We left the quaint mountain village of Juayua, El Salvador Feb. 20th and made it to Antigua, Guatemala by the afternoon. We had to pass through Guatemala City (Guate), which is always a fun time. By the end of the trip, I'd gone through Guate at least five or six times . . . the air quality is brutal and irritates the eyes and throat if you're there for a whole day. I can't imagine living there.
Jenny was flying out of Guate the following week so we though we'd finish off her time in pleasant, gringo-infested Antigua. We took another trip to Chichicastenago, which by the way means "city of nettles" in Quiché . . . ouch! Chichi has quite the colourful market. There were some huge Lenten processions taking place while we were in Antigua. Antigua goes all out during Lent and Semana Santa (Holy Week) with it's elaborate processions that last all day. The streets where laden with "alfombras" (carpets) made of coloured saw-dust, flowers, fruit, and veg. all put together in decorative patterns. All of this beauty is destroyed as the procession and giant floats with Christ, the Virgin Mary, and/or some saints pass by. Then it's all quickly cleaned up. I found it fascinating how it seemed as if the entire town participated. There were hundreds of "cucuruchos" (participants in the procession who carry the enormous floats). While in Antigua we randomly met Benjamin, an elderly Guatemalteco who has a love for talking about his home town, life in Guatemala, and the people of its vibrant culture . . . lucky us! We spent a number of afternoons talking to him over ice-cream, and Matt and I were later able to see him again before we left a month later.
Our time in Antigua passed by quickly and soon we were off to Guate's rugged international airport to drop Jenny off. Matt and I spent the afternoon in Zona 9, the posh end of Guate where all the embassies and malls are. It was a bit of a culture shock. The next day, we left for Quetzaltenango (Xela), where we had been about three months before with Jenny. Within the same day, we set ourselves up at Casa Argentina, the cheapest youth hostel around and found a relatively okay language school. We started classes the following day and got in 2 days of classes before the weekend. That weekend, we went on a trek with Quetzaltrekkers again, this time to Volcán Tajumulco, the highest volcano/peak in Central America at 4220 m. We had a great group for the hike. The best part was hiking to the very top at predawn in order to watch the marvellous sunrise. It was seriously the most beautiful sunrise I've ever witnessed. You could see Mexico as well as a handful of Guatemalan volcanoes off in the distance. That morning was Sunday April 1st, Matt's 23rd birthday. What a great birthday present for him!
We finished off the week at the language school and then enjoyed the Holy Week processions beginning on Good Friday. Saturday, a bunch of us from the hostel made our way to Las Fuentes Georginas, a natural spa system in a cloud rain forest just outside of Xela that's popular with Guatemalan day-trippers. Still being the Holy Week holidays, the place was packed to the brim. Matt headed out of Xela Monday morning. He was headed to Rio Dulce, in the eastern part of the country, from where he'd start his weeklong sailing trip up to Hunting Caye, Belize. As planned, I'd decided to stay in Xela to take more language schooling. This time, I found a different school. It turned out to be a lot more professional and my teacher loved to chat about everything Guatemalan. We had great discussions about the politics and history of the country, development work and its implications, poverty and economics, etc. I certainly learned a lot from him. I stayed with a Guatemalan host-family that week and basically spent most of my time studying at the school, reading, and chatting away with other language students in the numerous cafés and pubs of Xela.
That weekend, I went on an adventurous hike with some friends I had met in Xela. We hiked from Xela to San Pedro La Laguna. It was a gorgeous trek through the Western Highlands. Unfortunately, one of our friends was attacked by a dog as we were passing through a rural town. The bites were pretty bad, so he went back to Xela with another friend to get rabies and tetanus shots. That shook us all up and put a bit of a damper on the trek. However, we eventually made it to San Pedro after just one night of camping in the bush and two full days of hiking. We had gotten off trail a couple times and even found ourselves bushwhacking and cliff-climbing for a little while, which was very nerve-racking, but we survived and had a blast. We met up with a friend we'd hung out with in Xela for a while and decided to spend two nights in San Pedro before heading back to Xela. In Xela, I had just enough time to hit up La Luna, my favourite café in Xela, pick up a machete as a useful souvenir, then head out to a few pubs with some friends for my last farewell before I was off at 3am the next morning for my epic journey across Guatemala. Surprisingly, I made it to Rio Dulce in one day. The trip actually didn't take too long.
In Rio Dulce, I met up with Matt, who'd just gotten back from his sailing voyage in the Caribbean. We spent another couple of nights in the decrepit, pirate-like port town of Rio Dulce with its nightly fair music that resounded throughout the town until 2:30 am. One day we took off to Finca El Paraíso, which is exactly what the name suggests - Paradise. It's a natural pool and waterfall in the middle of nowhere. The pool is suitable for doing flips and diving and the waterfall is of steaming hot geothermal water. If you swim under the waterfall, you come to an above water cave system that is like a natural sauna because of the heat of the water from the waterfall. All of this is in the middle of the jungle.
On Saturday, April 21st, we made our way back to Antigua, via Guate. We basically chilled out in Antigua for our last couple of nights in order to avoid staying in dodgy Guate. Antigua's a comfortable city. We met up with a number of travellers we'd seen numerous times throughout our trip (that's what happens when these countries are so small), hung out with them, and tracked down old Benjamin for another ice-cream and enlightenment on Guatemalan culture. By the 24th of April we were off, flying back to Vancouver, B.C. via Houston, Texas. Central America was good to us. I experienced so many invaluable life lessons and learned as much about myself and my siblings as I did about another people's culture and language.
To use a somewhat cliché but appropriate quote that I've recently read (although it doesn't quite fit this context because we were merely two time-zones ahead of Pacific Standard Time), the writer Mary Anne Radmacher-Hershey once said, "I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world." I think that sums up this walkabout quite well.
-Erupting Volcán Santiaguito - Guatemala's most active volcano. Behind it is Volcán Santa María, which overlooks the city of Quetzaltenango (Xela).
-God's beautiful sunrise. Every morning I came to the beach to write in my journal and contemplate the sunrise while we were here in Placencia, Belize.
-A view of Volcán Concepción, on the north-western corner of the Island of Ometepe on Lake Nicaragua in southern Nicaragua. I took this photo during our descent from the crater lake on top of Volcán Maderas.
-Jenny looking over Lake Managua in Nicaragua as we take a short break while climbing Volcán Momotombo. The island volcano ahead of her is Volcán Momotombito ("Little Momotombo").
-(From Left to right) my brother Matt (aka: Mateo), my sister Jenny, and I standing on top of Volcán Cosigüina in the far north-western tip of Nicaragua on the Gulf of Fonseca. Behind us, El Salvador and Honduras are visible from across the water.
I plan to post some more photos shortly.