It was roughly a 4 hour bus ride that put us into the thick of it, downtown Guatemala City. We weren't especially interested in spending a great deal of time here, and fortunately for us we didn't have to.
We were dropped off at an unassuming bus station and were promptly whisked into a nearby taxi to bring us to the bus station servicing the route from G.C to Antigua. As we arrived we were hurried out of the car and onto the departing bus. Trying to keep a close eye on our bags being carried away, we boarded the colorfully decorated chicken bus and took our seats.
The Guatemala City buses are a bit of an experience. Every stop, which is every 250 feet or so, people of every description hop on and off the bus rattling off their pitch and selling every odd and end you can think of. It was rather entertaining, but after 35 minutes of stop and start traffic, we were finally on the outskirts of the city, where the hawking ceased, the speed picked up, and we were truly on our way to Antigua.
We were unsure of where we were to get off the bus after arriving in Antigua, but we eventually confirmed with the bus driver, grabbed our bags, hopped off, and did our best to negotiate the maze of colonial cobbled streets (that all look very much a like) and find our way to the Tannah Guesthouse, where we would be staying for the next week.
When we arrived, we were quickly welcomed and made to feel like home in Evelyn's home. She really is one of the sweetest women you're ever going to meet, and we were very excited to have chosen wisely for our relatively long stay in Antigua. It's a small, intimate little spot with only 4 rooms so you really got to know the other guests. The cast of characters were: Evelyn and Francisco (our hosts), Darwin from Calgary, Paul from Cologne, Rayne from Sacramento, and two later additions (girls whose names escape us both) from Toronto.
That first night in Antigua was spent in very much the similar matter in which we spent most nights in Antigua, walking the charming, dreamy streets, snapping photos, settling into a restaurant, bar, or cafe and simply enjoying our time. That particular night we stepped into Frida's and had a couple Gallos and dined on tacos as it's been a bit too long since our indulgence in Mexico.
Unfortunately, we couldn't make a big night out of the first night in Antigua as I had an early Saturday morning the next day. It was the first day of my week long Spanish course. Bright and early we rose and enjoyed one of Evelyn's many fantastic breakfasts and left for school. Adrian walked me all the way to the door, saw me off to school and even calmed my first-day-of-school jitters.
The next four hours c...r...a...w...l...e...d by. My Spanish teacher Magda absolutely laid into me. She spoke at such an intensely rapid pace, it made my head spin. She would then launch from her tangent abruptly right into a question, and I was beyond lost. Was that a question? What are we talking about? What the he'll did I get myself into?
I had been feeling pretty good with my Spanish skills leading up to this point (as far as newbies go) but I left for the day utterly deflated. Luckily the next day was Sunday and I wouldn't have to return until Monday.
Adrian and I got back to the house and I was so worked up I needed to go for a run to blow off some some steam, only there aren't many nice places to run around Antigua. We were forced to suck down car exhaust and negotiate the ankle-busting cobble stones, but after 30 minutes of some of my fastest running, I was feeling a lot better.
After a quick shower, we headed out to meet Evelyn and the other house guests at a sports bar in town, Monolocos. The Bayern Munich v. Chelsea Champions League final was being played. The outcome of the game was not what any of us were hoping for, as Chelsea stole the game in the final moments and eeked out a penalty kick victory...but the game was exciting, the atmosphere was fun, and the post-traumatic Spanish class Gallos were going down very well.
After the game wrapped up, we ventured down 5th Calle to the end of the street where the massive Saturday market was set up. We were told you can find anything and everything at the market, and I can tell you that it most definitely lived up to its reputation. We ended picking up a bunch of very scrumptious looking fruits and veggies. We made another stop at the larger grocery store for our weeks rations, and then headed back to our crib.
After dropping off our supplies, we hit the rainy streets again. We had a modest dinner of veggie soup and pasta washed down with Red wine and Gallos. We retired early for the night and had a nice restful sleep.
The rest of the week was spent doing the following:
A good dose of gym time at the very adequate Antigua gym, 20 solid hours of Spanish class, which for the record, got muuuch better after the first trainwreck of a day. Hiking up to the Cerro de la Cruz, for one of the most amazing vistas ever, walking endlessly down the calles of Antigua to check out the countless old charming sights around town, eating at the many fine restaurants Antigua has to offer, which included Monoloco, where we had a plate of nachos bigger than my head while watching Lebron and the Heat pounce on the Pacers on Adrian's birthday. About the only bad thing was that we were constantly needled by the unhumanly high pitched, loud, shrieking that is Rayne's (another guest) voice and laugh. Somehow the power behind that voice carried strongest and farthest in the early hours of morning or as we were drifting to sleep at night. Ugh!
A definite highlight was our trip out the Pacaya Volcano. We hiked three hours in total and were rewarded with amazing views of the surrounding volcanos, including Pacaya which erupted fiercely in 2010. We stopped along the way to learn a bit about the local flora and fauna, to take turns immersing ourselves in a natural volcanic sauna, or rather steamroom, and also to roast marshmallows with a stick on the burning hot lava rocks.
The way back was perhaps the most fun of all. As our guide explained, because we were a small group and were all exceptionally fit he was going to take us on a more scenic route. The group was only 4 people plus our guide; the 2 of us, one smarty pants Englishman who loved showing off his Spanish, and one very quiet yet exceptionally derrilict guy who not only smashed 2 big beers on the ride out to the volcano and 2 more on the way back, but also smoked about a half a pack of cigarettes throughout the climb. Yes, essentially chain-smoking ruts while hiking up-hill at significant altitude. Impressive, indeed.
We climbed to the top of a peak and gazed at the close Pacaya and more distant Volcano Fuego as the storm clouds began rolling in. It was a strenuous 2.5 hours hike up, but a cool 30 minutes down. We ran, slid, skied, whatever you want to call it, down the steep hills of crumbly lava rocks. It was the type of scenario where one could really do some damage to a leg, foot, or possibly ankle, but luckily we made it out unscathed and even managed to have a lot of fun on the rapid descent.
The next day in Antigua would be our last, or so we thought. I asked to start my class early that day and to forgo my 30 minute break in order to finish in time for a quick workout, shower, and lunch before our shuttle picked us up at 2pm.
We arrived back at the house after our quick gym session and were given the news that the shuttle directly to our next destination San Pedro la Laguna at Lago de Atitlan, would not be going, due to a road closure. Our only bet was to take the 4pm shuttle to the nearest big town Panajachel and take a boat across the lake to San Pedro from there. We had both agreed that that's what we would do, and when Evelyn made the call to confirm, they notified her that in fact that trip was also cancelled due to weather and they weren't making another trip until the following day.
At this point, we had half a mind to scrap the trip all together and instead start making our way down to El Salvador, as we have to start making tracks in order to meet our lovely friends Christy, Chris, and Jamie in Costa Rica in only a couple of weeks. We decided to go for another walk, to talk it out, and make the tough decision on what to do next. In the end, we decided that we would stick to the original plan, head to Atitlan in the morning, if anything else changes we would take it as a sign and get the 1pm bus to San Salvador.
We got back and told Evelyn what we had decided. We were going for the 9am shuttle in the morning direct to San Pedro. She called to confirm, and wouldn't you know it, they could not confirm they would be able to go direct the next day. Our last option, was an 8am to Panajachel where we would grab the boat to San Pedro. We looked at each other and shrugged. Yeah, I guess that will work. She booked us in, and that was that.
The extra night in Antigua was spent with a free movie (Sherlock Holmes 2) at the Bagel Barn, followed by live music over our dinner of hummus, rice and beans, and tomato soup at Rainbow Café. A side note on this evening's music: while the bill advertised "Kenny and Friends", it appeared Kenny's friends realized that he sucked and deserted him, leaving him on his own to murder otherwise timeless classic Jazz, Blues, and Rock numbers. It got out of hand when he busted a kazoo for Pink Floyd. And the worst part was that if nobody clapped when he was done with a song, he'd just carry on moaning like a dying orca while strumming non existent chords and choking on his kazoo. Just awful.
When we'd had enough "entertainment" for the evening. We headed back to the house that night and slept soundly until our 7am wakeup call.
A final quick pack and some coffee and toast and we were out the door by 7 minutes to 8am.
Antigua treated us wonderfully; we ended up there for 8 nights which is the longest we've been any one place in a long time. It was nice to be able to unpack and relax and something tells me this might not be the last time we set foot in this great little town.