Joe(l) (and Debs) vs. the Volcano

Antigua Travel Blog

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Church of La Merced
Next day it was an early start to Antigua, our final destination, where we ran into a couple of guys from Chicago who had been on our boat out to San Marcos and as it turns out were staying at the same hostel as us.

The early start to Antigua turned out to be a great idea as it gave us time to really explore the place. Antigua is a non-typical Guatemalan town, with a very colonial feel, immaculately clean and full of both Guatemalan and Western tourist alike. Although it is touristy (although not in the same way Pana is) it is a very pretty town set once more against a backdrop of volcano's. The town has some fantastic architecture but like a few places in Guatemala has really suffered at the hands of earthquakes, three in 1773 and the last one in 1976, various buildings have either been rebuilt or their ruins just added to after each quake, making for some really interesting ruins.
The biggest fountain in Central America


As we'd arrived so early we couldn't check in so went to set ourselves up for the day (and feed Joel's worms) and eat a huge breakfast with our new friends Nick & Tim, we hit Cafe Escuidilla, which I would totally recommend as although its a tad pricey you really get your money's worth.

So as I said we went on an architectural tour of Antigua, first stop was the pretty yellow church of La Merced (Mercy) which is also home to the largest fountain in Central America at 27m in diameter, shaped like a huge water lily, its pretty impressive. Its also where many of the parades for  Semana Santa start or end, a little more on that craziness in a moment. One thing I should mention that as it was Semana Santa the number of people, both Guatemalans and tourists was nuts so it made for an even crazier time in Antigua.
Next stop was the convent of Santo Domingo which is now also a top notch hotel, sounds a little  tacky but actually it was really sensitively and amazingly well done; the gardens were beautiful, there were carefully placed bits of sculptures and artefacts everywhere and all of it seemed to it pretty well together. The highlight for me was the museum housing various examples of Mayan pottery, jewellery and sculpture in fantastic condition, I wish the museum allowed you to take photos as it would be great to show you how detailed some of the pieces were. The best bit on our little stroll around though was the main Cathedral (really a Parish church) with its beautifully ornate ruins at the rear, with its huge brick arches and domes which are no open to the sky is a shame that the earthquakes have damaged it so much.


We then stumbled over our first Semana Santa parade; basically this consists of what I can only assume of people from various churches, dressing up to re-enact the Crucifixion (Roman soldiers, apostles) with a few additional extras like a band, in some cases wearing  tuxedos other times other members of the procession play the instruments. Just for added theatricality certain members of the procession carry these huge floats of Jesus in various macabre dying positions and the Virgin Mary and even death makes it in there. The floats can be as small as 10 people up to 100, at each street block another group of people take over as obviously these things are pretty heavy, sounds like a recipe for disaster? Well it is a carefully coordinated exercise with a guy holding a number on top of a staff so that each numbered group knows when its their turn to take the reins so to speak.
Result of some of the earthquakes
The other amazing and incredibly beautiful element of this are the "carpets" which people create for the procession to walk over, the carpets are made of coloured sand, flowers, coloured wood shavings, beans, food, whatever material works with the theme/ design that each household or business has chosen to do, some of these can take hours depending on the size and complexity or minutes for smaller and simpler one's. I've taken so much pictures of these things as each one is different and seems to be more mind blowing that the last.

The main focus of day two, after some more ambling around in the morning , was our hike to another active volcano, Pacaya. The trip out there didn't get off to the best of starts, our driver was late after being stuck behind one of the many processions going on.
A welcome from a colourful fellow at the convent of Santo Domingo
After that, our van broke down only about 15 minutes into the hike and we had to wait, not too long, for another van to come and get us.Finally got to the national park of Pacaya and were able to get under way, the hike although not a particularly high volcano is pretty damn challenging due to the ground consisting of slippery and sharp, volcanic rock (think like trying to run up a really steep sand dune), combine that with thick fog of the pea soup variety, drizzle and oh say the fact we were doing it in the dark you can get a rough idea of how tough the task was. I had yet another example of my body quitting on me as the previous days street food decided it wasn't happy where it was, thus I had to swallow my pride and take a horse most of the way up to alleviate my suffering, so that would be temples and now a volcano desecrated in this wonderful; country.
..how embarrassing. Also to add insult to injury I had lost my voice the previous day and was now suffering with a delightful hacking cough. Ironically after taking some drugs I had with me I made the last and toughest part of the climb and was one of the first to say they wanted to plough on to the crater at the summit. Frustratingly due to our late start and that the volcano was now pretty active we couldn't get really close to the crater to see the really amazing flows of lava but had to settle with the amazing redish orange glow from just behind the peak and some smaller lava flows, things like that you just have too except as nature being the way it is and that things don't always go to plan and not get annoyed about it. It was still worth it as even what we did get to see was mind blowing, see the molten gloop slowly sizzle and pop its way down the side of the volcano and feel the sauna-like heat seap through fissures in the rock.

The hike down was equally as nuts, slipping and sliding down the slopes in the dark with only each others flash lights for company but we all lived to tell the tale.
The late start also meant a late return home and once again we missed Tim and Nick for a drinking session as by the time we had got back it was so late and we were so cold, tired, hungry and dirty that we could just about drag ourselves home to a nice (thankfully) warm  shower and collapse into our beds.

Our final day in Antigua didn't disappoint as the owner of the hostels son took us out to see the largest procession of Semana Santa with a float so huge it resembled a small boat (it was carried by 100 people), the throngs of people were so tightly packed together it reminded me of the mosh pit at a concert, politeness and manners went out of the window at this point with a free for all ensuing, if you were polite enough to let someone by you you soon realised the error of your ways as you realised they were part of a 15-man human chain of an entire family - never trust those grannies with their sweet old lady smiles!
The carpets were also more ornate and mind blowing, we saw one poor family who had left it a little late and were doing a really ornate piece as the sound of the procession drums got closer they scurried around trying to get the carpet finished, we applauded when they made it with time to spare, I think the locals thought we were a bit crazy!

We had also spent the day walking around with a really cool group of people, a Canadian girl and a couple from Holland, of which the guy was from the UK, and we went to round off a great day with dinner, litre bottles of Gallo (beer) and a few more drinks in another bar.
...Joel and I then stayed up all night until our cab came to take us to the airport to make our respective journeys home....here endeth the tale.

I loved Guatemala, its lovely warm and friendly people, its scenery, its culture and I can't recommend it enough to fellow travellers, I now have some great memories and made some more friends from around the globe, the next trip is going to have to be something huge to top this one I think.
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Church of  La Merced
Church of La Merced
The biggest fountain in Central Am…
The biggest fountain in Central A…
Result of some of the earthquakes
Result of some of the earthquakes
A welcome from a colourful fellow …
A welcome from a colourful fellow…
The main cathedral
The main cathedral
The first night parade we saw for …
The first night parade we saw for…
Supping a Coke like a local...from…
Supping a Coke like a local...fro…
The view of one of the parades fro…
The view of one of the parades fr…
The carpets are made with a vari…
The 'carpets' are made with a var…
A carpet-maker hard at work
A 'carpet'-maker hard at work
This was the craziest parade of th…
This was the craziest parade of t…
Faster people! The parades-a-comin…
Faster people! The parades-a-comi…
Andy and Joel sample a litre bottl…
Andy and Joel sample a litre bott…
Out for a few cheeky ones in Anti…
Out for a few cheeky one's in Ant…
Antigua
photo by: monky