Guatemala

Day 221: Adios, Antigua – Guatemala – Jan 24th

Our last day in Antigua, we felt like we had to explore some parts of the city we never wandered…. and we were glad we did.

We saw the church ruins that, despite the complete facade over looking the central square, the rest of it is actually in shambles. Built and rebuilt twice in the 1700s when Antigua was the capital city of this country, the final earthquake forced the government to relocate, and left this church untouched in shambles. The main columns have stood the test of time, or at least repaired, leaving the sky to blanket the roof like a surreal painting. We also went underground into the crypt, and the dark, damp, musky interiors of an empty crypt was not too great, especially just finishing the novel Angels & Demons no too long ago. Wandering into 3 more churches, we called it a day.

After having the best tasting smoothie EVER (fresh, tree-ripen fruit will probably do that), we grabbed a quick beer with one of our house-mates we bumped on the streets. Dinner was fun and delicious, as we bumped into the owner of this gourmet ice-cream shop we chatted with another time. Apparently he also runs this restaurant, and his disarming personality and interesting menu lured us in. Jiajia had a pizza that’s not yet on the menu and which the owner named Wendy (yes, the pizza is called Wendy!), and Alan had the Unicorn Steak (literally)…. hilarious! We finished our meal, walked outside and as we were sitting at the steps of a cafe reminiscing about this city, fireworks lit up the sky, as if it was the city’s way of saying good bye and farewell….

Antigua may not be the ‘perfect’ location as a tourist short on time, but for us this place has captivated our hearts. A small city that you can walk from corner to corner in about 20minutes, it has all the amenities of a big city and delicious coffee+chocolate, world-wide cuisine, cozy coffee shops and anything you’d want. The rest of Guatemala is also at your fingertips, if you’re willing to do some traveling. The people here are amazingly friendly and you never know who you’ll bump into or what will chance out of these meetings.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Antigua and couldn’t recommend it enough….if you have at least 2 weeks time and want to learn some Spanish at 1 of 60 language schools!

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Day 220: Antigua – Guatemala – Jan 23rd

Alan finally recovered, and Jiajia skipped classes as well to “take care of Alan”, which really felt like an excuse to not go to class as well. !!??!!

Feeling better, we booked our itinerary for the upcoming leg of the journey! We’ll be doing a week long scuba session to get our certifications, which requires a bit more physical exertion and was important nobody is sick for this.

We also had some really, really delicious crepe sitting atop a cozy little rooftop terrace. We’re not sure where Antiguenos learn how to cook, but they sure cook well.

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Day 219: Antigua – Guatemala – Jan 22nd

Not recovering fast enough in time for school (intentional? Haha), Alan spent the day sleeping in bed while Jiajia toughed it out and went ahead to class.

After about 36hrs of sleep, Alan finally recovered, with some lingering bouts of vertigo coming out of nowhere. For health reasons, Alan is indefinitely refrained from touching any more educational materials.

house party!

house party with awesome friends!

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Day 218: Antigua – Guatemala – Jan 21st

 wanted to make the most out of our last week in Antigua and to do so, we upped our hours of study to 8hrs a day! From 8-12, then after a 2hr lunch break, 2-6pm.

It’s been a long time since we’ve been in a classroom setting, and I can honestly say it was EXTREMELY TIRING. Alan kept looking at his watch waiting for the next recess or until end of class. The material started to get difficult as well, with all these strange verb conjugations and uses.

After class, Alan felt the same as after coming out of an 6hr SOA exam…except dizzier. After a strange dinner with a bowl of soup, purple yams with a sweet orange glaze, it was washed down with some luke-warm chocolate (it wasn’t hot chocolate). Dinner didn’t really sit well, and within a few hours of lying down, Alan was throwing up and coming down with the fever…. 

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Day 217: Chichicastenango – Guatemala – Jan 20th

Every Thursday & Sunday, the quiet town of Chichi (how can anyone forget this awesome name!) turns into a lively town engulfed in a massive market, is the largest of its kind in whole of Central America. We were warned ahead of time of the chaos, the frenzy and the wonderful handicrafts you can get in this place. Locals and tourists flock here alike, and you’re going to get a hell of a deal if you bargain right.

Having lived in China, handling chaos and frenzied markets are not out of our arsenal of what most Chinese call as essential living. But maybe it was all the hype we’ve heard, because it didn’t turn out to be THAT amazing for either of us. We did see some pretty cool things though!

We grabbed a seat on the balcony of an upstairs restaurant looking to score some breakfast. Then out of nowhere, you hear loud cracks of fireworks (or gun shot?) in the distant. We were a bit weirded out, and it continued on for another 10minutes, and the sounds were getting closer and closer…. Then around the corner of the street, a massive parade of sorts winds its way through the congested streets with large effigies of saints in colourful floats, and men and woman in fancy indigenous clothes played instruments in between the large floats. Some, for the oddest reason we will never be able to understand, were all drinking cans of Coca-Cola….. It seems like the Mayans have adopted the Catholic beliefs, and mixed it into their original ways of worship into something we’ve never really seen. Very interesting!! And yes, as the parade goes on, people lit these massive fireworks in the middle of the streets!!

The market was the highlight of this town, but for various reasons we actually didn’t manage to buy as much as we would’ve. It was really neat though, as although this market is a tourist attraction in its own, the locals outnumber the tourists at least 6:1, so this really is where the locals go. The main reason we didn’t get anything though, is probably because our packs are almost full with all the gear we need for trekking in Patagonia, and our down jackets for the southern tips of South America! In the end, we left without much but well worth the trip to check out what all the talk was about.

Unfortunately, our beloved water reservoir finally broke at the seams and have to be retired. It was good while it lasted!

Tomorrow…back to school!!!! Damn!

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Day 216: Lake Atitlan – Guatemala – Jan 19th

 signed up for a boat tour around Lake Atitlan, which wasn’t much of a tour but rather just a boat ride since there wasn’t a guide. We were to be shuttled off into 4 different towns and get to spend a bit of time at each.

It is really interesting to see how, despite the short distances that separated the towns (some of which were only accessible by boat), that each and every single one had something different to offer for a different crowd.

San Marcos, our first stop, had this “earthly” vibe to it, with a lot of people seeking ‘spiritual energy’ walking around bare foot. The roads were narrow, and hostels were nestled in cozy gardens. In the main town, there was a nice community centre for kids to play soccer, and a amplitheatre for locals to perform and have announcements? Cool place!

San Juan was our next stop, and this town offered lots of Mayans selling beautiful weaves of shawls, scarves and guipils (a style of traditional Mayan clothing). Much more touristy, but the lack of tourists gave it a very quaint feel. The towns were all very small, and easily walkable end to end from within 15minutes.

San Pedro was next, and before we arrived we’ve already heard of it. Almost everyone we talked to had high praises for this town, which was as disparate as a “quiet town to relax in” to “where all the party happens”. When we arrived, we wandered a bit and instantly felt like this place wasn’t for us. It felt a bit cheesy, and the random people sitting on the streets meditating and making strange calls enticing us for a ‘journey into the spiritual side’ or whatever was game over. We did have some nice roast chicken lunch and a wonderful cup of coffee, though.

Santiago Atitlan was our last stop, and we were given a bit of extra time here for a good measure. A ‘town’ with over 600,000 people (or so our tuk-tuk driver told us), it was a big place compared to the others. One of the highlights of this town is the local deity, Maximo, who is worshipped by all of the local Mayan Brotherhoods. Nobody can really trace the origins of this ‘god’, but everyone knows about him and hosts one of the bigger festivals here in Atitlan. We did pay a visit, and with a small donation to the upkeep of the shrine (as Maximo likes to drink liquor and smoke cigars) we also snapped a few pictures of the god, and the shamans next to him…smoking. With all the fumes, dark lighting and the shady feel, it felt more like an HK triad 关二哥shrine than anything…haha.

We returned to Pana (that’s what locals call it) after that, and enjoyed some dramatic scenery while sipping a mojito, munching on nachos at a lake side patio. What a day! And to top everything off, while we were walking home and passing the usual street stalls of pie vendors (Yes, street side pies….so strange).

Then, out of nowhere this waft of smoke blows into our faces, and we both instantly recognize the smell…. barbecued meat!!! So we walked a bit further and there it was, in all of its glory, a chubby middle-aged lady with a charcoal grill turning out some succulent looking carne (meat). We poked around, and asked how much and was shocked…. the lady charged only 15Q for a plate of meat, rice, guacamole, frijoles and unlimited tortillas!!!!! That’s like, the price of two pieces of toast in Antigua!!! We each got a plate of chicken which tasted even better than it looked, and happily sat on the sidewalk and ate to our hearts content. A few locals joined in on the feast, but nobody attempted to make any banter, as whenever our gazes met, we knew that neither of us was willing to risk our food getting cold just to talk some nonsense about the weather.

Sometimes, all it takes is a nice, satisfying meal to make a great day even more memorable…. and a delicious street side stall to change your perspective of any locale.

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Day 215: Panajachel – Guatemala – Jan 18th

It was the usual 7am start to the morning with classes at 8am, but this time we were taking another trip out again. This time, we were headed for the town of Panajachel nested next to Lago Atitlan, a high altitude lake in the highland area of Guatemala. The cool thing about this though, is that volcanoes dot the surroundings of the lake, making for some REALLY nice scenery. Around the lake, there are 12 different towns, named after the 12 apostles (so we were told).

The shuttle was scheduled to pick us up at 12:30pm, but this being Guatemala, they shuttle eventually came at 1:20pm. After our mishap in Flores, we are quite keen on NOT missing our shuttles! The shuttle driver was a bit crazy, and he made the ride so choppy we’re pretty sure some people threw up in the back. Alan almost did too!

The town of Panajachel is quite touristy, but not that cheesy. In some ways, it reminded us a bit of Pokhara! There were two main roads which lead you straight into a long dock & beach area where a lot of bars are located for those perfect sunsets over the lake. The best thing for us about Panajachel though, was that somehow and someway, there was an Singaporean restaurant here! Having had enough of the usual tortillas and corn-based things, we generally try to get a fix of Asian foods once in a while. And surprisingly, this place served GREAT authentic Asian food…. cooked by Mayans!! Globalization, eh?

At night, we headed over to a bar labeled PANA ROCK (clearly a rip off of Hard Rock), listened to some Spanish rock songs, drank a few beers and commented on how things are so expensive for locals. 

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Day 214: Antigua – Guatemala – Jan 17th

We’re picking up our stuff in class, and if people speak without any slang and slowly, we can pickup about 40% of what they want to say, which is pretty awesome considering we’ve only been here a week!

And everyday, between 2-4pm the school also hosts an assorted array of activities, and today was a visit to the chocolate museum!! Guatemala, and especially Antigua, is a haven for chocolate and coffee lovers, as the country produces a lot of both, and savvy business people are marketing them very well.

The chocolate museum, was definitely a front for the chocolate factory, but they did a darn good job at making it all very fun and delicious! The ‘learning’ part of the museum trip took a little less than 20minutes, as you walk through a single room with facts and information about chocolate and it’s history, as well as several artifacts showing ‘ancient’ ways of extracting cocoa from the beans. All this learning was done as you are sipping on a bit of chocolate tea brewed in house. Yes, chocolate tea!!! And it just so happens you can also buy some as souvenirs too in the shop, those sly bastards =P

We took the chance and signed up for a “make your own hot chocolate” session, which was great fun and wonderfully delicious! Just like how the Mayans used drink chocolate, they added chilies to spice things up!

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