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...

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