Monday, January 21, 2013

CA Trek 2013 - Antigua

I kicked off the New Year with an absolutely amazing 18 day trip through Central America with a bunch of my classmates. We had countless adventures spanning four countries so, rather than sum it all up in one go, I decided to write about each stop as we leave the country, then post them one by one once I've processed the pictures that go with it.

We began our journey in Guatemala, meeting up in Antigua on Jan 3rd. I got in around 1pm and spent the afternoon exploring the city. It's fairly small, but has a cute colonial style that has made into a tourist-hotspot. In the evening, once everyone had arrived, we went out to dinner at a very highly rated Guatemalan restaurant called Fonda de la Calle Real. Several of their dishes have been declared intangible cultural assets if the country, including a chicken dish called pepian that I tried. My general impression of Guatemalan food is that it's a bit on the bland side and while the dish was good it didn't really blow me away.
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Day two was when our adventure truly started. We got an early start to the morning and headed out to climb Pacaya, an active volcano nearby. As we made our way up, we were greater with beautiful sweeping views of the area. Once you reach a certain point on the way up, trees and greenery give way to black volcanic rock. With wispy clouds low overhead, it often looked like a foreign planet. When I said that it was an active volcano, I really did mean active - as in it had erupted just over a week before we visited.
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By far the coolest part of the day was roasting marshmallows using the volcano's heat. It wasn't anything like the top of the volcano of flowing magma, just one particular overhang that emitted a crazy amount of heat. It only took a few seconds for the marshmallows to start browning up deliciously and made for an awesome snack in the middle of our hike.
Another cool spot on the volcano was what our guide referred to as a "sauna". In actuality, it was a little cave with really warm air that you could climb down into. Though it looked tiny from the outside, it was surprisingly spacious and could even handle our giant leader, Jesus.
We stopped for a late lunch in some little country town. Nothing phenomenal, just simple but solid Guatemalan food. We drank enough Gallo, one of the major Guatemalan beers, that they had to go out and buy more. We were also introduced to orchada, a sweet drink that we concluded would go great with rum, and took several bottles back to our hotel for the evening.
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We made one last pit stop at an outlook that gave us a view out over all of Antigua. The surrounding mountains were still partly shrouded in clouds, but we still had a decent view for sunset.
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The evening was spent partying, starting in one of our rooms with horchata and rum. Once we had expended our supply, we headed out to put something more solid in our belly. After a quick bite (and a few more beers), we moved on to a small club for some drinking and dancing. Bars are required to close at 1am in Guatemala, but we followed the crowds and found ourselves partying again at a speakeasy type club. The beauty of traveling with numbers is that you dominate anywhere you go, which we put to full use taking over the dance floor. We kept going until the place closed around 3am, then were told we had to wait just inside the exit because there were police just outside the doors.
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The next morning, we loaded up our vans and left Antigua for Semuc Champey. While not the most stunning of cities itself, it had treated us well for the few days we were there and served as a great way to kick off our journey.

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