Tag Archives: Antigua

Fin de Guatemala

We finished up our last day of Spanish school today! Over the last week or so since our previous blog we’ve been occupied with school in the morning and different activities each afternoon.

Dave studying with his tutor Sonia

Dave studying with his tutor Sonia

Fun with pinatas at the school

Fun with pinatas at the school

Christine has been busy doing volunteer work at Common Hope (or Familiar de Esperanza as it’s called locally). It’s a well run organization based in Minnesota that has been doing lots of charity work in this area for 25+ years. The project is at a huge old coffee plantation on the outskirts of Antigua complete with medical and dental clinics, a workshop for making pre-fab houses, a nursery, library and lots more to assist the community. One afternoon Christine went with one of the many social workers on home visits to some of the families and hear how they were getting along. The families were very welcoming and proud of their modest and extremely basic homes. Some with no running water!

Community laundries for those familes without running water at home

Community laundries for those familes without running water at home

There were many families affected by alcohol abuse and violence besides being poor and trying to take care of their many children. Common Hope focuses on assisting the children with education and all that this entails; happy home, family, health,and safety. I obviously worked in the dental clinic and saw a lots of different people and did everything from extractions to cleanings and even a root canal! All the patients were so appreciative and grateful, making it an unforgettable experience.

One very happy patient

One very happy patient

Christines helpful assistants

Christine’s helpful assistants

Dave has also been a busy little beaver! He’s been getting the van all fixed up so that we can continue our journey without cringing every time we see a huge bump coming our way. Our suspension has been tested to the limit and it was in desperate need of some help, especially since our rubber bumper thingys fell off. We found a mechanic right down the street from us and took Ginger in on 2 different days. All went well but the true test will be when we drive her!

Dave also went to one of the many coffee plantations for a tour, which was reasonably interesting, and educational.

Coffee beans out to dry before roasting

Coffee beans out to dry before roasting

This week has also brought many new campers into our little patch of police compound, including a few other overlanders heading to Argentina or Chile.

It's getting busy around here!

It’s getting busy around here!

For a few nights we had an English lad on a motorbike camped next to us. He had travelled up from Argentina and was headed to the USA to sell the bike before heading home. We’ve had a few hippies come and go, a Canadian girl in a hammock and a strange Italian guy that didn’t talk to anyone. There have also been a few really nice couples that we hope to keep in touch with and hopefully catch up with as we all head further South.

We are making the most of our last day in Antigua, Guatemala before heading to El Salvador tomorrow. Our good friends Denis and Renee are also heading off tomorrow, so we may tag along with them for a couple more days.

Christine dwarfed by the 'Gigantes'

Christine dwarfed by the ‘Gigantes’

Beautiful sights in Antigua

Beautiful sights in Antigua

We have really enjoyed it here and being stationary for 2.5 weeks but the trip is far from over and it’s time to get going again.

This weeks banner - Christine getting blown off of Volcan Pacaya

This weeks banner – Christine getting blown off of Volcan Pacaya

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Big news of 2013 – We are engaged!

We are happily settled here in Antigua, Guatemala and enjoying it a lot. Christmas was obviously not the same as being at home with our families, but we made the most of it.

Ginger all decked out in her Christmas lights

Ginger all decked out in her Christmas lights

We had a good sleep in because Christmas Eve was incredibly noisy with all the firecrackers and fireworks that each and every household sets off in the streets, or what seemed like directly under our van. After a good pancake and maple syrup breakfast we wandered the streets, joining all the crowds of families.

The busy streets in Antigua on Christmas day

The busy streets in Antigua on Christmas day

Old ruins around Antigua

Old ruins around Antigua

Christine tidying up around town

Christine tidying up around town

Apparently these foosball tables are also good for washing clothes

Apparently these foosball tables are also good for washing clothes

We had a very festive Christmas dinner with a Mexican theme – nachos. It was an early night though as Boxing Day was the start of our Spanish lessons.

Xmas nachos as big as my head!

Xmas nachos as big as my head!

Our school is ‘Antiguena Spanish Academy’ and where we study is in a beautiful garden with avocado, coffee, and banana trees, poinsettias as well as hammocks strung throughout. Pretty darn nice! And the learning espanol thing is going OK too.

Christine with her maestra Clarivel

Christine with her maestra Clarivel

Christines favourite time at school - break time!

Christines favourite time at school – break time!

We each have our own tutor and study one-on-one for 4 hours each morning. Then we have to do our homework and study in the afternoon or evening, and often find a nice park or cafe around town for this. It’s not stressful but your brain gets overloaded quickly and you get to a ‘maximum memorization’ point. The school also organizes activities around Antigua in the afternoons and we took part in one that walked up to the Cerro de la Cruz or ‘Hill of the Cross’ which is what it says, a look out point on a hill with a cross.

The view over Antigua

The view over Antigua

We also decided not to do a Homestay and instead continue to camp in the van at the Tourist Police Station. The price is right at less than $1/day including electricity, use of bathrooms and cold showers, good security and a great location close to the centre of town. Plus its only a 7 minute bike ride to our school. However there are a few downers like the fact that it’s in the ruins of an old hotel and hospital, no shade in the grassy field where we’re parked, lots of biting fire ants, not the cleanest toilets and there is a ‘Peeping Tom’ in the showers. We now also have great camping neighbours, Renee and Denis, who are from Quebec and are also taking Spanish classes. They’ve remedied the problem of cleanliness by doing a complete scrub down of the bathroom and ‘Tom’ seems to have disappeared too thankfully.

On Sunday, our day off, we signed up for a tour to hike up one of the surrounding and active volcanoes, Pacaya. We’ve had beautiful blue skies and sun every day except for that day! It was cloudy and chilly and at the top of the volcano there was a gale force wind and you felt like you were right in the clouds, which you actually were. But it was an experience and we met a lot of other interesting travellers.

On the way up the volcano

On the way up the volcano

With traditional mayan makeup

With traditional mayan makeup

Into the clouds - very windy and very cold

Into the clouds – very windy and very cold

Cooking marshmallows in a hot vent

Cooking marshmallows in a hot vent

Dave with his slightly warm 'steamed' marshmallow

Dave with his slightly warm ‘steamed’ marshmallow

Dave at the volcanoes crater (we think - we never saw it either...)

Dave at the volcano’s crater (we think – we never saw it either…)

New Year’s Eve was great! We joined Renee and Denis on a bit of a walk about town to see all the sights before heading for dinner. After dinner we went back to the crowds and waited for the big countdown.

Beautiful Antigua

Beautiful Antigua

Dave and Denis with the dancing giants

Dave and Denis with the dancing giants

Dancing in the streets

Dancing in the streets

Dancing giants

Dancing giants

We were in the central park where there were so many fireworks and crackers that you could hardly hear. It was beautiful with fireworks coming from every direction.

The lights and crowds at Central Park

The lights and crowds at Central Park

Waiting for the fireworks with Renee and Denis

Waiting for the fireworks with Renee and Denis

img 5500

We went back to Ginger for a toast to the New Year and that’s when Dave proposed! He had a ring and everything! It was a great way to start 2013 and we hope you all have a happy and healthy year!

Christine with her New Years bling

Christine with her New Years bling

 

This weeks banner - New Years eve in Antigua

This weeks banner – New Years eve in Antigua

7 Comments

Filed under General News

Belize to Guatemala

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL FROM LA ANTIGUA GUATEMALA

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL FROM LA ANTIGUA GUATEMALA

This weeks travels, from Belize City to Antigua Guatemala

This weeks travels, from Belize City to Antigua Guatemala

After our great couple of days on Caye Caulker we headed back to the mainland and on to the Ginger. We would have liked to stay for a while longer, but already had plans in Guatemala that we had to get to.
We caught the 10:30 ferry back to Belize city and were back in the van and on the road again just after lunch. We headed west up to San Ignacio near the Guatemalan border. We had heard mixed reports about this place, but decided for ourselves that it wasn’t great. We did enquire about doing some cave tubing the next day, but they wanted an extortionate amount of money. We decided to wait until we were in Guatemala where there were a number of other places that also offered this activity.
On Wednesday morning we hit the border to Guatemala, and again had no major issues getting all of the paperwork sorted. Though the man doing our vehicle temporary import would be lucky to complete 3 in a day he was moving sooo slow!

After the border we headed straight to Tikal Parque National, the most significant and largest Mayan ruin in Guatemala. We had considered staying here for the night of the 20th to 21st(aka `The End of the World`), but were very quickly dissuaded by the number of people, vehicles, marquees, tents, scaffolding and TV crews. It took us over an hour to figure out how to get Ginger through the mess of people to the hotel where we planned to camp. The hotel was fully booked for the following night, including every spare inch of ground space which was soon covered in tents.
Once we were settled we enjoyed a bit of people watching before getting an early night. We planned to be up early the next morning to see the ruins, and then get the heck out of there!

The hotels gardens were full!

The hotels gardens were full!

We were in the ruins by 8am the next morning and had a great couple of hours exploring. The overall scale of the sight was impressive, as well as the individual temples which were definitely the largest we had seen on our travels so far. And despite the crowds and chaos it is such a big place that we explored a lot of it all by ourselves, well except for the monkeys.

The first temple we saw in Tikal - very large, steep and impressive!

The first temple we saw in Tikal – very large, steep and impressive!

The grand plaza - full of stages, TV screens, scaffolds and camera crews...

The grand plaza – full of stages, TV screens, scaffolds and camera crews…

Ancient ruins turned green with moss

Ancient ruins turned green with moss

Exploring the grounds, often by ourselves

Exploring the grounds, often by ourselves

Another very impressive temple

Another very impressive temple

After leaving the craziness at Tikal behind we headed down the Western road towards a town called Raxruha, where we had heard that there was more cave tubing available.

We even spotted Santa collecting for Christmas

We even spotted Santa collecting for Christmas

The ferry crossing we took at Sayache

The ferry crossing we took at Sayache

We stopped for the night, and even splurged on a hotel room for once. Friday morning we managed to find the place for cave tubing – after a couple of misadventures down some dubious 4WD tracks. The tubing was excellent! It was quite surreal to be slowly floating down a river underground. Thankfully there were some natural windows where the cave roof had fallen in and now allowed some light in. Oh, and it was also about 1/8 of the price that we had been quoted in Belize.

Ready to head downriver

Ready to head downriver

Christine trying not to freak out in the caves

Christine trying not to freak out in the caves

We had heard of a fantastic and off the beaten track place called Semuc Champey, with limestone pool formations. We had also read that it was down a horrific 14km stretch of dirt road from a town called Lanquin. What the hell we thought, we’ll give it a try and see if we can get there. About 40km short of Lanquin the ‘National Highway’ turned from a nice paved road into a nice gravel road. 2km later this turned into a not so nice paved road, and eventually just became a very muddy one lane track, with large buses and trucks hiding behind every tree and corner. This was not fun!

National Highway number 5

National Highway number 5

Plenty of hiding spots for oncoming trucks and buses

Plenty of hiding spots for oncoming trucks and buses

They even had some muddy hill climbing for us

They even had some muddy hill climbing for us

Plenty of passing room on this 'highway'

Plenty of passing room on this ‘highway’

On the bright side the views were pretty spectacular and the local kids seemed to take great delight in yelling “Gringo! Gringo!” as we slowly passed.

Great vies from the highway - we had also climbed to about 1500m on the dirt roads.

Great views from the highway – we had also climbed to about 1500m on the dirt roads.

On the road to Lanquin

On the road to Lanquin

We eventually made it to Lanquin just as it was going dark, and arranged a parking spot outside of the Zephyr Lodge. This is where all of the other gringos have been hiding! The restaurant and bar was full of Canadians, Aussies and Americans. A fun night was had – especially by Dave, who still doesn’t recall drinking any blue shots…
Saturday morning we tried to push on to Semuc Champey, as we had been told that the road was no worse than those we had come in on. It had been raining all night though, which made a great difference. Less than a kilometre out of town we found a small bus reversing back down a hill towards us, with all the passengers walking along behind. Apparently the road was too steep and muddy for them to pass. We decided that if they couldn’t do it we weren’t willing to try, so started reversing down the hill ourselves. This turned into a scary exercise, as every time we touched the brake the van would start sliding, often sideways. ‘Please stop! Please stop! Please stop!’ could be heard from Dave in the drivers seat. We did reach the bottom of the hill safely, and managed to get back out to the paved road without any major incident (though a couple more scary times with Ginger sliding sideways across the road). So, we didn’t get to see Semuc Champey, but know that there are many more great sights ahead. And will hopefully be easier to get too!

Muddy roads on the way back from Lanquin

Muddy roads on the way back from Lanquin

Yesterday we arrived in Antigua, a cool UNESCO world heritage town complete with cobblestone streets. We have settled temporarily into the Tourist Police car park for a few nights (for free!) until we start our Spanish lessons on Boxing Day. Then we will probably stay with a local family as part of our immersion learning. Christine is very nervous and anxious about this!
First impressions of Antigua are great. It’s a beautiful little town with little markets, cafes and stalls aplenty. There are three volcanoes we can see from here – thankfully only one is active. And the temperature is much cooler with days getting to mid twenties and nights a bit chilly at 11C!

Exploring the cobbled streets of Antigua

Exploring the cobbled streets of Antigua

Central Park in Antigua

Central Park in Antigua

We think we will enjoy Christmas here, as well as a couple of weeks while we study. It will be nice to avoid the Guatemalan roads for a while too!

We hope you all have a fantastic Christmas and New Years with your family and loved ones. We will be thinking of you all and wishing we were there for this time of the year.

This weeks banner - floating towards the Candeleria caves in Guatemala

This weeks banner – floating towards the Candeleria caves in Guatemala

4 Comments

Filed under General News