Tuk-Tuks and Cobblestone: 3 Weeks in Antigua

Trip Start Sep 26, 2010
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Trip End Jul 26, 2011


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Where I stayed
With Familia Cruz near Avenida Santo

Flag of Guatemala  , Western Highlands,
Sunday, September 26, 2010

The taxi driver took us in the right direction. My Indian companion, Pershy, had pre-arranged a hotel through a travel agency, so that is where we went. After an hour drive, we made it to Antigua. The cab driver didn't have to tell us we were here though, the cobblestone streets did the trick. It's no wonder few people have cars here: the bumpy roads leave you with a headache and a spilled drink. 
 
We got to Pershy's hotel where the Spanish speaking receptionist charged me 5 dollars to make a final call to Robert, but I still got no answer. It looked like I was paying for a room tonight. The hotel was full, but the receptionist called his sister hotel where I stayed in a one room- three bed hotel with internet access for 35 dollars. Way over my budget, but it would have to do tonight. 

The next morning I explored Antigua, searching for 6a Avenida Norte where my school was. I managed to find it, and was greeted warmly, as they sensed my discontent with the situation they put me through last night. Supposedly, the Airline information showed that the flight was staying in Honduras for the night. 

Things quickly got sorted out, and I took a Tuk-Tuk (Took-Took) back to my hotel to get my bags before going to my host family's house for lunch. A Tuk-Tuk is a covered three-wheeler that can turn on a dime and rides like an old wooden roller coaster. This is the cheapest and easiest way to get around Antigua, besides walking of course. The ride cost me 25 Quetzales.

1 dollar= 8 Quetzales, so about three dollars.

After meeting the family and enjoying my first typical Guatemalan meal, I made the two-minute walk to school for my first four hours of class. Things were finally starting to become routine.


WEEK ONE IN ANTIGUA (10/1):


Antigua is an old colonial town, with colonial architecture and many old churches. Antigua means old in Spanish. It is surrounded by two dormant volcanoes: Volcan de Agua (Water) and Volcan Acatenango, and one active Volcano: Volcan de Fuego (Fire). It has rained every day since I've been here, which is typical this time of year. The temperature has been in the 60's and 70's, getting down to as low as 55 at night. 

Nevertheless, I have had plenty of time to explore Antigua and see some of the ancient churches and ruins. It has been impossible to hike any of the volcanos as the roads are closed off from the rains, so hopefully that will change next week.

My Family: There are six people in my host family. The two Grandparents: Ignacio and Lucia, the parents: Edgar and Elsa, and the two children: Brian (5) and Kimberly (12). This is typical in Guatemalan culture for the family to stay together. Lucia cooks the majority of the meals and is an outstanding chef. I have had the luxury of enjoying home made tortillas with almost every meal, arroz con pollo, frijoles negros, aguacate, fried plantains, various soups, chile relleno, pancakes, papaya, tamales, and hand-squeezed lemonade. 
I have my own room and bathroom with a hot shower (a luxury in Guatemala). The showers are tricky to keep warm; however, as it is electrically heated in the shower head, so the higher the water pressure the colder it gets. It forces me to find the perfect balance between warmth and pressure. 
 
Their house is less of a house than a duplex connected with hundreds of others on each side. The top floor is where the family lives and is an open balcony overlooking Volcan de Agua. There is a small living room with one small tv, and a small kitchen with just enough room for an eight person table in the dining room. This is where I eat all my meals. It is not typical for families to all eat together, so sometimes we will eat all together and other times it will just be me and Ignacio, talking about soccer, life in Antigua, or the local rons y cervezas.

Cerro de La Cruz: Today (10/4), after a 376 step walk up the stairs through the forest, I stepped into the clearing with an awe-inspiring view of Antigua that I shared with a cross perched on the hillside that is as old as Antigua. The Guatemaltekos recommended I take a police escort to the top and back down, as the thiefs expect rich tourists to visit here. But after following Isabel, my police escort, to the top, I couldn't leave in the 20 minutes she gave us. I hope you can enjoy some of the pictures I took, but there is no way they do it justice.

La Escuela: My School is very good. Other than the mix up the first night, I have had no problems. My teacher's name is Lisbeth. My classes are four hours long with a thirty minute day, and it is just one on one. Classes consist of grammar and vocabulary practice, but it is generally just us talking about our days or culture or random stories, which is really the best practice. Lisbeth is funny and laughs at my attempts at jokes in Spanish, so the four hours usually fly by and my Spanish is getting better quickly.
Nothing is better than when someone I just met tells me my Spanish is good. I'm hoping to get that more and more, as this is only week one.

Nightlife:
The national beer is Gallo (Rooster). This is what pretty much everyone drinks, other than liquor. The drinks are cheap at the grocery store (4 dollars for 750mL of Rum, 3.50 for a liter of Gallo), but expensive at the bars, as expected. Antigua is a decent sized city that is known for it's Spanish schools, so there are many bars and clubs where both the locals and extranjeros have a good time together. Maybe I'll share some stories at the end of my time here. 

The most popular bars are Monoloco (crazy monkey), a two story Americanized bar that shows every sporting event on one of the 30 TVs scattered throughout the bar. Sin Ventura is a dance club next door, which is a perfect place to go after having a few drinks at Monoloco. The Black Cat is a hostel/bar where many people hang out and drink, and there is a famous Irish bar called O'Reilly's that many people visit for the festive Irish drinking atmosphere. With the many Spanish schools and visitors, there is always something to do in downtown Antigua.

WEEK TWO:
 
Volcan Pacaya (10/5):

A week ago, I overheard a conversation in Spanish, "So are you going to visit Volcan Pacaya?" "No, I think its too dangerous with the recent eruptions and all."
 
Yea, Right.

The first clear day we had in Antigua I signed up for the trip to Volcan Pacaya (Puh-kie-yuh). We left at two in the afternoon packed 15 deep into 12 seater bus. An hour and a half later we arrived at the base of the Volcano with an hour and a half climb ahead of us. (Side note: don't waste your 10 Quetzales on the sticks the locals sell you at the base of the Volcano. Definitely buy the marshmallows, but trust me, the locals didn't clear every damn stick from the volcano.)
  
We had one guide, and a caravan of horses trailing us. The guide explained that you can spend 100 Quetzales on a ride up, and 100 to come back down. Everyone laughed at the offer, confident in their abilities to make it to the top, and not eager to waste their money. Me and an Irish man named Rob led the way to the top, talking about our travels. Rob is traveling from here down to Argentina as well, so I may have made a good contact/ travel partner on my way south. Thirty minutes into the hike, we were passed by a man and woman trotting by on horseback, 65 Quetzales later. 
 
With every step, Volcan de Agua grew larger to our south, as the peak of Pacaya slowly came into our grasps. We finally summited to a breathtaking view of Pacaya: red magma rock scattered among the sea of black and brown with the gases from deep in the earth's core barreling over the twin peaks. There was only one peak until May of this year when the largest eruption in history broke the peak open, sending flying chunks of rock and lava into the sky, killing one reporter, injuring dozens, and destroying one mountain side village. 
 
We then set off the beaten path, led by our guide, and stumbled over 200 yards of razor sharp lava rock until we were blasted by a wave of heat. There we stood, 3,500 feet over civilization, with underground rivers of lava flowing just below our feet and a parking spot-sized hole next to us where the heat could escape. The summit had grown cold, so the pockets of heat were a delight, but standing within three feet was unbearable. You could actually see the heat rippling out of the ground, blurring the view of anything behind it.

This was as far as we could go. Between the sulfurous gases, intense wind, and lava heated rock, any closer to the top was too dangerous. Some of these rocks gave off fumes that dotted the field of black rock with dancing smoke. The Volcano felt alive.
 
"Es tiempo para cocinar los marshmallows."
 
I whipped out the free stick I found on the way up and toasted three marshmallows to perfection. It took all of 2 seconds for them to cook, and the hair on my left arm seared away,  but I must say that lava cooked marshmallows surpass any others. Graham crackers and Hershey's would have made my life complete.  

Just as we began our descent from the top of Pacaya, the sky to the south cleared allowing us to see Volcan de Fuego, Agua, and Acatenango each peering over the clouds, with the sun setting behind it all. It was absolutely breathtaking. 

We skied down the gravel path in less than 30 minutes fighting the 35 mph winds and left Pacaya by 6:30pm. At 9pm that evening, the ground shook, followed by a small eruption from the Volcano we left not three hours prior.
 
It was alive.

Last Week in Antigua (Updated on 10/16):


Yesterday, at a quarter to six I sat on the second floor of my school about to finish class when my teacher knocked the table making my drink fall over, but our table wasn't the only one shaking. I finally grasped the situation when my teacher said, "hay un temblor." An earthquake. We quickly made our way outside as the alarms rang throughout the city. My teacher was nervous, which is understandable considering a massive earthquake in 1977 killed twenty-five thousand people in and around Antigua, but I could do nothing but smile. It was another first for me, adding to the new experiences I've had in Antigua.
 
The Ruins: Scattered throughout Antigua are ruins from ancient churches that were destroyed by the earthquakes that have plagued the city. Generally a place for tourists, I've found that the locals use them, after a 5 Q ($ 0.60) entrance fee, for mischief. The ruins are almost always empty at first glance, but after exploring a bit I have seen couples making out in the shadows and roaches scattered about from the local mota. In a crowded city, the isolation inside the ruins attract those looking for a place to do 'cosas indevidas,' as they say in Spanish.

The Markets: I wanted to get some new soccer shoes for cheap, so I made my way over to the local market. Beyond the front border of the market that attracts tourists with t-shirts, necklaces, shot glasses and Mayan handywork, is four acres of the true mercado. As I
entered the covered market I got lost in the maze of shops and vendors.
 
Owners are constantly yelling “Buen Precio! Discuenta!" Every where you go is a distinct bark coming from the shop owners trying to attract customers. Deals were being made, bargains bought. The local Mayan woman, dressed in their colorful, traditional shawls pass seamlessly through the crowded walkways with three feet wide baskets balanced delicately on their head. I followed a Mayan woman through a short hallway that I had to duck to get through, as I inspected the tray shaped basket on her head that was filled with gum, cigarettes and candy, I noticed a baby on her back wrapped up and sleeping peacefully amongst the shouting and confusion that is the market. 
 
As I searched for shoes I indulged in the aroma of tamales and warm tortillas, and I rounded the next corner to find raw chicken feet and a stench of raw pig carcus and human feces. The diversity was intense. It was as if an entire mall packed itself into one giant room. You could find any sort of fruit, vegetable, meat, hardware supply, pirated cd, pinata, school supply, plant, refreshment, or live animal all within a stones throw. 

I managed to find the clothing section. The shops consist of piles of clothes or shoes in the middle of each store, with slight organization of the higher value items hanging from the ceiling or stacked on a shelf. As I searched for some size 11 cleats, it quickly became apparent I  would have to search in the piles of shoes for such a large shoe, as the average Guatemalan man is about 5' 6" with a size 7 or 8 shoe. The first shop owner said I wouldn't find size 11, as did the second, but I was determined. In the back of the market I found a pile of shoes that two taller Guatemalans were sifting through. I began searching and found a size 11 soccer cleat, bingo! My only problem was I only had the left shoe. I searched for five minutes and couldn't find the other half anywhere. 
Finally, the young worker asked me, "Quieres el otro?" Wow. Yes, could I have the other one please? 
I learned a valuable lesson on Guatemalan anti-theft at that moment. They only display the left shoe, what's anybody going to do with just a left shoe?



Life here overall is life as you and I know it. People go to work, they make money, they support their families, they laugh and play, they are happy and sad. People eat each meal two hours past the typical time: lunch at 2, dinner at 8, and about 99% of people here are catholic, so they have many rituals that were foreign to me. One thing that shocked me is how death is treated. Generally speaking, when someone dies they prepare the body as quickly as possible and keep the body in the house for viewing sometimes as quickly as the same evening. The family is given very little time to grieve, but over the next 9 days (Los Nuevos Dias), there are multiple traditions for celebrating that persons life, and on the ninth day is the final funeral.
 
Everything is just a little different here, and thats what makes it so unique. People live on only a few dollars a week, but can do so because things are sold for so cheap. The middle class here is our lower class. But there is also a greater appreciation for family, and the little things. The way my family's faces light up when there 5 year old son laughs is priceless, and everyone is greeted with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. 

There are no stop lights and people drive no faster than 15 mph. The bigger intersections may have a guard directing traffic but no more. On the highways people drive fearlessly. Passing on a blind curve is no problem, nor is cutting people off and literally driving into other peoples lanes while honking so they move. After the first five minutes, I realized that having any fear was a waste of time, so I just took it all in and hoped for the best.

Overall, I had a great experience in Antigua. I was melancholy this morning having to say goodbye to my amazing host family, my friends from England, Ireland, Australia, Korea, Germany and Guatemala, and the Spanish teachers at school.

Tomorrow, I am traveling to Lake Atitlan, which is said to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. I met a Canadian named Marshal at my school, who is my age. We both finished class at the same time and have similar ambition to travel through El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, so we may be traveling together for a while. He speaks minimal Spanish, so I am helping him out with his travels, and he is making things that much safer by having two of us. Funny how these things work out. 

The real traveling is about to begin. Antigua is safe compared to what we have in front of us, as we will be in El Salvador by next week. Practicing safe travel and being smart will be a must, but my language skills and Marshal's new machete purchase will hopefully keep us safe.

Hasta Pronto. Internet will be less common, but I will try to update from the Lake as soon as I can.

"Viajar es Vivir."
 
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Comments

mom on

I like your story - and the pictures, your dad is still out with Erik at a cigar bar in Charleston. will write more tomorrow - love ya, mom

Brandi Crofford on

Garrett, your writing is wonderful. I couldn't wait to read part three! It looks like you on a wonderful adventure. Words can not express how proud I am of you and excited I am for you. Enjoy yourself, make the best of every minuet of your travels and may God bless you and keep you safe while your away.

Marina K. Villatoro on

Now that you are in Antigua you should try a tour to pacaya volcano. You can literally walk a meter away from lava flows. It's so exciting!

melinda and grandma on

We are so happy that you are safe and enjoying yourself. what a great adventure! we love you! Keep up the writing , we love to hear from you!

Elizabeth (Mrs. B) on

Hi Garrett. Sounds like you had an interesting beginning to your adventure! I am so glad you have settled into a good routine. The photos of your 'escuela' and host family 'casa' look beautiful. And how fitting that you have a 'Brian' and 'Lisbeth' (close enough) - to keep you company. I'll follow your blogs and will live vicariously through your adventures. Thanks for sending me the link to your blog. Take good care of yourself! Looking forward to your next entry ... Love, Elizabeth (Mrs. B)

Gitesh on

Glad to hear you doing great...love your stories and pics and seeing the world through your eyes, keep them coming. Glad you are having a great time and settled in. Great to hear u are meeting some folks along the way. Have a blast !!! Wish I could be there with you !!

Pam on

OMG! Looks awesome and sounds like quite an experience!! Have a blast!

Kathleen Georges Dieker on

What an amazing adventure. So glad you took the challange. Your continuing story is so fun to read, I almost feel like we are with you! The pictures are amazing, but as wonderful as they are I'm sure they don't do area justice. What a great way to document your trip. I look forward to you next blog. Kathleen

Ginger on

Hi Garrett - you should post some pics of Marshal.

Safe travels!! Love & Miss you!

Brandi on

Hi Garrett, sounds like your having a great time. Be safe and remember how much we all love and miss you. Can't wait to read more!

Reid on

I'm happy to hear that you are taking it all in and enjoying the simple things. In reality, that's what it's all about. This trip is not only a fun adventure for you, but an incredible opportunity to see how other cultures work and what makes them truly happy. I'm sure most of the homes you go into will not have the new panasonic lcd flat screen tv, and yet the simplicity of family, friends, and beautiful country are all the entertainment they need. It's amazing that you're getting to experience this and I hope that you're embracing the full experience. We miss you over here bud. Safe travels amigo, pura vida.

garrettgetschow
garrettgetschow on

Thanks everyone for the comments! I'm now down in Panama City and waiting for a boat to take me down to Cartagena, Colombia. I'm falling a bit behind on the blog, but I'll do my best to update while I'm in limbo waiting for the boat.

I was luckily enough for my parents to come visit and we had a great time in NIcaragua. It looks like I will be spending my first Christmas away from home in Colombia. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and is enjoying the holiday season. Thanks so much for keeping up with my travels!

Adios,
Roy

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