You get what you pay for. In this case, a cheap airline ticket means a lot of layovers. Our flight out of SFO left at 12:35 am and took three hours to reach Guadalajara. Two hour wait, flight to Mexico City, four hour wait, flight to Guatemala. It was a tiring haul, but we finally arrived with luggage intact and were greeted by our host, Ronnie.
Ronnie is a friend of a friend who has retired to a small village in Guatemala called Acatenango. He is the only gringo in the town. He lives in a large home that he rents and is trying to turn into a community center for the villagers. He's only been here a year and a half and knew no Spanish, but now speaks almost fluently. He picked us up and we escaped Guatemala City before rush hour got in full swing. We traveled for an hour until we reached the city of Antigua to spend the night. Ronnie correctly figured this would be a good transition spot from U.S. to tiny, rustic village.
Antigua is the oldest city in Guatemala and for centuries has been the capital until it moved to Guatemala City. It is the first city the Spanish took over. It is filled with churches and ruins because it has been destroyed by the nearby volcano a few times over the centuries. It is beautiful! It is the biggest tourist city here too and where many people come to learn Spanish. There are many schools as well. The streets are all flat, straight, and cobble stoned. We stayed at a small hostel or bed and breakfast where it was $40 for a room. Ronnie said that is the most we will spend our whole trip on a single purchase. We walked through the city and had dinner at a small cafe. Dean and Ronnie had some tequila shots and after trying some Patron Agave, which was super good, Dean ended up buying a $130 bottle of Quita Penas to be drunk at the fiesta on Saturday! Aye! We were exhausted and went back to the hostel.
The next day was spent exploring the city and the marketplace. The churches are interesting here because they have many highly decorated altars with mannequins depicting the saints. I've been to many fancy Catholic churches during my travels, but never have I seen so many mannequins!
It was then time to drive to Acatenango, which sits at the base of a double volcano. One of the volcanoes is dormant and the other still erupts. We can occasionally see a puff of steam come out of the top of it and Ronnie says some days you can see lava crawling down the sides.The town is nestled along the hillside. The towns here are not paved with asphalt, but are mosaicly tiled with concrete octagons. This town only has one bank, two comedors (restaurants), and a few shops. The population of the entire valley is supposed to be about 20,000. It is a coffee growing valley and grows for Starbucks. The pickers here will earn about $6.
Ronnie's home and site of the Centro de Cultural
View of the two volcanoes from the patio of Ronnie's place. Note the one on the right (between the trees) is the active volcano.
The house that Ronnie rents belongs to a rich family. He lives in one room and his plans are numerous. He wants to turn it into many things. First there are four rooms he wants to use for hotel rooms. There is no hotel here because tourists don't come here...yet. There is a corner room that he wants to turn into a small comedor. Currently he's rented out the kitchen to be a panaderia (bakery). Eventually that corner room would be the restaurant, sell the baked goods, and possibly be an internet cafe. The back rooms he wants to turn into classrooms to learn English and other skills. We have brought him a lot of English/Spanish books and learning aids for this endeavor. He currently rents the house/courtyard out for weddings and events. Tomorrow we will be hosting a Valentines Dance for the locals and charge them 10 quetzales, slightly more than a dollar. He's gotten a DJ and is promoting it through the local area.
The active volcano erupts often.
We spent our first evening here going to the hot springs to sit in the sulfuric water from the volcano. Then off to bed. I'm glad I had my earplugs because there were many roosters. Then every half hours from 4 - 8 a.m. there are the local buses rumbling down the street honking their horns. This is to tell the locals to hurry and catch the bus. Unfortunately, the main road is right outside our window!
So that is my update so far. In a few days I will let you know how the party went. Then I think we will be off to Lake Atitlan. It is a lake in the midst of three volcanoes and another major tourist destination.
Lodging info for Antigua:
We stayed at Hostel el Montanes, which is listed in the Moderate section of the Lonely Planet guide. A room with a shared bathroom arrangement was $40. Room with private bath is $50. Price includes breakfast and the hot water here is from a real water heater. A little bit of a walk from the main square and about a mile walk away from the mercado. But toot-toots are readily available for a ride home. Very nice accomodations.