lodge.  Somehow I had accidentally not been added to the pick-up list but after a call to Earth Lodge the guy who was working, Ian, arranged for the shuttle to come get me for free!

It's now 1:15 pm and I am sitting on the patio of Earth Lodge after having taken my own private shuttle to get here! Earth Lodge is only about 8 km away from Antigua in the hills to the north-west. I have no idea what the actual elevation difference is but I would estimate it's at least 1000 ft higher than Antigua.

Central hang-out area at Earth Lodge
This place is really amazing and totally "my type of place". The last couple km or so of the road to get here is barely large enough for two vehicles to pass each other and it's pretty rutty so you have to drive really slow. After about a 10 minute drive the shuttle stopped and the driver directed me to a little footpath leading downhill. Almost immediately I came to a sign that said "Welcome to Earth Lodge- keep walking 250 meters”. The path was pretty steep (not exactly looking forward to leaving on Saturday!) and the hill dropped away sharply to the left, with an amazing view of Jocotenango and Antigua and Volcáns Agua, Fuego and Acatenango visible in the background.

Reception was easy enough to find and I was soon getting settled in the dorm, which is located down the hill from the reception/central hang out area at the west end of a large field where people can camp for 25 Q. It's a cute little cabin and although there are 4 bunk beds I have it all to myself for the time being! I love how often this seems to happen! I have discovered how to make a shelf for my clothes and stuff out of my camp pad and clothes line, which gives me a ridiculous amount of pleasure. Also discovered that these handy elastic tie things that I decided to bring to strap stuff to my bag double as coat/backpack/whatever-I-feel-like-hanging hooks so my space is feeling very homey and quite organized. :o) The bathroom is about 30 feet away and between the dorm and the bathroom is a mayan sauna that we can use for free whenever we want! Tonight, maybe... :o)
Bathroom (on left), mayan sauna and the dorm (on the right)- my home for the next 6 days!
Pretty flowers growing on the side of the dorm cabin
camp pad + dorm bed + clothsline = shelf!  YAY!
Sunset my first night here.  Volcáns Fuego and Acetenango (double peaked) are visible on the left.
February 23

Success! Finally got my Antigua blog post uploaded! Blogging occupies way more of my time than I ever thought it would and I think about stopping or maybe just uploading photos instead of my journal as well, but every time I seriously consider it I get an email or a facebook message from someone saying how much they are enjoying my blog. I am glad you people appreciate the sacrifices I make for you. ;o)

Nah, just kidding. :D I was just talking with two guys I met yesterday, Kevin and Mitch, about how nice it is to have a blog because it's basically a digital scrapbook of your life. Kevin was saying that he was reading a post that was several years old the other day and there were things in there he had totally forgotten about. So, it's a good thing because maintaining my blog forces me to maintain my journal so I will be able to remember so much of this trip 10 years from now.

I have a feeling that this will be a very short blog post (well, comparatively short!) because there just isn't a ton to do around here- in a very good way. Beautiful grounds, very cool buildings with neat architecture, amazing views, perfect temperature, spectacular sunsets... it doesn't get much better than this!

Dinners here are served family style so everyone sits together and it's very conducive to making new friends. Last night's dinner was güisquil (or chayote, which is a type of vegetable similar to a squash that is very common here in Guatemala- and delicious!) chilaquiles (a typical Mexican dish that has a tortilla for the base, veg/meat in the middle with everything “bound” together with egg and cheese, served with a tomato sauce poured over top), rice with fresh veg, a cold broccoli and onion salad and chocolate cake for dessert. At 60 Q it was one of the most expensive meals I have had here in Guatemala and definitely overpriced for the cost of the ingredients, but since my room is so cheap I guess I can't complain too much. And it WAS delicious.

I think I forgot to mention that there is no kitchen access here, which is a major bummer for me- though I knew it when I booked my space so I wasn't surprised by it. The kitchen is open for breakfast and lunch from 8 am-3pm and the menu is extensive, though pricey (ranging from ~ 15 Q-60 Q for full meals). Coffee and tea are 6 Q- a little expensive but cheap enough that I can justify a cup or two but that's about it. Luckily I have tea bags and some powdered drink mixes (similar to kool-aid) and hot and cold water are free.

Lots of studying castellano today. I borrowed a few books from this guy Evan who is here now- he's in his 11th month of traveling on his 600 cc dirt bike. Pretty cool!

Evan, hard at work.  He able to finance his travels by doing web design.  Jealous!
Also worked on my sun tan! I have such a hard life. :o)

Lunch for me was a delicious sandwich with fried eggplant, tomato, lettuce and homemade pesto.  Seriously delicious.

Tomorrow morning I'm hitting up the mayan sauna. :o)

February 25th

Well, I was supposed to leave this morning but that didn't happen! I just didn't feel like packing when I woke up and I was still planning to leave but I just wanted to have a cup of coffee or two before I started my packing, and then I sat down at the bar and started talking to one of the other guests and she ended up being super fascinating so before I knew it it was nearly 11 and that's checkout time so I booked myself for another three days (they have a three for two deal here)!

So, to catch up- I DID hit up the mayan sauna yesterday and it was a lovely way to start my day. Had a bit of a hard time getting the fire started, which was a bit embarassing since I think I'm such a pro when it comes to starting fires! However, I finally got it started and it was very nice to just sit there with the steam, sweating my ass off without even doing a thing.

I had breakfast (big bowl of fruit, yogurt and homemade granola) with Mitch and Kevin and basically just spent the morning/early afternoon chatting with them, since they were leaving for Xela that day to do a three day hike to Lago de Atitlan so I wouldn't have the chance to talk with them anymore once they left. 
Mitch and Kevin (left to right).
After that I practiced a bit of castellano and then went on a hike that took me about 2.5 hours- should have been a bit less but I kept stopping to listen to the forest and try to figure out what was causing all the various rustling noises (mostly birds I think but I saw a quick glimpse of something that was probably a squirrel, though it looked much bigger than that- maybe an oppossum?). There are no mosquitos (that I've seen so far!) at the lodge but there were tons in the forest, especially at the end of my hike, when it was approaching dusk. I killed about 7 or 8 and I ate every single one. I've decided that I will eat mosquitoes and hopefully become immune to their venom, like when people who have allergies eat bee pollon to help desensitize themselves to pollon. I think it's working. I haven't had a very itchy mosquito bite since I was on Holbox. And, I'm certain that I got bitten last night and I don't feel at all itchy.  It also allows me to exact a little revenge on the little bastards so that's an added plus.  :o)  Of course, I guess I could also be increasing the likelihood that I'll contract malaria... I haven't been taking my doxycycline (anti-malarial) because I haven't been in areas where malaria is really a problem, and I hate the idea of being on an antibiotic all the time.

This picture is for Pam.  Hope you like it friend.  :o)  You would have loved it in real life!

HUGE tree.  With really cool "Medicine Man" type flowers growing at the very top.
Cute, very friendly Kaqchiquel (I assume?  That's the group of Mayan people who live in this area...) kids I encountered on my way home.  They gave me gum!  lol
Bouquet of flowers I got from the kiddos.
Fuego sending up a little puff of smoke!
Another delicious dinner last night, followed by chatting with Evan and a bunch of the other guests, including a Peace Corps chick who was here with her mother. This girl (whose name I don't think I ever learned) isn't being relocated but I had talked to a bunch of Peace Corps volunteers up in San Marcos before I left and they were all being relocated due to perceived violence in the highlands, which is just ridiculous because if there is anywhere that is safe in Guatemala it's in the highlands!  

Today I treated myself to the bacon cheeseburger, which was 60 Q but sounded delicious so I HAD to have it.  I haven't had a burger since the ones I had for Feorella's birthday.  The bacon was pretty awesome but I honestly think Mimi's burgers were better!

February 27th

I don't remember what it was that interrupted me while writing my last post but I haven't really had time to journal since!

To continue updating... I ended up talking with Chimene for a huge chunk of the day on Saturday. We started talking at like 9:30 or 10 and I don't think we stopped until like 3:30! 

Another delicious dinner followed by a night of amazing conversation with Chimene, Stacy, Tom and a Korean girl named Bo who is teaching meditation in Guatemala City. All of them have been traveling off and on for like 10-15 years so it was really neat to listen to all of their stories- they are all so experienced and worldly and I feel so ignorant talking to them! I hadn't really talked to Stacy or Tom before that but they both work here- Stacy had working here for like 10 months and I think she'd been gone on vacation or something and was just coming back to see everyone on her way to Mexico, and Tom has been here since September or October and plans to be here for another few months. Both of them are really interesting people and the more time I spend with Tom the more I enjoy her. She told me about this travelling band of people that go everywhere on horseback and visit different villages performing for a small fee. Amazing! Who knew that such things existed outside of books!!? I can't really perform a thing but I would love to learn poi and I can cook and contribute in other ways so it sounds pretty f-ing cool and I really hope to check that out.  This night was definitely one of the best nights of my vacation so far.
Sunset- with the new moon in attendance!
Yesterday was the annual Earth Lodge corn hole competition, which made me think so much about my friends Susan and Jonathan, who introduced me to the wonders of corn hole a year or so ago. Corn hole is a yard game that is popular in the midwest (of the US) where you toss a bean bag at a wooden box with a slanty top that has a hole in it. A bag in the hole gets you 3 points, one on the box gets you 1 point and points cancel each other out- so if the person you are playing against gets one in the hole and you get three on the box the net score is zero.

Evan had a friend come up or I might have had to play! :D Not that I would have minded playing just for the hell of it but it was a competition and I wouldn't burden anyone with having me for a partner! :D
Evan, looking sharp!
So, it was a fun day of watching people play and chatting with Hannah, a girl who has been camping here but who I hadn't seen much of due to her having a bit of a stomach bug (Welcome to Guatemala!), and a Canadian woman named Natalie.  They grilled burgers and also had these baked ham sandwiches that were pretty phenomenal.  Though, I really think my favorite lunch has been the marinated eggplant with homemade pesto!  Those of you who know how serious of a carnivore I am know how great that sandwich must have been for me to chose it as my favorite!

Stacy had made a special request for her last dinner and I offered to help Tom in the kitchen. We made “happy balls” which are balls of fried deliciousness that you make with leftover (mashed) potatoes and whatever fresh veg you feel like tossing in; she had also put some mashed garbonzo beans in the mix. I was in charge of a salad, which was pretty basic except that we added some toasted flax, cardamom and pepitoria (a type of squash here) seeds and she used a handful of some type of spice that I wasn't familiar with, which I think was from somewhere near her home country of Israel. We also made fresh pitas and she had baked some veg with one of the most delicious marinades I've ever tasted in my life! For dessert Stacy had requested fried plantains baked in a bunch of alcohol (and set on fire, but I don't think that happened!).

There was a bit of a party for Stacy's last night but Tom and I were chatting so when it got loud we moved into the movie room where it was a bit more quiet and after a bit Chimene joined us. At one point there was dancing and moonwalking happening on the big table in the main room of the lodge! : D

I woke up early so I could say goodbye to Stacy and Chimene. If it had just been Stacy I probably would have slept in because I barely know her and I knew she would be preoccupied with saying goodbye to her crew but I hadn't gotten a picture of either her or Chimene and I definitely wanted to say goodbye to Chimene! It's the weirdest thing but I totally didn't feel like I'd only known her for a couple of days. There have been few times in my life that I have had such a feeling of familiarity with a person I've only just met- so few in fact that I can't even think of another example... She said she felt the same way so it was nice to know that I made as much of an impression on her as she made on me. She said she has a feeling our paths will cross again someday. I hope so.  
From left to right, Stacy, me, Chimene and Tom.  Probably SHOULD have taken off the blanket/robe thing that I had found in the movie room but it was deliciously warm!
It's now about 9 am on my last day here (full day- I'll have to leave tomorrow) and I'm getting ready to go on a hike with Tom.

February 28

The hike was awesome; Hannah came with us but turned back halfway there because her stomach was still bothering her. We ended up hiking a loop around the previous hike I had done and the first half of the hike involved some “bush wacking” as we managed to take a wrong turn and our trail eventually deteriorated to what we think was probably a bunch of kid's trails through the forest! Much of the time was spent climbing up hills steep enough to necessitate the use of our hands. Good times though!
Hannah, and (almost invisible) Tom walking up a hill in one of the clearer areas.

Tom has a wonderful connection with the Earth.  She was barefoot for most of our hike.

Really tiny and SUPER SUPER vibrant (my camera is shit!) Indian Paintbrush (?).
We eventually found our destination- a “pila” in the middle of nowhere! Pilas are sinks that Latin American people use to wash their clothes. They usually consist of a shallow, sloped sink that often has ridges on the bottom of it (like a built-in washing board) and then one or two other, deeper sinks filled with water. You wash clothes (or dishes) in the shallow side and then rinse with water you scoop from the deep side. So, yeah. Pila in the middle of nowhere- seriously! There may have been a family or two living within a couple of kilometers of the pila but the closest actual town was at least an hour's walk away! Unfortuantely we only had a few minutes to hang there because Tom had to get back to make dinner.

Looking down onto the pila
This picture is actually of these weird wormy looking deposits (or maybe they are creatures?  I don't know!  I spent at least 5 minutes trying to figure which they were!) on the sides of the pila but if you have a fantastic imagination (or are on some type of hallucinogen!) it looks like a scene out of Dune, with a night sky behind two of the giant worms... or maybe it's just me!  :D

I had an amazing time at Earth Lodge, really didn't want to leave and even up until the point where I put my pack on and started hiking out I was still really close to booking for another three days!  Luckily there is this wonderful thing called technology so I can stay in touch with all the amazing people I met there.

I'm back in Antigua at the Jungle Party hostel again.  Not sure where I'll go next!  Was thinking about Monte Rico but apparently it's not turtle season anymore so that sort-of squashes my motivation to go there.  Not sure why I am not just moving on to the lake already... maybe tomorrow...

Goodbye Earth Lodge!  I will miss you!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

2012 February 18-22 Antigua

February 20th

Diana ended up staying in Guatemala City for a date so I went to the bus station with Mimy; she had asked some of her friends to drive us so that was nice to not have to navigate public transportation in one of the most dangerous cities in the world!  Otto came with us so at least my goodbyes were spread out- Diana at the house, Otto at the bus station and Mimy on the bus, which was passing the place I needed to catch the bus to Antigua so Mimy had asked the people at the bus station if I could ride with her until then and be dropped off, which was awesome.  The power of knowing people!  :o)

I knew saying goodbye to Mimy was going to be the hardest, but luckily the rush of having to exit the bus and not being entirely sure where I needed to catch the next bus provided enough of a distraction that I didn't get too emotional during the actual goodbye, though I shed a tear to two while trying to explain to her how much I would miss her and how important she has become to me.  It's pretty unreal to have someone make so much of an impact on your life in such a short amount of time.  It certainly doesn't feel like I've only known her for two months.

Making the transfer ended up being totally effortless.  I departed the bus, asked one of the first people I saw where I could catch a bus to Antigua, they pointed and there was the bus, only a few car lengths behind the bus I'd just gotten off of!

The ride was only a little longer than an hour but arriving in Antigua was a bit of a surprise.  The trip had passed very quickly and the city of Antigua is not as glamorous as I had been expecting from what I had read about it.  It's not a lot different from many of the other towns I've visited, except for the many churches/cathedrals and manicured parks and squares.  The outskirts especially seemed very “typical Guatemalan town” and the route the bus took didn't pass anything that immediately identified the town as Antigua so I wasn't even sure we were IN Antigua until we arrived at the terminal and everyone departed the bus.  Even then, I have had enough experiences with getting off the bus at the wrong place that I asked someone to make sure it WAS Antigua!

My first Antigua experience was the mercado, which is right next to the bus station and F-ing HUGE.  I'm talking an area about 3 square city blocks, with very little actual organization that I could see.  I didn't spend a ton of time there but focused on finding my hostel.  I had chosen the “Jungle Party” hostel because it was Saturday night and they were supposedly having an “all-you-can-eat" Saturday B-B-Q.

Found the hostel easily enough, despite the fact that only about 1 in 5 intersections has any identifying information posted- and then it's usually only one street.  So, lots of asking people “¿Que calle/avenida es esto?” is in order when you visit Antigua.  I checked into the hostel and had gotten my stuff situated before I thought to ask about the BBQ and kitchen access.  It turns out that they don't have kitchen access for guests and they only do the BBQ when they are basically completely full (and the place was already what I would consider pretty packed- I'd hate to see it at capacity!).  Besides being lacking in kitchen access, the place was just entirely too busy, loud and full of other white people for me.  After having spent 2 months in places where I hardly ever see another white person I was entirely overwhelmed by the multitudes!  So, I stayed for the one night but changed hostels the next day.

The hostel was actually pretty cool and I'm sure it would have been just my type of place if I was 10 years younger.  Lots of travelers from all over the world, several chill hang out spots including a handful of hammocks/hammock chairs and a movie room, bar service and a pretty extensive menu of both food and drink.  And wifi!  And, breakfast is included in the price of the bed (50 Q for me, in the “loft” which is a large attic that runs the entire length of the hostel and has probably somewhere around 25 beds in it).  So, it's really a pretty good deal if you want to meet other travelers and don't mind spending the money on eating out.
One of the communal areas at the Jungle Party Hostel.

I did meet a couple of travelers on Saturday night, who told me of a place that served Middle Eastern food.  I have to admit, after 2 months of typical Guatemalan food, something different sounded pretty damn good so I had to splurge and spent 31 Q on my beef schwaorma.  It was delicious!

I returned to the hostel completely stuffed and passed on going out with my new friends (Juao and Dobrosia, from Portugal and Poland, respectively), opting instead to chill at the hostel and work on my blog.  I know, I'm so boring!  But, drinking out is expensive and I'm sure it's even more so at bars in Antigua; prices are hugely inflated here due to the huge influx of tourists.  Also, the main reason I would have gone would be to hang out and chat and the music is usually too loud to really be conducive to that.

Juao and Dobrosia have a really amusing relationship.  They met only a couple days before I met them, in Lago de Atitlan, where Dobrosia was “stuck” in San Pedro, not really liking it because it was too mellow for her but not really bothered by it enough to actually move on.  So, they've really only known each other for like 4 days but Juao is always saying mean stuff to her, in a joking manner, of course.  They came back from the bar intoxicated enough to not care about being quiet and probably woke the whole loft but I was still awake so I was highly amused by their conversation!

The next morning I had a somewhat lazy morning and enjoyed a delicious breakfast of fruit with granola and honey, then checked out of the hostel (but left my bags there and) went out to walk around the city.  I had checked out several other hostels and had found one I was pretty sure I would move to until I heard about a cheap taco place where the owner also runs a small hostel from this guy Kyle who was working the front desk of the hostel.  On my way to learn more I got sidetracked at the Cathedral of San Jose, which is the oldest church in Antigua (and there are a TON of cathedrals and churches in Antigua!) and was mostly destroyed by an earthquake in 1773.  I spent about 30 minutes walking all around the cathedral taking pictures of the artwork and architecture, which is an interesting blend of Catholicism and Maya.  Here's the Wikipedia site for anyone who wants to learn more:

From the west side of the cathedral
A painting that was done just before construction finished on the cathedral.

I did a little more wandering around after that, overshooting the taco place at least once due to the lack of street signs and the plethora of churches and other places with interesting architecture that kept catching my eye.  I finally found the taco place after finding and taking photos of at least six or seven other churches/cathedrals and many other interesting buildings.  “Chef Mario” was very friendly and agreed to rent me a room for 40 Q per night, kitchen access included.  Wheee!  But no internet.  :o(  Though, I figured it wouldn't kill me to not have internet for a few days.  Mario was in a rush and didn't have time to show me the room but I liked the look of it and was pretty sure I would stay there.

A small handful of the photos I took in Antigua:

I had made plans to eat with Dobrosia and Juao at the cheap taco place so I went back to the Jungle Hostel to get them and we walked back to the taco place- “Tacos Cancun”, where we had a delicious, cheap meal- three small tacos, a bowl of soup and a glass of refresco (the name here for juice or another cold beverage, usually uncarbonated) for 15 Q.  After lunch I was able to see the room (only one dorm, with four beds, though I think there are at least two private rooms here) and it was very cute, on the second floor with two sturdy wooden bunkbeds and a couple of small tables for putting stuff on, so I told Marco (one of Mario's friends who works here) that I would be back in a few hours with my things.

After lunch the three of us went shopping to get stuff for dinner, which we had decided to cook at my new hostel.  We grabbed some pasta and tomato sauce from the store and some fresh veg from the mercado, where I discovered how hugely inflated prices are here!  Also, most of the vendors (all indigena) are completely unwilling to bargain with you what-so-ever.  Not only do they not bargain but if you try to bargain they often become very rude, talking with each other in spanish or whatever Mayan dialect they speak here and completely ignoring anything more you have to say.  Needless to say, I walked away from more than one stand thoroughly annoyed.  However, I did find one kid who was a little more reasonable than the rest and we left the mercado with one (large!) carrot, two small zuccini, an onion and an eggplant, for four Q.  More than I would have paid in the mercado in El Mosquito but not terrible in the grand scheme of things!  Total cost for our meal: about 25 Q.  So, still cheaper than eating out- even if we had bought meat (which would have probably tacked on another 25-30 Q?).

I had attempted to get some fruit for my breakfasts but was not making much progress and felt bad making Juao and Dobrosia wait so we left the mercado to find out more about the Pacaya volcano (one of the three active volcanoes in Guatemala!) tour that the two of them wanted to do the next morning.  We found a place that arranged tours and peppered the girl working there with questions.  The cost for transportation was 75 Q, which I wasn't really excited about considering that it was only about a 3 hour journey round trip and the cost for transportation via chicken bus, and sometimes even on the pullmans, runs right around 10 Q per hour.  Then there was a 50 Q entrance fee at the park.  At 125 Q it was a bit more than I was really excited about spending but it's not every day you get to hike an active volcano so I decided I could justify the expense!

Decision made, we made plans to meet at my new hostel at 8 pm and Juao and Dobrosia went to the hostel while I returned to the mercado to buy some fruit and basic groceries for the next few days.  I ended up spending more money than I should have but left the mercado with a bunch of about 8 bananas, an apple, a nectarine, a mango, a pear, a bag of 5 sweet breads, a bag of re-fried black beans, 6 eggs and a bulb of garlic for about 40 Q.
Juao and me getting ready to cook dinner

Dinner turned out pretty good.  It would have been better with meat, or the mushrooms that I found at the last fruit stand I stopped at but forgot to buy (which is probably a good thing because, considering that I haven't seen fresh mushrooms since I left Mexico I think hearing what the price was probably would have given me a coronary).  We hung out talking a bit with Marco and Kevin, the 15 year-old boy who works in the kitchen, then called it a night.

There were two other people in my room that night- a woman I never actually met, who snored louder than anyone I've ever heard in my life, and Kevin.  He was in the bunk above me and kept poking his head over to talk to me.  At one point he asked if he could sit on the bed with me and read my book, which is in English and he doesn't speak English!  After an uncomfortable conversation about why I wasn't ok with that he was quiet for a few minutes only to poke his head over the side again and ask if I was mad (no) and ask I had movies on my computer (yes, but I was reading, not watching a movie- which he already knew since he had asked if he could read with me!) then spent about 1 minute just watching me.  When I asked him what he was doing he said he was reading English (lol upside down!  Ok, whatever!).  It was pretty awkward to have someone just sit there staring at me (or my computer, if that was true!) but I just tried to ignore him and after about 5 minutes he stopped and returned to his own space, thankfully!  At which point I re-read everything I had “read” the previous 5 minutes but been too distracted to actually process!  When I told Juao and Dobrosia about that later Juao said he thinks Kevin's in love.  : D  Weird night!

The next day I had a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt and granola, which is my favorite breakfast for when I'm in a hostel and can't be bothered with cooking in the morning!  I think I eat very balanced meals when I am doing my own thing, actually!  Anyway, breakfast, lots of coffee, and writing in my journal occupied most of my morning and then Juao and Dobrosia were back for lunch, after which we returned to the hostel to wait (forever) for the shuttle.  All was well though; they finally showed up and we were off to Volcan Pacaya!

The trip was about an hour and a half and took us almost all the way back to Guatemala City- actually into the outskirts of Villa Nueva, which is a city southwest of Guatemala City where there is a lot of gang activity and violence.  Luckily we didn't stop!

When we reached the trailhead we were amused to find about six or seven local people with horses they wanted to rent us, along with at least as many local boys wanting to give us walking sticks, asking over and over, “stick?  stick?”.  Even more amusing was when all of the people with horses mounted up and started coming with us!  For the first half of the way they asked us at almost every turn if we wanted a “taxi”.  It was amusing for about the first two or three times but it started to get annoying pretty fast!
It was pretty foggy at the trail-head and I wasn't sure we'd even be able to see anything when we reached the top!  We covered about 1500 feet in 3.5 kilometers- not terribly difficult but a nice workout to say the least!  It was foggy for most of our ascent and a good portion of the time we were hanging around at the end of the trail so that was a bit of a disappointment but it did clear up a bit before we headed back down so that was good, though we were in a spot where we couldn't see much besides what was in our immediate vicinity (not the sweeping views I had been hoping for).

Our guide

We couldn't hike all the way to the top of the volcano because the crater is still too fragile from the last eruption, which was only like TWO or THREE years ago.  So, that was a little sad because I'm pretty sure every one of us thought there would be lava involved!  We did get to see a little “natural oven”- a small area where it's hot enough that you can roast marshmallows or even cook meat!  Damnit!  Wish I'd known that!

There was also a little cavern that we could walk into and then climb out of, and I'm happy to say that I DID rise to that challenge!  Not that it was particularly difficult but most of the other girls opted out.

Volcan Fuego was looking quite picturesque around sunset, with tons of clouds on it's left and a mostly clear sky on the right.  I took at least 50 pictures of the sunset.  Typical me!

It was too late to get food from the mercado to make our own dinner when we returned to town so we decided to go to the Indian place for dinner again!  Two of the people from our group, a guy named Garet and a girl named Rachel, joined us and we all left the place stuffed to the gills.  It was somewhat late by that time so we all went our separate ways.

When I returned to the hostel I made some tea and was in my room grabbing my shower stuff when I heard yelling from downstairs.  I listened for a few minutes and it turned into scuffling and banging and it became obvious pretty quickly that there was a fight going on in one of the rooms downstairs!  After a minute it diminished so I went back downstairs with my stuff and sat outside to enjoy my tea and have a cigarette.  As I came down the stairs I saw Marco standing in the doorway breathing hard.  He shut the door when he saw me coming and I thought that was the end of it but no!  More yelling and fighting ensued later, and at one point Mario went to the door and let two cops inside!  Talk about awkward.  I don't really know what was going on, but the cops just stood there for about five minutes and then left so not really sure why they even came in in the first place!  Another weird night.

Tomorrow the three of us have decided to take a trip to Monterrico, which is about a 4-5 hour trip from here, I think.  Ugh... Not really looking forward to the commute but it's turtle season and we can buy and release a baby turtle.  :o)

Haven't decided what to do with my stuff yet... I was feeling ok with leaving it here until tonight but now I am thinking I might just take it to the Jungle Party hostel... decisions, decisions!

February 21st

Well, as usual, plans changed!  While I was making breakfast in the morning Mario came out and talked to me, apologizing again for the fight.  I told him it was cool, that I understood that people had fights from time to time and it wasn't a big deal but that I WAS a little uncomfortable about it and I could tell there was still tension so I was planning to move on and I hoped he understood.  He said that of course he did but then a few minutes later he came back and said "I really don't want you to go" and then explained that he and Marco were fighting because they were lovers and Marco had gotten a phone call from his ex and had been all nice with her on the phone!

So, I decided to leave my big bag there and packed my small bag for Monterrico.  But then when I got to the hostel we talked a bit and looked more at my book and it looked like it was a long way on the chicken bus (like 5 hours and three transfers, which would put us into Monterrico in the late afternoon, requiring us to hire a private lancha to get across the mangrove channel) and the only shuttle (2.5 hours) that goes to Monterrico on Tuesdays leaves at 8 am.  So, no Monterrico.  Which was actually fine with me since I've already seen what Guatemalan beaches are like and the costs for transportation, food and room for a night would have been around $40- a little much to spend on one day.  Though I AM sad about not being able to buy and release a baby turtle.  :o(

We opted instead for a chill morning at the hostel- I grabbed my computer from my hostel and caught up on some emailing and then let Juao and Dobrosia use it to do whatever they needed to do, and we swapped photos.  A girl named Matilda asked if she could use my computer for a few minutes but we were in a bit of a hurry because Juao was going on to Guatemala City that and we wanted to get some lunch beforehand so I just told her to keep it safe until I got back.

We shared a pizza for lunch and then walked to the bus station with Juao.  On the way we walked through the mercado and he bought a new bag for his camera (the seam was coming undone on his old one) for 10 Q.  :o)

I keep forgetting to mention how the indigenous women tie their babies to their backs!  This one is actually different from a lot of them that I see.  I need to try to get a picture because it looks very efficient!
Dobrosia and I went to the supermarket because she needed some things and then we walked back to the hostel, where Matilda was nowhere to be found!  I wasn't worried about the computer but I was a little surprised that she had left, especially when I asked the girl at the front desk and it became apparent that she'd only left like 20 or 30 minutes after us!  So, I waited around for my computer for about 2 hours which was slightly annoying because the main reason I was there at the hostel instead of walking around the city was to try to get my blog updated!  But, I shouldn't have assumed she was going to be around the hostel all day either so it was my own damn fault.  When she returned she asked if she could use it really quickly and of course I said yes because I'm a nice person but then I ended up waiting for like 30 minutes before I finally went and got it from her!

While I was waiting for my computer a guy had given me a flyer about some "cascarone war" that was happening in the park at 5 pm so Dobrosia and I went to check that out.  Cascarones are empty eggs (like when you make two holes and blow the insides out and save them for easter eggs) filled with confetti/flour/glitter (?) and decorated with what looks like bits of crepe paper.  It wasn't quite as extensive as I thought it was going to be and we probably would have had more fun if we had bought some cascarones and participated but I couldn't be bothered to go buy cascarones and it was pretty entertaining just to watch!  It was fun to see the indigena participating, especially the little girls and the shoe shine boys.  I have forgotten to talk about them but they are young boys ranging in age from about 6 to 12 that loiter in touristy areas and offer to shine shoes.

We returned to the Jungle Party hostel and I uploaded my Guatemala City blog post while Dobrosia made herself some soup (you aren't supposed to bring your own food and drink into the hostel but she has this cool little electric kettle that is about the size of a large coffee cup!  I want one!).  We chatted for a few minutes after I'd finished uploading my post but by that time I was pretty hungry and getting cold so I returned to my hostel to eat the leftover pasta from the dinner we had cooked here on Sunday night and spent some time resizing my pictures and writing in my journal.  I probably should have hung out with her a bit more since I don't know if I'll see her again but she and Juao are both headed to Utilla sometime in the next two weeks so hopefully I'll see them somewhere in Honduras.  It's now about 10 pm and I have to get my bag packed because my shuttle leaves at 10 am!  I'm hoping to go to the Jungle Party hostel early enough to see Dobrosia off but we said our goodbyes tonight just in case I don't make it!

I'm headed to Earth Lodge tomorrow, which is a finca in the hills above Jocetenango, a little town just northwest of Antigua.  I had already circled it in my book before I met Suzanne but she told me more about it (she worked there for 6 weeks) so it's been on my "definitely need to do" list since then.  It sounds very tranquil and lovely.  I haven't practiced a lick of Castellano since leaving San Marcos, other than just talking to people, so it's time to get back to my studies!  I've booked three nights there because they have a deal where you pay for two and stay for three.

February 22

Totally found a used condem in my bed last night!  As in, the bed I slept in for two nights!  Disgusting.  I don't think I've ever been more thankful for my sleeping bag liner, which I use any time I'm sleeping in hostels or hotels mostly as a protection against bedbugs even though I check for those everywhere I stay.  So.  Changed beds and spoke to Mario about it in the morning.  The proper thing to do, in my mind, would have been to offer a discount for those couple of nights but, whatever.  I think the place could actually be really great if they get these kinks ironed out!  I told Mario I would recommend people if he PROMISED that the beds would be changed after every patron from now on.  So.  Of course I can't really trust that will happen but I did enjoy my time there despite the strange thing (though really could have done without any of those three things!) and I will at the very least write a little about it in my Guatemala Loney Planet, which I will ditch when I leave Guatemala.

To be continued in my Earth Lodge post...