3 May – Guatemala City to Antigua
An early morning for the Guat Squad. Our trip would begin in earnest now. From this point onwards we would be on our own. Karl’s dad took us to the Airport where we would rent a car, the Guat Mobile. On paper the renting a car between five people would work cheaper than busses in between the cities we wanted to visit. There was a massive draw back though. The insurance for the car was miserable and if the car was stolen, we would have to fork out $3000. So in addition to having fun, we added a new objective to that: do NOT get the car stolen. All I had read about Guatemala made me slightly nervous about renting a car, as I kept reading about bandit who robbed busses on intercity routes. However, the decision was made. We were renting. The car rental company would only allow drivers over the age of twenty five to take the wheel, which meant only Olivia and I could do the driving. I’ve done my fair share of driving so I wasn’t too fussed about that.
So with that sorted, we packed our backpacks into the SUV and made our way to our first solo destination, Antigua. When I read the LP description of the city I laughed, here’s why :
“In all the long, earnest discussions about where to get off the beaten track in Guatemala, you can be sure the name Antigua won’t come up. This is fantasyland – what the country would look like if the Scandinavians came in and took over for a couple of years. It’s a place where power lines run underground, building codes are adhered to, rubbish is collected, traffic diverted and stray dogs ‘disappear’ mysteriously in the middle of the night.”
Antigua would be our base for the night. The main reasons for going to Antigua was the supposed nightlife and its proximity to the Pacaya Volcano which we planned on hiking. Though Karl did recommend another place to visit on the way to Pacaya. I don’t know what the name of the place is, but he cheerfully described it as a place where the Maya performed satanic rituals. This intrigued us and we added that to our to do list.
The drive down was pleasant and relatively easy. We finally reached Antigua just after lunch time, parked up the car and went to have lunch. The city was very picturesque. No towers but mostly one or two story buildings with a very Spanish influence in its architecture. The LP description was relatively accurate as it felt organised and less chaotic than Guatemala city. It was a charming little city and another place surrounded by volcanoes, three of them. I thought to myself how awesome is it to have a skyline dominated by volcanoes and not skyscrapers.
After lunch we walked around for a while to soak in the place. We also checked into our hostel for the night, the interestingly named Jungle Party Hostel. So we left our stuff at the hostel and prepared for our Pacaya hike. We wanted to stop by the satanic ritual place, but due the time we decided we would visit it the next day. The drive to Pacaya would be so much easier if we followed instructions given to us by everybody, however we always seemed to make the wrong judgment calls and kept taking the wrong roads, repeatedly, even though Jacqui kept saying ‘Guys, I don’t think this is the right way’.
After driving for an hour, we finally reached the gate at Pacaya. There little man came up to us and said we needed a guide to hike the volcano. The man’s name was Felix. I liked Felix from the start because of his honesty. Before we paid him he told us that a couple of weeks ago a guide and tourist had died on the volcano due to a rock slide, but he assured us that it was safe to hike and that the two who died on there were in a restricted area. So he got into the car and led us to the information centre at the base of the volcano. It would a 3Km hike to an area close to the crater. I have to say for someone as unfit as me, it was a tough hike, but fortunately I grew up in an area of higher altitude in South Africa, so I wasn’t having trouble breathing. Leo was having a harder time with the altitude and Jacqui was having a particulalry tough time due to a nail-less toe rubbing to the inside of her shoe. Both Leo and Jacqui ended up taking horses up, while the rest of us walked. Needless to say it was tough and by the time we got to the top it was dusk.
The top part of the volcano, where we left the horses, consisted of hardened lava with jagged edges and not always stable. So by the time we got close to the crater where we could see some lava, it was completely dark. We gathered around an opening where we could see lava and started roasting our marshmallows and taking photos. I actually carried the shisha up with me to have a smoke, but due to the lateness it was better to leave that for another time! After around thirty minutes we started our decent in the dark,rain and fog. Six people with two working flashlights… not great numbers. Leo slipped and fell injuring his wrist and getting a scrape on his leg. Jacqui’s toe was bleeding. Olivia and I kept slipping and falling on our backsides. We were clearly worried about our little predicament, but Felix was calm as a cucumber and kept reassuring us that we were fine and we would get down ok. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when we got off the jagged and unstable volcanic rock. The hike down from this point onwards it was easier, Jacqui and her bloody toe were back on the horse and we had a path to follow which was easier.
The hike back to information centre was filled with me and Olivia’s renditions of some Coldplay songs to avoid thinking about our pending deaths on a volcano. Everything truly was Yellow! Our arrival at the information centre was awaited by the techeros who were going to have dinner with us in Antigua. They weren’t too impressed with our decision to do the volcano hike so late in the day, but laughed off the craziness. So back to Antigua we went to have some dinner and were fortunate to find a restaurant that had shisha!
When we arrived in Antigua earlier that day the streets were filled with parked cars. At night, it was a different story, there were barely any cars on the street. This for some reason didn’t seem strange to us, so after dinner we went back to the Jungle SLEEPY (not party) hostel and parked the car outside. Sleep. We all needed it.
4 May – Antigua to Guatemala City
The next morning we got up relatively early, as once a certain number of people are up in a hostel dorm, the noise becomes too much to carry one sleeping. After our showers and packing up, I went to the car to get something I’d left there. When I got to the car, I saw broken glass on the ground at which point the broken car window caught my attention. What a fantastic start to the day. Our car radio had been stolen (not to mention the broken window). So I went back to the hostel to call Olivia as we need a native Spanish speaker to deal with the police. When I got to the dorm I calmly asked who had the car keys as someone had broken into the car. Everyone just looked at me and thought I was kidding. So we went outside, spoke to the police and got the necessary report, only to find out insurance wouldn’t cover then damage.
Great start to the day indeed. So there we were with broken car window and no radio. We went back to the hostel to have breakfast and discuss our next step. We decided to walk around Antigua for a while before heading down to the Mayan sacrificial altars. The mood was somber to be honest as we were contemplating the additional cost to our budget of the buggered car. We arrived at the riverside spot, where a few other cars were parked and some Guatemalan families were enjoying picnics along the river. We walked up one side of the river only to find a pair nudists baring all to the sun. So Mayan sacrificial altars here then. Olivia then sparked a conversation with a man on the other side of the river to find out where these sacrificial temples were. We were on the wrong side of the river. The man lead us to where the rituals where taking place. Ein bitte minute!!! TAKING PLACE??? We weren’t expecting actual rituals… We were only expecting to see some altar made of stone!
So we got to a point where two women were sitting down and they explained the rituals and what take place here. They spoke of bad spirits and good spirits. Interesting. There was a ceremony actually taking place close to where we were, but we were not allowed to see it, but just below this place, another ceremony had just taken place. You could see the burnt carcass of a chicken. It was while climbing down from here, that I noticed broken pieces of glass. As I was in flip flops I was walking carefully so as not to get a piece of glass in my foot. Not carefully enough it seems. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my foot, I looked down to see some blood. Fan-bloody-tastic. “F****CK! I cut myself guys”.
We were really close to a stream where I went to clean my foot. As I put my foot in the water, the blood really started flowing and that freaked me out. I don’t like blood. I went to sit on a rock while Olivia kept my foot elevated. However the sight of the blood squirting from my foot and the blood loss, made me feel faint. To this day I regret using those words as it has become a phrase to instigate the mockery of that moment. I lied down while Olivia snatched the bandage from Leo’s injured wrist and tightly wrapped it around my wound while the others went to fetch my hiking boots. The cut was small, but slightly deep. Stitches would be required. At twenty six, my first stitches ever would be in Guatemala. Now that’s a travel story!
So with my foot wrapped up and my hiking shoes on, we went back to the car and headed back to Antigua to find a hospital. We found a hospital, went in and about forty five minutes I left with two stitches and loads of photos and most importantly a holiday story. My foot was sacrificed to the Maya! So, with me all patched up, we headed back to Guatemala City to change our car and due to the lateness, we would have to spend the night in the city again.
Directions. Why was it so hard to follow any for us. We got into Guatemala City and managed to take a wrong turn which took us into an unsavoury part town. We were stuck in a neighbourhood as we couldn’t find the exit as all of the roads we took which lead to the main road were blocked off. We were starting to panic as we clearly looked lost as we kept going down roads, stopping, turning. We were drawing attention to ourselves. After around thirty minutes in Zone 7’s maze of death, we managed to find an exit and our way to the airport.
We switched cars and arranged to meet Karl for some food before he would lead us to the hostel where we would spend the night. The hostel, Quetzalroo, was owned and run by a young Guatemalan, Manuel, who clearly loved travelling and wanted to meet other travelers. The hostel itself has to be one of the coziest hostels I’ve ever stayed at and felt more like a friend’s house than a hostel. While Olivia, Jacqui, Karl and later Miguel went out for some drinks. Leo, Drew and I stayed in. We ended up chatting to Manuel about his travels and his plans for the hostel over a shisha (which I prepared). The next day we had a long day ahead of us as we would be heading north of the capital to Coban.
Considering the day and a half we had had, we were hoping our luck would change.