THINGS WE LEARNED: 1. Just because you have a 'Guatemalan Expert' for a guide, doesn't mean it's safe! 2. Always add 2 hours to every bus ride
INTERESTING FACT: Volcan Pacaya is 2552m high, and is a fully active volcano! It is interesting that we climbed it and THEN read the warnings about unexpected eruptions in Lonely Planet!
THIS IS HOW CHEAP WE ARE: We have finished an entire jug of peanut butter and several loaves of bread in the last couple of weeks.
THIS IS HOT!
We had another uncomfortable ride from Lanquin to Antigua, and arrived mid day. It was dull and cloudy, an excellent day to travel, but masked the beauty of the city upon our arrival. Thinking that we were getting pretty savey about picking out the perfect hostel by now, we walked around the city for over an hour with our heavy packs hanging off our shoulders, climbing up stairs of hostel after hostel but not finding one that quite satisfied. At one quite luxurious accommodation, the secretary informed us the price was 125. We couldn't believe it! What a deal, the place was absolutely gorgeous with marble floors, cable TV and granite counter tops. Chad imagined jumping up and down on the bed like Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber, yelling "we'll take it". We handed over 125 Quatzales to the smartly dressed women behind the counter. With a barely detectable smirk, which turned into a full laugh, she informed us that the price was $120 US dollars, not $125Q (off by a factor of about 8). Completely embarrassed, we sheepishly followed the bellhop up the winding staircase and through the grand wooden doors to "our" suit, collected our weathered bags off the canopy bed, and sulked back out into the street.
After that, we just accepted a room at Umaguma Hostel, across the street for $100Q. The ground floor room had no windows, smelled old and musty, and the sheets were stained. We likened it to living in a cave. We fell asleep dreaming of the other hotel, and vowing to find something better for Chad's birthday in 2 days!
The following morning, we found an incredible hostel.
Ironically, it was the first one we visited upon getting off the bus the day before, but our judgment had been clouded by their lack of Wifi. We got a gorgeous, clean room on the top floor of Yellow House, with an incredible view of the volcano through an entire wall of windows for only $130Q. We wandered the town for the morning, with incredible views of looming volcanoes around every corner.
What a tour! We took a bus for over an hour, up a winding road to what seemed like it must be the top of the volcano. When we spilled out of the minibus, we were surrounded by children selling walking sticks, with filthy clothing and snot streaked faces. We bartered a 5 year old down to 2 walking sticks for 5Q (we aren't proud), and started the steep hike up the mountain. It was tough going, with a footing of deep dust and a steep incline. As we climbed, the wind got stronger and stronger, reaching tremendous force at the top.
As we neared the top of our climb, the trees and shrubs disappeared, and the footing abruptly changed into deep black volcanic sand, which the wind tossed up into the faces of the people behind. The sand then gave way to loose rocks of crusted dried lava, crystalline and sharp, and threatening to tumble down the steep incline beneath us. By now, we were clambering up the loose rocks on hands and knees, desperately trying not to be blown off the side of the mountain.
An intense heat radiated from the earth as we neared the top of the climb. A glance up from the complicated terrain revealed the source of the heat. Thick, orange, molten lava gushed from the crusted mountainside less than 2 feet from where we stood. Our guide grabbed my walking stick and mashed it into the lava, offering Chad a great photo. After watching Mother Nature's fury for several minutes, we started to get the uncomfortable feeling that perhaps this wasn't the safest place for us to be.
This feeling was strengthened when another 10, 20, 50 people came gasping up the thin strip of rocks beside the lava. There was some stumbling, some tumbling rocks, some crying dogs, and some bleeding legs as hoards of people tried to see the lava, while other tried to push their way up and down. We scrambled down the rocks, narrowly avoiding falling boulders, until we felt we were a safe distance from the commotion.
Looking up, we were astounded to see that the width of the lava was triple what it had been before our ascent. Only in Guatemala.
The sunset view of the neighboring volcanoes was one of the most beautiful that we have ever seen, with one volcano offering a quick spew of black smoke just as the sky turned red. We hiked the rest of the way down with headlamps in the dark, glad to have done the hike, but also glad to be finished with all our limbs intact!
Chad's 30th birthday was far from a drunken fiesta. We hung out in hammocks overlooking the volcano, did some laundry, and went out for a nice dinner. We shared a "meat feast" at a local steakhouse that offered a sizzling plate of steak, chicken, ribs, sausage, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, and veggies for about $25 Canadian. Then we shared a bottle of wine on our rooftop patio and played the only two 2 player card games that we know.
I suppose that we should be getting used to the little mini buses and shuttles of Guatemala, but just when you think it can't get any worse, you will be astonished. Our ride from Antigua to San Pedro took 2 hours longer than the proposed 3 hours. Most of this was because the driver had no idea where any of the hostels were, and spent an hour searching for a hostel named "Playstation" which eventually turned out to be called "Place to stay". He was a creepy guy with slicked back hair and a couple of teeth, and frequently horked a mouthful of phlegm out the window, half of which flew right back in the window and landed on the unfortunate sole behind him, Steph. He was an absolute nut, laughing hysterically for no no reason throughout the trip, and constantly pulsing the gas and brake the entire trip.