ANTIGUA AND THE PACAYA VOLCANO
09 January 2014
Our good friends, Jim and Jeannie Cosgrove, arrived in Guatemala City in January for a three week holiday with us. Elizabeth Bell, from Antigua Tours, had put together an itinerary that would take us to Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Flores and Tikal. The four of us have been looking forward to this trip for a couple of months.
Things do not always go according to plan. This holiday was plagued with illness and it took its toll on everyone. First one to fall was Jim Cosgrove, who arrived with sniffles and a hoarse, but sexy voice. Following that, Jeannie had troubles sleeping and picked up on the coughing and sniffles. My turn came next, with coughing, non stop sneezing and a runny nose that prevented much sleep. Things only worsened when Jeannie got very, very sick at Tikal with either an intestinal bug or a virus similar to Norwalk Virus. My Jim, always eager to participate in life, joined Jeannie about 24 hours later with the same horrible, horrible sickness. All of us survived.
Now that the bad stuff is out of the way, let me tell you all the good stuff. We kept to our itinerary and were happy with all the travel arrangements. On the first morning together in Guatemala City we were picked up, on time, by our driver and driven to our hotel in Antigua. Once there, we walked around and checked out some of the stores and sights before enjoying a special dinner. We did some shopping but there were so many beautiful, colourfully woven fabrics, bags, clothes and carvings to choose from that it was overwhelming. Weaving is a time consuming task and each village had their own special patterns. Having to say yes to one fabric and no to another seemed very unfair as all the work was amazing. I took the easy way out and bought only two things, a water bottle holder and a bag for my computer. Jim and Jeannie had the much more difficult task of finding the exact perfect piece for their hallway mirror.
We did a walking tour of Antigua with Elizabeth Bell. It was interesting to hear about the local politics. She explained a lot about the education system in Guatemala and we learned that each parent has to provide books and supplies for their children. Many people in Guatemala cannot afford to do so and as a result, the majority of people only have an education of Grade 4 or less. This is now changing as more Guatemalan families are having only 2 or 3 children as compared to 8 or 9 children. This gives parents an opportunity to provide a higher education for their offspring. As cruisers, we are encouraged to bring school supplies to the schools and orphanages in the areas we visit. This is just a small thing but it can make a huge difference to the Guatemalans, especially the Mayans.
While in Antigua, we signed up to climb the Pacaya Volcano. From what we had heard and read, it was about a 45 minute walk. That sounded doable but we quickly found the trip was not like we expected. It began with a long drive to the volcano in a van,crowded with strangers, including two young ladies from Whitehorse who were a combination of vivacious, beautiful, silly, enthusiastic and very entertaining.
Arriving at the start of the trail, we were greeted by many young men with horses and walking sticks which we could rent. At the same time, our guide was hurrying everyone to get going up the trail. Feeling a bit rushed, we started climbing. After only about 50 feet or so, Jim and Jeannie decided that this hike was not for them and they would wait while we did the climb.
Jim and I kept on but it was hard going because the high altitude made for a lot less oxygen in the air we were breathing. The rest of our group were much younger than us and they seemed to have no trouble keeping the pace. Every so often they would stop and wait but as soon as we caught up, they would continue on up the trail. This did not allow Jim and I any time to catch our breath and I was starting to wish that there was someway of tapping into the energy of the two girls from Whitehorse.
Two young men with horses had followed behind the group in the hopes that someone might change their mind about walking to the top. Jim and I kept insisting that we did not need to ride the horses because we were in top physical shape. As I continued to struggle my way up the trail, the horses starting to look very inviting. Finally I caved and climbed on a horse. Wow. This is pretty nice. I can keep up with the group, breath easily, take pictures, relax. Jim mocked me and kept on going for about another 20 feet before deciding to get a horse of his own.
As we made our way up to the volcano, my guide asked if I had brought a flashlight. No, says I, and why would I want to? Oh, he says, didnĀ't you know that you will be coming down in the pitch blackness of night. No, says I, this is supposed to be 45 minutes to the top and much shorter back down. No, he says, this is 4.5 kilometres to the top and it takes longer to get down in the dark. Hey Jim, says I, did you bring a flashlight. Yes, says Jim, but the battery is almost dead. Why do you want to know? I tell him and we think about our wise friends who are waiting for us in the parking lot. We hope they do not worry too much.
The Pacaya Volcano was worth the visit! It was spewing huge rocks and belching lots of smoke. We walked around the huge volcanic cauldron which was grey with ash and very harsh looking. We took pictures and investigated steam vents, some big enough to crawl into and some hot enough for roasting marshmallows. The tour guide took us on a hike up to a ridge where we all sat and enjoyed the sunset. Once it was dark,we could see the red hot boulders and gasses spewing from the volcano. Fantastic sight and how wonderful to actually experience it.
Our guide brought us safely back to the parking lot where Jim and Jeannie awaited. We climbed back into the van and enjoyed a great trip back to Antigua with our new found friends.