Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Guatemala

We've visited Guatemala twice in the past month, first for a backpacking trip to the top of Volcán de Agua and next for a three day trip to Antigua.

Guatemala is different. I'm not sure if I'm just unlucky or if traffic accidents are worse in Guatemala, but of the 3 times I've been to Guatemala from El Salvador, we've seen 4 potentially fatal wrecks (2 definitely fatal). I haven't seen any in El Salvador. However, statistics say that although Guatemala has a higher per capita traffic fatality rate, El Salvador has more traffic deaths, so perhaps I'm just driving on the nicer roads in El Salvador. Anyway, the number of heinous accidents makes you think twice about the wisdom of passing cars... ever. Guatemalan Spanish is also considerably easier to understand, at least for me. Although I'm inclined to say this is because Guatemala has more tourists, I don't think that's the only reason.

Volcán de Agua towers over Antigua. At 12,366', it's over 7,000' above Antigua. We started our hike from Santa Maria de Jesús at about 4:15 in the afternoon and reached the summit at around 10pm. Since most of it was in the dark, we were glad that we had remembered to bring our headlamps! Other, less prepared hiking friends were left hiking the volcano with only their cell phone light for light. Yeesh! The hike was really pretty - all along the way you get great views of the surrounding city lights, which include Antigua and Guatemala City. It was cold at the top, though - probably around 40 degrees with a strong wind. Most of our group was not prepared for this, so we spent the night at the summit in a storage room for a radio tower, which was strangely well prepared - it cost 10 quetzales ($1.25) to stay there and we had the option of buying ramen and coffee from the nightwatchman. Instead, we chose to eat our tuna, peppers, cheese, and hummus. What a meal!

We woke up to a cold, foggy view. Luckily, after descending to the lower part of the volcano's crater, we were able to get some stunning views of the world beneath. Simply amazing. The hike down was considerably faster and more comfortable than the hike up. Riding back to El Salvador was a harrowing experience, though - our minibus driver apparently had places to be on a Sunday night. Luckily we didn't end up a statistic.

Our next foray into Guatemala was this past week with Sophie's sister. We spent our time in Antigua, which is a beautiful city with views of three huge volcanoes - Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango. While there, we hiked up Picaya, an active volcano in the area. Sophie had been up Picaya a year and a half ago and was able to roast marshmallows over the lava, but ever since an eruption last may, the lava has stopped flowing, so we had to settle for roasting our marshmallows in the equivalent of a hot oven. The views from Picaya were amazing - we were above the clouds with a clear view of Volcán de Agua and Volcán del Fuego. Our next day in Antigua was spent exploring the city and all the ruins in the city.

Our last day in Guatemala started with a tour of an indigenous music museum and a coffee plantation. I wasn't expecting much from the indigenous music museum, but it was actually pretty cool. The guy that gave us the tour had been involved with the museum for 25 years and was really into trying to preserve the dying cultures of the indigenous people of Guatemala, so his enthusiasm rubbed off. Unlike El Salvador, Guatemala has a large indigenous population that has their own, unique culture and customs.

We then left Antigua in search of the Auto Safari Chapín (yes, an auto safari in Guatemala). The safari is actually pretty decent - you get to drive through lots of different pens with different animals, culminating with the lion pen. They tell you to close your windows when you go into the lion pen, but I seriously doubt that would help much if the lions were interested in you. When we entered the pen, I reminded Sophie that if a lion attacked, the accelerator would be a good idea. She laughed, I cringed. Only later did we hear from a visiting consular officer working in Guatemala that a Mormon missionary had recently had his arm and legs ripped off while trying to get a better picture at a different zoo in Guatemala. Hope he's doing alright.

When we got back to San Salvador, we made ourselves a delicious and healthy meal to try to combat the not-so-healthy-nor-tasty food that we got at the auto safari. We then went to a Dave Matthews cover band concert at a local bar which was surprisingly awesome, although I probably won't want to hear Dave Matthews again for another few years. The bar made me a bit sad, though, since the last time I'd been there was a few months prior, and a significant number of people who had been there a few months ago are no longer in El Salvador. Just this past week we said goodbye to the first people we met in El Salvador. Such is life in the foreign service.

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