Antigua, Guatemala – Day 2

Antigua, Guatemala – Day 2

For the first time on this trip, I got to sleep in… to 9:30 AM. I was ready to go by 10, but the other girls were a little more slow-moving as they tried to wake up. We finally left our secluded cabin around 11:30 to walk into Antigua for a traditional breakfast. We sat at a quaint little restaurant that had a big garden that was under construction so we were surrounded by equipment, but that didn’t matter. The food was scrumptious and there was tons of it with bread and oatmeal to start and sausage, plantains, black beans, eggs, and coffee to keep us going for the day. Almost all meals in Guatemala come with black beans and they are SO delicious! I must have had them at almost every meal.

We decided to walk off breakfast with a stroll through the market and main squares. We bought Guatemala’s version of M&Ms from a little girl who was selling them out of a basket on the side of the street but, in retrospect, shouldn’t have. Guatemala is full of kids and women selling trinkets and snacks, but you should only buy from the adults as buying from kids will keep propelling adults to use kids as sales vehicles instead of sending them to schools and the like. The income inequality in Guatemala is astonishingly apparent and it makes you feel very lucky to be in your situation instead of theirs.

A little girl selling candy on the streets of Antigua, Guatemala

After a few hours of buying gifts and souvenirs for everyone at home that we could think of and haggling prices like pros, we walked to a large, ornate, open wooden door. Again, Guatemala’s streets are lined with high, concrete walls so you never know what is awaiting behind each wall’s doors. Unbeknownst to my fellow USA traveler’s and I, the door Cass led us through took us to a small slice of paradise; a hotel called Santo Domingo in which Cass has her heart set on getting married in one day.

The hotel was beautiful with huge gardens full of rainforest type foliage and gorgeous parakeets and macaws. In the main outside square of the hotel, there is a river walk with over 3K candles lining the path that leads to a ruined Cathedral in the back of the hotel. It is huge and probably one of the most romantic settings I have entered in my entire life. I totally get the appeal of having that as a venue!

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After touring the hotel, we walked to a coffee shop and went to its rooftop for a drink and the view. Almost all of the restaurants and bars in Antigua have views like the below and it’s the place to be to watch the sun set over the volcanos.

A few of the girls decided to go to Mass, so Cass’s friend Isa and I walked down the street to a rooftop bar and had micheladas, basically a love child of beer and a Bloody Mary, while talking about Guatemala and watching the Fuego volcano erupt in the distance. Seriously, it was an evening out of the movies and it was so surreal watching lava slide down a mountainside!

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After the girls were done at Mass, we said our goodbyes to our new friend Isa and took off back to Guatemala City for a delicious home-cooked Pad Thai dinner at Cass’s casa and much-needed sleep before our trip to El Salvador the next day!

Antigua Tips:

  • Try micheladas – such a yummy and refreshing drink! (And you get your daily serving of veggies through the tomato juice.. right?)
  • Watch the sun set on a rooftop bar and stay until dark to watch the Fuego volcano erupt
  • Haggle in the markets for some great deals on trinkets
  • Do not buy from children selling goods in the markets

 

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Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

The girls and I recovered from our Volcano hike in the car ride back to Antigua, Guatemala. We had a full day planned post-hike, including a birthday party and dancing for one of Cass’s friends. We stopped at a local grocery store for party supplies once we got back to town. They had everything you could imagine there and it was packed with people. Once we finished gat the store, Isa (one of Cass’s Guatemalan friends who hiked with us) took us around town, through the main square, to the markets for shopping (which we did plenty of since the USA dollar is so strong in Guatemala), to an ice-cream store to get a mid-day snack, to a Guatemalan candy store to try out the local sweets, and then to her parent’s house to see what the house architecture in Antigua is like since 8 – 1o foot walls line the streets making house visibility impossible. Boy are the houses uniquely beautiful. Traditionally, there is a big, open garden in the center of the house. The rooms all surround the garden and the second story is a big patio with volcano views. Talk about a private paradise! The gardens as well-kept with beautiful flower and vine overhangs and lots of candles.

After that, we all piled into the Jeep and rode to the birthday’ girls house right on the outskirts of the city. When Cass told me we were going to be staying at her friend’s house and then her aunt’s house later on, I told her I would prefer a hotel with a bed, but boy was I wrong and glad Cass ignored me! We drove into the b-day girl’s house and wound up taking a drive up the mountain at the back of her property to their guest house. It had another amazing view of the city, nestled in the woods, and was our own little paradise! We had some very deserved and needed showers and got ready for the celebratory b-day dinner. We did a little pre-gaming in the main house and met loads of very nice people. I actually had mutual friends with some of the people I met as there is a large Guatemalan population at TCU – small world, huh?!

About 15 of us took off on foot to a rooftop bar and resultant for dinner. We had some delicious pizza and I tried very hard to stay awake. Sitting and eating after loads of travel and a long hike will make one very tired. Thankfully, we headed to an Irish pub called Riley’s that was not Irish in the slightest – more Spanish with cool murals and a huge dance floor with great Latin music – that brought the energy back. We had some drinks, danced, and people watched until the lights came on! It was only midnight but apparently cops with dogs were going to raid the bar! We left in a hurry and walked to a different club called Lucky Rabbit down the street that had a very “American, hostel-hopping, young tourist” vibe and more groovy music. I was getting tired and a little cranky, so thankfully, we left before the break of dawn and headed back to the guest house. Our “Core Four” of girls tried to walk back together but the guys in our group wouldn’t let us. Apparently, while the streets of Antigua seem safe, there is a lot of kidnapping all over Guatemala and girls should travel in groups of 6 of more, preferably with at least one guy.

Anyways Janine and Cass stayed at the main house to continue socializing while Kim, Isa, and I went to bed. I slept extremely well, with the startling exception of some loud screaming in the night as Janine and Cass discovered a clementine sized spider hanging in their bed when they got home. Those bugs in Guatemala are BIG!

Antigua Tips:

  • Travel with a group
  • Make sure you have plenty of room in your suitcase for market goods and bring cash for lots of shopping
  • Don’t forget potent bug spray

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

5:15 AM wake up to start our trek to Antigua, Guatemala for volcano hiking! Who needs sleep on vacation anyways…right? We had a quick bite to eat and took off to a Burger King about 30 minutes away to meet up with a few more of Cass’s friends who were going to make the climb with us. We went down some very bumpy roads in Cass’s old Jeep and made a few wrong turns while trying to navigate, but eventually made it to the coffee farm below the Acatenango volcano for our ride half-way up the volcano. The farm was beautiful, full of greenhouses and lush coffee forests. Cass’s friends hopped in the front of the truck that was driving us up the mountain and the “core four” of us hopped in the bed of the truck for one of the wildest rides I have ever had up the side of the volcano.

Coffee farm below Acatenango volcano, Antigua, GuatemalaIt started out nice and easy, driving through the dark green, lush coffee forests at the volcano’s base, but quickly turned into a windy dusty trail as we hit the mid section. Hair flying everywhere, skin looking tan with the dust layers, butts getting bruised from bouncing on the truck bed’s uneven floor, we were having the time of our life hanging on for dear life! As we got higher and higher, we entered the jungle level of the volcano which was dense, moist, and covered in moss. It was truly beautiful but we were also driving up at a super steep angle at a very fast pace not to lose traction, so we were all trying to hold each other in the bed of the truck as bump after bump tried to fling us out! Talk about exhilarating! I definitely had a nice round of bruises after that ride.

We finally made it to the drop-off for our hike. At this point, the forest had grown thin and there were lots of ferns and birch trees without leaves. The scenery – I can’t describe it. It was just so… extraordinarily different from Texas! Unfortunately, the elevation got to Janine so she stayed back with one of our guides at the car, and we took off on our hike. The higher we got, the more the ground turned into volcanic sand, making it very hard to climb up the steep side of the volcano. We rested at a plateau covered in delicate yellow flowers about half way up the trail and realized we were above the clouds. It was incredible.

Above the clouds atop of Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

From that point on, the trees stopped and it was volcanic sand all the way up. I swear, for every two steps I took, I slid back one step in the sand. There were no hand rails and the fall would have been a deadly one, so we faced upwards and onwards. You could hear the rumblings of the active volcano next store, named Fuego (Fire), echoing off of the boulders near the peak of our climb. It was terrifyingly exhilarating and the view / feeling of reaching the top was something I had never experienced before.

We walked the circumference of the volcano’s mouth, trying to stay erect as the super strong wind attempted to blow us away, and we found some wind cover between some rocks for a lunch stop. We watched the clouds roll over Fuego while it erupted as we ate and soaked in the view. I couldn’t believe this was just day 1 of our trip!

Atop of the Acatenango volcano in Antigua, Guatemala

 

The view of En Fuego Volcano from Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

The hike down was just as scary as the way up, but thrilling as we basically slid down the pumice sandy section of the mountain. There was an adorable blonde dog hanging out at the half-way plateau. He decided to join our group and followed us all the way back to our truck. I gave him the second half of my ham sandwich as a reward and we piled in the seat portion of the truck this time on the way down. We learned our lesson for sure! The dog followed our truck all the way down the mountain, and even tried to help us when the truck got stuck in a muddy ditch at a hairpin turn on the volcano trail! We almost had to push the truck out!

Hiking to the top of Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

Once we got off the volcano trail and onto an actual road, Cass, her friend Isa, and I stood in the bed of the truck and held onto the bar over the cab, hair flying in the wind singing songs at the top of our lungs, soaking in the experience as much as possible while racing back to the coffee plantation. Upon arrival, we shook out all of the pumice stones from our shoes and walked through the greenhouses full of poinsettias. It was really pretty and a nice end to the crazy morning before saying goodbye to Cass’s friends, hopping in the car, and driving back to Antigua for the rest of the day’s adventures.

Pointsetta garden below Acatenango volcano, Antigua, Guatemala

Volcano hiking tips:

  • Bring a warm wind jacket – the top of the volcano is very cold and windy
  • Wear hiking boots and sweat wicking, high socks. You can wear sneakers, but your shoes will get filled with sand and you may not get a lot of traction
  • Wear warm leggings for easy movement on the way up
  • Bring snacks & water so you have plenty of fule for the hike. It gets hot under the sun on the lower sections so hydration is key.
  • Use plenty of sunscreen as the altitude and thin air makes the sun extra potent
  • Try and find a good hiking stick for added hiking leverage
  • Wear a backpack for your things (camera etc). You will need your arms for balance so a purse is not recommended
  • The mid-way hike takes about 3 hours. Unless you want to do the whole day hike, find a service that will take you up half-way with a guide. You can also spend the night at the top of the volcano if you want – just make sure to bring very warm equipement and sleeping gear
  • Have extra cash for guide tips
  • Don’t forget your camera and selfie stick

Journey to Guatemala

Journey to Guatemala

Sometimes your friends meet people and decide to set you up with them because they think you have similar interests and would work well together. Typically, that kind of a situation happens in regards to dating, but in this instance, it was, I guess I could say, a blind friend date!

One of my good friends went on a camping trip and met a Guatemalan girl named Cassandra whom they thought was just like me; very outgoing, active lifestyle loving, wasn’t afraid to dance the night away, and had a quirky sense of humor, etc. Come to find out, this Cassandra and I lived in the same apartment complex just a few buildings down from each other as well and so I ended up going over to her place for a pre-party with our mutual friends and, as fate would have it, we BFF-clicked right away!

Guatemala Besties!

Cass quickly became one of my favorite people of all time, we became roommates, and did absolutely everything you could do in Fort Worth, Texas – i.e. two-stepping with cowboys, biking to brunch, killing it a dodgeball, starting dance floors wherever there was music, playing sand volleyball whenever the sun was out, the list goes on and on – for about two years. After that time, I had met my man and we decided to move to Dallas to explore a new city together. Cass also planned a big change – moving back to Guatemala to live with her family and work on things she was passionate about. Of course, it was tough to see her go, but I vowed I would come visit her soon and try to utilize the bits and pieces of Spanish she had tried to teach me (I was not the best student, jajaja).

Thankfully for Skype and Whatsapp, we were able to keep in touch, and my travel itch got stronger and stronger until I just had to buy that plane ticket. How convenient that a travel blogger such as my self has a bestie who lives in a beautify exotic country that speaks the language?! Two of our other friends decided to come with me to visit Cass and her family and, when mid-October finally arrived, we packed our bags and headed to the airport!

What is the first thing that you do upon airport arrival during a girls trip? Breakout the selfie stick and take a picture of course! What is the first thing you realize is sitting on the counter at home that you forgot to grab on the way out? The very selfie stick you need to take your girls trip pic! Ugh! I was so excited to bring it too – so of course I had to walk to the electronics store in the airport and buy a new one specifically for the trip. I am not going to lie though, it was totally worth buying. We finally took our departure pic and boarded the plane. Kim, Janine and I had all met through Cass and hadn’t seen each other in a while so we had lots of time on the flight to Guatemala City to catch up. One of us had just started a relationship, one just got out of one, and one was going steady, so boys was the top of choice of course… Who needs People magazine when you have real life gossip?!

We arrived around 7:30 PM in Guatemala and basically ran to the pick up line to see Cass! It was so exciting to finally be in the country she had talked so much about! We hopped in her Jeep and noticed that the windows were very darkly tinted so that people couldn’t see in. Almost all of the cars we saw from then on had similar tints for safety reasons. Right off the bat, there were some major differences from the USA. We drove through the City and right up a mountain side to Cass’s parents house. Most of the streets were lined with high concrete walls that you couldn’t see behind, bared windows, and barbed wire fences. Again, very different safety measures than we see in mainstream USA.

Eventually, we got to Cass’s house, passed through the door in the giant concrete wall, and encountered a beautiful outdoor patio garden full of succulents, and a variety of other plants. It was quite enchanting. The overall architecture of the houses in Guatemala is so different. The houses are full of alcoves, atriums, arches, and different decorations to make each place very unique. The view from the house was absolutely breathtaking, spanning almost all of the city with surrounding volcanos. I would not mind waking up to the view every morning!

Guatemala City, Guatemala

We chatted with Cass’s parents, some of the sweetest people I have ever met, and their maids made us a delicious fajita dinner. We enjoyed some wine and chatted the night away before heading downstairs to pack and rest up for the next day’s journey to Antigua for volcano climbing!