Friday, January 14, 2011
Sunday morning I began with a church service at 6am at the cathedral La Merced. It was a rather dark morning’s journey, and extremely cold! Probably high 40’s, I would imagine. I could see my breath during the service. So I guess you could say the cold kept me awake.
I appreciated the music quite a lot, which consisted of 5 guitarists playing + singing at the back of the church. It was a very Latin American mass.
The other interesting thing I noticed is that Communion was administered just like the street traffic; that’s to say, disorderly and without any clear pattern.
Perhaps the most interesting is how much Guatemalans seem to rely on intuition, rather than exact and established rules.
After the church service I had a spectacular breakfast at ‘Madre Tierra’, Mother Earth. It was some of the most fresh food, mixed with expedient service, all within a charming courtyard.
Some emails, then off to take some photographs of 1a Avenida, an up-down of the street to document some of the beautiful doors along the way.
My best description of Antigua is:
Cobblestone streets, various offensive fumes, brilliant colors on each house, intricate + treacherous sidewalks, grates over windows and rather artistically composed entry doors.
Interestingly enough, the door is essentially the façade of each home in Antigua, with very few exceptions. Therefore, many owners seem to invest a good amount of resources into the artisanship of the door. Whether through intricate carvings, exquisite iron filigree, or a very secretive door unit (paneled into the main door), the portal is the main event of the Antigua home.
The late morning involved catching up on the diary and jotting down all the myriad experiences I’d been having since arriving.
Lunch was spent at Tacontento, a witty burrito place similar to Chipotle of the US. Again, I enjoyed the shade of a vibrantly colored courtyard, replete with authentic piñatas, a trademark of the Tacontento. The meal was delicious, I had pulled pork a la Mexicana, and shared in good company, with my Constru Casa friend Julia Braybrooks.
Before leaving for the volcano at 2pm, I shared my first phone call with family; it was great to hear their voices…
At 2pm Julia and I embarked on a grand adventure, including a short wait at the travel agency, listening to a young chubby boy dreaming about what he could order from next door while counting his quetzales.
We finally packed into the van, our transport to Pacaya, which is roughly 1.5 hours from Antigua, near Lake Amatitlan. On the way, we got a flat tire, the noise from which sounded like open fire, and which, needless to say, scared the living crap out of me.
I don’t think we could have found a worse spot for a flat tire, along a highway, downhill, in two lanes only. Since there was a ditch along cliffs at the side of the road, that meant the road had to merge to one lane traffic while cruising along at high speeds. It was very scary, to say the least. The driver told us to wait in between the van and the mountain, where we were like helpless ducks waiting to get smashed. A small group of us decided to wait further up for safety, where there was a pull-off. Oddly enough we ended up waiting with our two friends that would later be hiking on foot with us up the volcano. That’s to say the rest of the group ended up riding horses. Our waiting partners were Lars and Hagui, from the Netherlands and Israel, respectively. Both had interesting stories for us, and were good conversation partners for the hike.
If one problem wasn’t enough (as time was against us, with sunset around 6pm, +/-), we ended up needing to take a detour since the typical entry into the park was only one lane, and the driver expected many delays.
We drove for some 2.5 hours, at least, speeding through small derelict villages surrounding Lake Amatitlan. The beauty of the lake was an apt foil for the dismal character of the adjacent towns.
Furthermore, all the people watching us pass seemed to be almost ghost-like in nature, seeming to imply an impending ambush. Thankfully, their expressions were not indicative of anything to come.
On arriving to the park, visitors are immediately hounded by little children trying to sell sticks for the climb, as well as marshmallows to roast over the volcanic crevices. This experience is repeated upon leaving, only at that point the children are asking for one to ‘gift’ regalar flashlights, most likely for the next day’s sales. A tough business, but they are real entrepreneurs, doing the best they can.
The climb was not too difficult, and before too long we were up above the clouds, where we had a spectacular view of Agua and Fuego, two of the prominent volcanoes which dot the Antiguan skyline. Fuego is currently an active volcano, and, on our descent, we caught a glimpse of it erupting and breathing fire into the air, it was quite spectacular.
Beyond all the visual aspects of the hike, the audible and sensory aspects were perhaps most impressive. While walking on porous volcanic rock, one experiences a range of tones as it clanks and crunches under the feet. Hike as music.
On reaching the top, we were able to walk down into the volcanic sauna, which was around 110F, I would guess. The temperature apparently changes during the day, getting warmer at night and colder during the day, as the internal and external temperatures are mixed. The natural heat coming from the volcano is totally incredible. There was one small crack which had the most intense temperatures, and one could not place his/her face over it for more than 5 seconds without getting burned. It was hot hot hot!
During the ride home I just listened to the driver and a tourist (from Spain, I believe) chatting away, great practice listening.
We finally arrived home late in the night, before rounding it out with a brief outing to Rainbow Café, for meetup with Bruce and Jacob as it was their last night in Antigua. There I enjoyed some incredible bongo playing by an incredibly animated young Guatemalan…
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