ANTIGUA

Firstly I'd like to apologise for the long interval before posts, being the technical expect that I am I managed to lock myself out of both my email and blog, and being on the road with limited internet it took a bit to get it sorted. These couple stories were written a while ago but I've only just been able to post them. I hope you enjoy. ANTIGUA

With work done (for now) and a couple months to wait as Mother Nature spins off her hurricanes, we booked tickets and headed off to explore. Felt a bit weird leaving Kuhela behind for this long, but she’s a big girl and has the other boats in the marina to keep her company. The trip up to Antigua was quite comfortable, with the bus being a lot better than what I had in mind. Imagine no chickens to balance on your head, no goats in the aisles and not even a bag on the roof! Luxury! My mind drifted as we passed along through the country side reflecting on the months gone by and how I came to be at this place, reflecting both on my journey and on myself. After a few hours the green country side gave way to the city, and it was a bit of a shock to the senses to see the buildings, cars, bill boards and hoards of people that all call the city home. Not somewhere I’d like to spend more time than was needed to swap busses and continue on to our destination, Antigua.

Arriving in Antigua felt like entering any one of the small towns scattered throughout Europe, The Parque Central, with its fountains and surrounding churches and buildings, the cobble stone streets and the many small cafes, just the whole scene really gave the impression of being European. It was to one of the cafes that we first headed to, to sample the local coffee, which was amazing, and to enjoy the scene before us. We found a small quiet hostel and got settled in before heading out to explore a bit. All around town there are amazing old buildings that stand in various states of repair and exude a sense of authority like old citizens who have seen the town grow and expand from the days of horse and carriage to the tuks tuks and trucks that now buzz and rumble along.  Days could be spent just wondering around taking photos of the doors of these old building and houses alone. There are also a number of markets throughout the town showcasing the amazing colors and patterns of the indigenous art. Colorful blankets, hangings, belts, scarfs as well as carvings and ceremonial masks line the walls and overcrowded stalls. Antigua is a treasure trove for photography, aside from the buildings, the faces of the people and the traditionally dressed Mayan men, women and children that go about their daily business along the streets make it hard to put the camera down, and more than one I found myself tripping on the uneven streets.

We spent a few days chilling out and exploring the town sampling the different coffee and food on offer as well as enjoying the live music to be found most nights, the first live music I have heard since Mexico. The town is also surrounded by volcanoes, some more active than other. So one morning we set off to climb “Pacaya” which last erupted a few years ago and sometime still spews streams of molten lava down its slopes. The climb up was not overly hard, but enough to get the legs burning a sweat flowing a bit. We climbed in a group of about ten people, closely followed by locals on horses each offering the use of their four legged “taxi” and waiting to see which of us would give up first. After about an hour we arrived at the top and were treated to amazing views of “Pacaya” standing tall above us with its black, volcanic slopes and jagged crater looming large above us and with smoke rising from different areas through the rock. Off in the distance stood, “Fuego”, the most active , spewed small clouds of black smoke and ash from its peak, while “Actacanango”, the largest of the three, looked on silently. It felt amazing to witness this raw power of Mother Nature and to be surrounded by such amazing landscape. A Truly amazing way to start the day. That afternoon Mother Nature had another reminder in store for us as the ground began to tremble during dinner and everyone stood strangely fixed in place with nervous grins on their faces. It was not an overly strong earthquake, but went on for a couple of minutes and to feel the ground shifting back and forth below me left me feeling very small.

Having seen Antigua and sampled the sights, sounds and tastes we decided to shift places on and head to Lake Atitlan. There are a few places on this planet I have been to where I struggle to put into words the amazing beauty and sheer size of what is before me, this is definitely one (actually Guatemala is full of them). This lake lies high in the mountains and is fed by the heavy rains that fall like clockwork every afternoon. I am unsure of the actual size of this mass of water, but know that it is three hundred and twenty meters deep, and rising. Apparently it has risen five meters in the last few months, and now many of the jetties and houses close to the lake are below water. Astounding when you think of the sheer volume of water that this represents. There are six or seven small towns that surround the lake and we headed to San Marcos, known for yoga and meditation retreats and a bit quieter than some of the others. That afternoon we found ourselves staying in a small yoga hostel with a week on meditation and yoga in the morning, followed by Spanish lessons in the afternoon, actually the most routine I have had for some time. With a few days off before the start of classes we decided to explore the surrounding area a bit and headed to the markets at Chichicastanango, the largest in the surrounding area, for a look one Sunday. An amazing assault on the senses, the markets draw you in with their colors and sounds and lead you down countless small lanes, full of color and people, and all types of craft and food as you wander around trying to process the amazing scene before you. Most of the people there are local indigenous, making their way from stall to stall as the barter for whatever they may be after, along with the few tourists that have made the trip for the day. For most of the trip so far we have been in the off season so there have not been too many tourists around, which has been good.  After a few hours of bargaining, shopping and taking photos I was pretty warn out but at least had a bag full of local arts and crafts to show for my effort.

For the rest of the week the day started at eight for a light breakfast before meditation from nine to ten, a talk for half an hour or so, and then yoga until twelve. This would leave just enough time to shower and change, grab something quick to eat and head for Spanish class, which went until five. Full days, but very enjoyable. San Marcos itself is a very small village and your make your way along small dirt tracks, crisscrossing their way through the small maze of hostels and meditation retreats, most of which are closed for the off season. It’s a funny little place but has a good energy to it and I am enjoying it here very much. It certainly helps to be able to walk out your room in the morning to have the mountains great you, visible through the trees that hide you away from the rest of the town below. Again, this place has me stumped for words and almost reluctant to pull out the camera as I know that it can never do it justice. It has been a bit strange like that, to be somewhere so amazingly beautiful and not want to shoot pictures all day, but think I’m enjoying concentrating on myself for a bit.

 

Reading those last few sentences now and thinking about the events of the last few days it seems a bit weird. Last Friday as we did our morning yoga practice 20M away from our room, someone took the chance to break in and take all our cameras, cash, phones and cards. Funnily enough I did hear something during our practice I did have the feeling that my stuff wasn’t safe, but did not want to dwell on the thought as I wanted to fully concentrate on my practice. Guess this is a lesson on trusting your inner intuition and knowing the difference between thoughts and gut feelings. I lost a lot of stuff, my cameras that I use to capture the moments I experience, my phone, which even though I hate to admit, plays and important role in my life, lots of stuff, but though I cannot fully explain it I am not as angry as I imagined I would be in a situation like this. The stuff that I lost was great to have, but it was just that stuff. It is not that I am not upset or that I do not have some attachment to these things but in some, very strange, way I feel almost a bit freer without it. I guess there Is no other choice than to be positive. I have put up fliers around town and have spoken to people, and who knows maybe some things will show up, but we see how it goes. For once it seems that insurance will pay off (hopefully) and I will be able to get some of the gear back through that. The biggest thing is the pictures that I want to take. We are soon to head to Tikal and the ruins there. A place I very much wanted to shoot. We will see how it goes. This experience hasn’t changed my mind about Guatemala at all, it is still an amazing place and I am enjoying my time here a lot.

We headed off to go hike one of the volcanoes that surround the lake the other day too. It was a lot harder than we expected and I can honestly say that it took a bit of will power to get to the top. Joe and I took turns carrying the pack and after climbing the steep path to the top in about three hours, we were both pretty puffed. Unfortunately as we got there a bit later than planned the clouds had already moved in and there was no view of the amazing lake below but even just being up there, in the clouds with the silence and cold crisp air was more than enough reward. We were both pretty tired by the time we got back down and spent the afternoon relaxing and recovering. Felt great to be out and exploring though.

We will now wait here at the lake for a few days more to get the police report and then we will head off to explore Tikal and the areas further north before heading to El Salvador for some much needed surf.

 

P.S. just want to state that not all the photos here are mine.