Tag Archives: Antigua

Volcán Pacaya

Feb 3 – Jim decided that I was ready to hike up a volcano today. As Antigua is ringed by volcanos, there are many tourist options of one or two day hikes up several different mountains. Here in Guatemala, hikes must be taken with a guide. Jim picked us a one day group hike up the shortest mountain, Pacaya, in the hope that this would not kill me. (Jim has promised not to endanger my life when we travel.)

We decided to fortify ourselves with a typical Guatemalan meal – roasted pork, garlic potatoes and salad. Today’s tortillas were made from blue corn, and the drink of the day was coconut milk. Yum!

A mini-bus picked us up at our hotel, and soon we were wending our way up mountain roads in the company of two dozen mostly twenty-something mostly females from Europe and North America. Some taught English on line to Chinese students. Some were traveling to try and find themselves. Some were working on their ’30 before 30′ quest to travel to that many countries before reaching that age. One was looking for a llittle cation for her yoga studio. Such a chatty group, and no grey hairs as far as we could see.

Ninety minutes later we reached Pacaya national park, where we met our guide Lillian. Little boys were hawking walking sticks, and we were told that horse “taxis” were available for anybody who couldn’t keep up the pace. The pace was my concern – Jim and I hike alone. I’m fine on level ground, but really slow going uphill. Could I keep up?

Lillian started up the mountain at a trot, with the twenty-somethings right behind. I started in the middle of the group, but before too long I was at the back of the pack, huffing and puffing. The trail was steep and dusty, and I knew I couldn’t keep up. So? Jim paid for a horse, and I climbed gratefully on.

Now, here’s something not everybody knows: I am a New Yorker, and have never ridden a horse before! I grabbed the pommel and held on for dear life while Señor Caballo bounced and swayed up the steep trail, guided by a little native woman who didn’t huff or puff once. I mentally reviewed everything I knew about horse riding: sit up straight, grab with your knees, don’t fall off!

It took about an hour and a half to get to the top

Once we reached the shoulder, we could see smoke rising from the top of the volcano.

I bid adios to Señor Caballo at this point, knowing that I could keep up with the group for the hike back down. I swear the horse was much bigger in my mind!

Then in five minutes time, the fog…

rolled…

in, and that was the end of our scenic view.

Lillian led us down to an area filled with black volcanic rock that could have been on another planet. She passed out sticks, and removed some rocks to reveal the heat emanating from below. Time to toast marshmallows!

The light was fading as we scrabbled down the dusty rocks until we could see our bus ahead. No beautiful sunset for us tonight, just a long bumpy ride back to town. We were so covered in sweat and dust that there was no thought of dinner, just an immediate shower. That was our Volcan Pacaya adventure!

Feb 4 – Today we got ready to bid adios to Antigua and prepare for the next leg of our journey. There are many little travel and tour agencies in town, all promising the best fares and all amenable to haggling. We are heading to Lake Atitlán, about three hours away by mini-bus. Jim secured us two seats tomorrow at a fair price.

Then we stopped in to a nearby art museum, housed in another former convent.

There was a whole room of ceramics with faces, one of my favorite things.

Another exhibit featured photos of those who lost limbs in various recent conflicts: Afghanistan, Kosovo, Slovenia. I stopped at a photo taken in Cambodia, remembering our time there in 2015.

This painting reminded me of the not-so-happy couple we saw being married the other day.

A relaxing conclusion to our time in Antigua.

More Antigua

Feb 1 – South of town is a road that leads straight uphill to San Cristobal el Alto (Saint Christopher’s Heights). Carlos explained that the town’s original hippie, a guy named Frank, bought up the land, started an organic farm, opened a vegetarian restaurant, and invited all his friends to visit. Sadly, Frank is no longer with us, but his restaurant remains, and offers great views of Antigua below and the mountains beyond. Most people opt to drive the 2.6 uphill miles, filled with switchbacks, but this will be our morning walk.

On our way, we passed an interesting old building, and several schools.

Then up, up and up some more!

After two hours, we arrived. Lovely gardens at the top, with eucalyptus and a few blooms.

When we got to the restaurant at the summit, the other patrons all greeted us. We passed you on the road! We saw you walking from our taxi! Our one minute of fame for the day – the only old crazies who walked instead of drove. We tucked into a really fine mushroom and spinach pizza – our reward for a successful hike. This was supposed to be a vegetarian restaurant, but featured shrimp on many of the menu items. Antigua seems to be a vegetarian-friendly town, but their definition may not coincide with ours.

On the way down, we saw the yellowest building ever.

Iglesia el Calvario

It turned out to be another church – there is no shortage of churches here – that was plain inside but had very nice paintings.

It also had a life-size tableau in the garden. See the caged doves behind?

Getting down the mountain was much faster than hiking up. I was happier with my ability today – pretty soon I’ll be ready to scale a volcano!

Banana trees!

Feb 2 – Today we moved to a hotel on the other side of town, to see how the other half lives. I really enjoyed the people we met at Casa Gitana, especially a German biologist and a couple from Sweden who shared their adventure stories with us, but the facilities left a bit to be desired – cold showers are bracing, but…

The Central Bougainvillea seemed to be the answer to our dreams – hot water, electrical outlets and extra pillows, but…. no WiFi! We pestered the cleaning lady, who had no idea what to do. As it was early and no other guests had arrived at the hotel, we peeked in all the corners until we found the WiFi router, unplugged it and reset it. Voila!

We had an easy day today, getting groceries at a modern supermarket (where eggs are sold by the 15 instead of by the dozen), enjoying a leisurely lunch (eggplant and caramelized onion sandwich – yum!) and walking around town. It is Saturday, and there is music in the air at the town square.

We walked through the Arco de Santa Carolina, with a view of a volcano beyond.

At yet another church, Iglesia de Merced, we happened upon a wedding in progress, as the happy (?) couple glided out to the strains of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

Further inspection of the church revealed a portrait of the Apostle Thaddeus that bore a remarkable similarity to Mr. Bean.

Next door was an abandoned convent, ruined in that darned earthquake of 1773. It must have been a doozy.

A simple supper, then a walk through the square in the cool of the evening. A relaxing day.

Antigua

Jan 30 – After breakfast, we packed up our packs, and got ready for the 90 minute ride to Antigua. (Note: we are not talking about Antigua the Caribbean island, but Antigua the colonial former capital of Guatemala.) Our original plan was to hike back to the airport and catch a shuttle bus, but it turns out that the Uber fare was comparable, so we just tapped the app and David pulled up to our door. This really is too easy – we may never walk again!

It took an hour of driving to reach the edge of Guatemala City, which looked just like any other big crowded city, then a half hour of ear-popping altitude climb to reach the quaint little town of Antigua. We are staying at the Casa Gitana guest house, which has great reviews thanks to its very personable host, Carlos. Carlos spent about a half hour marking up the town map, showing us which places were tourist traps and which were worthwhile.

Our first order of business was to find some lunch, so we took Carlos’ suggestion to check out Rincón Tipico for some typical Guatemalan food. There was a huge wood-fired rotisserie and two little ladies slapping out fresh tortillas. The meals were super yummy, and I don’t think we’ll need much dinner tonight.

We checked out the town square, where local women sold woven goods and jewelry.

Folks are definitely short statured here!

Jan 31 – Next to the central square is the Antigua Cathedral.

Our Lady of Fatima

What was notable here was the number of people on their knees in prayer- something we don’t often see in the churches we visit.

We stopped into a coffee shop, in one of the few old buildings not devastated by earthquakes, and Jim thought he ordered a potato-filled pastry. Not even close! Pan tres leches, or three milk cake is soaked in heavy cream and topped with whipped cream. A happy accident, as this is something we would never order. It sure was good…

Further down the road is the ruins of Antigua’s original cathedral of San José. Devastated by three different earthquakes in the 1700s, it was not rebuilt.

Intricate stone carvings can still be seen where exposure to the weather has not eroded them.

Below the ruins are catacombs that once held the important dead.

In the midst of the ruins, orchestral music played and we were ushered into a tableau of the Holy Family’s escape to Egypt. The figures are life sized.

Isn’t this a pretty building? It is San José el Viejo, a ruin used as a wedding venue!

In the afternoon, we walked up to the scenic overlook called Cerro de la Cruz, or Hill of the Cross. It gives a view of Antigua and Volcan de Agua beyond. This particular volcano has not been active since the 1500s. I was not happy with my ability to climb this hill – my heart kept pounding in my ears as we ascended. Maybe the altitude? Jim has many more walks planned to get me back in shape!

Thank you to the young man from Perth for offering to take our photo!

Antigua is laid out in a nine by nine block grid with numbered streets and avenues, so it is very easy to navigate and very walkable from one end to the other on foot. The streets are all cobblestones, many of them loose, so sturdy walking shoes are recommended. Tomorrow, more from Antigua!