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  • Day342

    V. CA Guatemala/W1, 6d: Antigua-Lago EN

    August 6, 2017 in Guatemala ⋅ ☁️ 24 °C

    Sa, 05.08. Border crossing Copán, HN - El Florido - Antigua, GT
    That day I travelled from Copán in Honduras to Antigua in Guatemala. As the shuttle was quite expensive with $25, only departed at noon and I especially wanted to have another chickenbus experience I decided to do the journey on my own - which would later turn out to become an absolute world trip of almost 13h :P
    From Copán I first took the colectivo bus to the border El Florido at 5am - super quick via good roads we arrived after only 20mins, I was the only one on both border posts and thus also done after half an h. So far so good - welcome to Guatemala, the country of absolute horrific roads and traffic conditions :O The main issues here are roads in real poor conditions (partially only gravel roads with many big holes), vehicles of poor quality, mainly mountain regions plus a lot of traffic and traffic jams. The route from El Florido via Jocotán in the next bigger town Chickimula already took almost 3 instead of 2h where I then had to wait almost an h for the next bus to Guatemala City and arrived after almost 5h rollercoaster ride (the drivers are really crazy :P) around 1:30pm in Guatemala's capital. However, the journey was incredibly beautiful, the country is a lot more mountaineous, also located at a lot higher altitude and thus immediately cooler and fresher. In contrast to other countries like Colombia where there were always stops to eat all the sellers directly came into the bus and it was directly eaten there - time saving ;)
    It was then in the capital where my absolute catastrophis began: Guatemala City is Central America's biggest city with more than 3mio habitants - and could hardly be more chaotic, dirty and crowded. Moreover, it counts amongst the most dangerous cities (there are also frequent cases of credit card spamming there and in Antigua; fortunately I still had $160 to change), especially in bus terminals and markets - and that's where I had to go through :O From Terminal Centra Norte I first had to walk 10min through an enormous shopping mall to the bus stop Transurbano bus azul for 5Q which was a 40min ride through half of the city. As usual the final stop is located in a market so that I had to walk 3 quarters through all the people until the bus stop Transmetro bus verde where it was a 20min/1Q ride until Trebol - a super dangerous place with Guatemala's biggest market; fortunately a local girl was so nice to help me and showed me the almost 40min (!!!) way through the textile and food market to the city highway from where I had to catch the last chicken bus to Antigua - all of that with a 10kg big, 5kg small and 2kg food backpack which I carried with a new record of 2h through shopping malls, 2 buses and 2 markets; a real sporty exercise :P Due to incredibly many traffic jams the chickenbus then took 2 instead of 1h to Antigua where I finally arrived after almost 13h around 5:30pm at the hostel: with only around $10 in total it was a lot cheaper than the $25 shuttle or $45 direct bus and despite all I still arrived way earlier as both shuttle and direct bus would only have departed at 12am or 2:30pm and I thus would have arrived only very late in the evening or even at night. Nevertheless Guatemala is horrific when it comes to traffic, everything is late, super slow, reminds me heavily of South America and I think despite higher prices I will use shuttles more frequently out of courtesy and to save time :P

    Welcome to Guatemala! :)
    Guatemala is Central America's most mountaineous and highest located (min 1,300 - 1,600m) country with about 15mio habitants which is often very hot in the daytime but usually gets quite chilly in the evenings (there were always immediately wollen blankets): there are 37 volcanoes (of which 3 are active; Pacaya with 2,552m in Guatemala, Fuego with 3,763m in Chimaltenango & Santiaguito with 2,500m in Quetzaltenango) as well as black sand beaches and mangroves on the Pacific and white sand beaches on the Caribbean coast as well as even savannas and rainforest. It offers a lot of nature, history and as heart of the Maya world (Maya) culture and is also still very authentic, the locals are still dressed traditionally and often more reserved than their neighbours but in general friendly and helpful. The national currency as well as national bird is Quetzal. Regarding security you should always be careful, best is do as the locals do: if they sleep in the bus or use their phones it should be fine - they partially even also carry their phone and money in the bra like I do ;)
    Talking about food breakfast again usually consists of rice with beans, eggs, cheese and tortillas; the cheapest option are markets and street stands between 2-5Q (25-60ct) as well as comedores for lunch between 20-30Q (2,35€-3,50€). The Maya culture is very important with Pepián being the most popular dish - chicken with vegetables, rice and tortillas in a slightly hot sauce for 15Q onwards. Typical street snacks are tortillas or tortillas negras (from black corn, 4 pieces for only 1Q), tostadas (roasted hard tortillas, often with avocado and cheese for 10Q), chuchitos (a type of tamales with tomato and meat for 5Q), paches (potato instead of rice tamales), tamalida de cheplin (tamales with vegetables, avocado and tomato sauce for 5Q), tayuyos (tortillas filled with beans similar to pupusas for only 1Q) as well as rellenitos as desert (fried plaintain filled with beans for only 3Q). The food already has a strong Mexican influence with a lot of tacos and burritos. For all other things there is again a cheap supermarket chain called Dispensa familiar.
    The population is probably the most religious here, you can see services, protests and marches everywhere and often still very authentic traditionally dressed with 23 indigeneous languages. The people are very small and often 1-2 heads shorter than me, reserved but also loud - it is quite normal to be waken up by some fireworks as early as 5am in the morning :P

    Su, 06.08. Antigua: Cerro de la Cruz & Santo Domingo
    Volcán Pacaya
    Antigua is located in a nice valley 1h South-West of the capital surrounded by the tremendous volcanoes Acatenango, Agua and Fuego as former capital of the Spanish colonies in Central America. With its huge number of colonial buildings and churches, the colourful houses, the cobblestone streets and an ever nice climate it counts amongst the most beautiful cities in Guatemala and whole Central America - my hostel had a superb rooftop terrace from which you could see the hourly explosions and lava flows of Fuego Volcano every evening, really cool ;)
    Having already seen the town centre with its famous arch Arco de Santa Catalina, Parque Central with the Catedral de San José and some other churches such as La Merced, San Francisco and Santa Catalina on the evening before I went to two viewpoints this morning in order to get some nice views of the city and its surrounding volcanoes. The first one was Cerro de la Cruz and located only 15mins by food directly behind my hostel - an easy and especially quick walk via stairs through beautiful forest with an amazing view of whole Antigua, its many famous churches, convents and streets as well as Agua Volcano in the background - I was also quite lucky with the weather and could even see the whole volcano for a short time.
    After that I went to the hotel and museum Santo Domingo, a real luxury hotel with nice parks incl blue and red macaws, restaurants and shops. But the main reason to come here was to use their free shuttle to get to Cerro Santo Domingo - a lot more touristy it was a 10min ride all the way up where we could then enjoy the nice view of the city and volcanoes. In contrast to the first viewpoint there was no nature but more an expensive hotel with restaurants, bars, ziplining, galeries and many art exhibitions.
    I then first had with Pepián con pollo a very delicious typical lunch before doing some orga with shopping at the market and supermarket, bank or money exchange and general preparation for my two volcano tours.

    In the afternoon around 2pm I then already went to the first one Volcán Pacaya, one of the 3 active ones. After an almost 1h drive we started in the village of San Francisco at 1,900m altitude and hiked over 3,5km/roughly 1.5h up to 2,700m where we had an amazing view of the small town San Vicente Pacaya, the enormous capital Guatemala as well as the 3 volcanoes Volcán Agua (3,760m), Fuego (3,763m) and Acatenango (3,976m which I would hike the next day incl camping) and Amatitlàn with the Lago de Amatitlàn and Cerro Oja de Queso. Before we had already seen Laguna de Calderas, a 32ha big, on an altitude of 1,778m located crater lake of volcanic origin - the only water resource of the national park providing water for 14 communities. In 2010 was Pacaya's biggest explosion where the surrounding villages were covered with 30cm of ashes; fortunately there were hardly any deaths and injuries as the gases of this volcano are not toxic. The last but small explosion was in 2014.
    The hike itself was super beautiful and also not too steep or exhausting and as usual for volcanic hikes first through forests via black volcanic sand and then via an open plain and black volcanic stones. In the beginning still warm with only a few clouds it quickly got colder and then was super windy with a sudden weather change incl thunder, lightning and heavy rain at the viewpoint - well, the weather in the mountains and volcanoes is just unpredictable :P But fortunately we found some shelter and the heavy rain was also only half an h - perfect timing to then have a marshmallow barbecue over a hot volcano hole on an active volcano: another absolute new and nice experience for me, very yummy :)
    After that we went another 1,5h pretty slippery and then another h in the bus through Guatemala's nice mountain scenery but super exhausting and long road and traffic situation back to Antigua where we arrived around 8:30pm and saw again religious celebrations and fireworks.

    Mo, 07.08. Antigua: Volcán Acatenango
    I was picked up for my second volcano hike of the volcano Volcán Acatenango around 9am the next morning. There was again an h hostel and free Antigua tour before we drove around 2h until the starting point. With 19 people were quite a big group but super international and well mixed.
    The special thing about this hike was that you had to carry everything on your own: apart from 4l=4kg of water as well as at least almost 1kg food (additional snacks as the food box for 3 meals lunch, dinner, breakfast was a real joke with only one 375l water bottle, a powder hot chocolate, a yoghurt, a banana, a sandwich as well as an instant chicken noodle soup - that is usually a lunch box, especially for a 5h extreme hike :P) and a lot of warm clothes (incl hat, gloves, scarf, additional sweater and jackets) there was also a sleeping bag, mattress and parts of the tent; I thus easily had to carry 10kg and thus almost 1/4th of my body weight :O
    Similar to the day before they sold walking sticks for 5Q but out of experience I knew that our awesome guides would also make us some :) Apart from that it was also again interesting to see how people were prepared for this trip: from very well equipped Europeans to Mexican trying to hike with normal trainers without additional clothes, jacket, food, water and even without backpack :O
    The hike itself was super nice via first grey-brown and then deep-black volcanic sand but also really constantly steep exhausting which was deteriorated by the fact that we had a 20-30min break every half an h; for me a big mistake, it is like driving a car: constant stop and go needs a lot more fuel or energy and too long breaks cool the body down, especially after a lot of sweating and without changing clothes that is how you get sick - but well, these are the disadvantages of tours :)
    Even though I only climbed another volcano the day before, had again diarrea in the morning and thus took it very easy I was often directly behind the guide and in most cases the first girl amongst the first 3-5 people, strange and sometimes I really ask myself where I get all this power especially with my body weight of only 42kg (oh yes, they all surprisingly looked at me and my mini legs) :O
    Unfortunately it was raining quite heavily for the last 2h so that I had another poncho walk in my purple Peruian poncho, it has been quite a while that I used it - I just need everything of my luggage and never carried something without using it :) Despite rain the last 45min in particular were quite nice through clouded forest scenery with a first glimpse of the super loud, thunder similar Fuego Volcano already throwing out a bit of lava.
    Our campsite was then spectacular with an absolute genious view of Agua Volcano on the left as well as the constant lava throwing Fuego Volcano on the right-hand side. The views were so breathtaking that all efforts as well as the pretty cold and windy, only 4-8*C weather were quickly forgotten; after sunset there was even a full moon over Agua Volcano which lightened everything and in the dark night sky you could even better see the Fuego's half h explosions with the super loud thunder noise, the orange-red colours and fireworks - we had a superb view from our campfire place with chicken soup (totally hungry and frozen I would never have thought that it could taste that good :P) and even tent, better than any cinema :) I could also hardly believe how lucky we have been with the weather; there was just sooo much lava and such an incredible experience that is difficult to describe with words or to display with pictures and videos - you just have to experience it yourself, incl the cold and covered up with 3 trousers, 4 upper layers, hat, scarf, gloves and sleeping bag :)))

    Tu, 08.08. Antigua: Volcán Acatenango
    After a very pretty cold night (well Sabrina, this is what you get what you paid for and sometimes it might be better to spend a bit more money for better food and a higher quality equipment...:P) we started at 4am in absolute darkness equipped with headlamp our 1,5h mega steep and very slippery volcanic sand hike to the summit - fortunately we only had to carry water and the hiking stick which made it a lot easier :)
    According to our 'Vamonos' the first ones (2 boys and me) also arrived quite punctual for the sunrise at 5:30am - the views were really just breathtaking and not to be described, just look at the pictures ;) Despite only 3-4* I wasn't feeling cold which might have been due to my many sporty exercises and yoga pauses for the pictures :P We indeed stayed a whole hour, enjoyed the amazing views of both volcanoes and cloud landscapes before returning around 6:30am. The descend was really world-class: it was only now with daylight that we could see the incredible scenery, how steep the hike really was and the sand in particular was so slippery that it was rather skiing down - an absolute funny experience and we were already back at the campsite after only half an hour. We packed everything together and then enjoyed a hot chocolate with own bread and banana, yummy :)))
    After that we went the same way back through some clouds and partial rain super slippery and pretty steep where the first arrived around 10:30am - oh yes, my knees love it, I really would rather walk 5x up than down ;) From an altitude of 2,200m at the parking spot we went up to 3,366m at the campsite and 3,975m at the summit in the morning - or from 15* to 3-8*, a really good performance :)))

    Back in Antigua I first treated myself with typical food in the market: I started with trying the black tortillas (4 for only 1Q), then chuchitos for 5Q and as a desert finally the pretty fried and sweet rellenitos for only 3Q, yummy ;)))
    After that there was only orga, relaxing on the nice rooftop terrace and looking forward to even more relaxation at the presumably world's most beautiful lake Lago de Atitlán :)

    We/Th, 09./10.08.: San Marcos/Panajachel: Lago de Atitlán
    The next morning I had quite a relaxed start at 8:30am - after the usual 1h hostel tour this was supposed to become a very long and especially adventurous ride via really poor and super bendy roads incl an h breakdown :P Despite that and apart from all the plastic garbage in spite of all the many signs 'No tirar basura' in buses and on the roads it was an absolute scenic drive along the big lake where we already got a nice view of the 3 volcanoes Volcán San Pedro (3,020m), Volcán Toliman (3,153m) and Volcán Atitlán (3,525m).
    The lake Lago de Atitlán is a mountain lake which many people often describe as the most beautiful lake in the world and presumably is the prettiest lake in Central America. It is surrounded by several a.m. volcanoes and is the crater of a former tremendous volcano. Its constant mild climate and the beautiful nature make it to a hiking paradise or perfect spot for everyone who wants to chill out; thus perfect for me after 2 volcano hikes :)
    In total there are 3 different but all still very traditional Maya villages - the most popular ones are Panajachel, Santa Cruz la Laguna, San Juán, San Pablo as well as Santiago Atitlán; San Pedro is rather known for partying, San Marcos for relaxation, Yoga etc - exactly my thing :)
    In general the two days were quite relaxing and I did not really do that much. I ate typical food such as tayuyos, similar to pupusas filled with beans as well as for the lake typical tamalida de cheplin, a type of tamales filled with herbs as well as avocado and a tomato sauce - both for just about 7Q and super delicious ;)
    Lago de Atitlán was nice to relax a bit after the last rather exhausting days and it was also interesting to see the Mayan culture or traditional clothes and way of living - but apart from that I could not really understand the hype and found the lake a bit overrated; Panajachel in particular but even the small San Marcos are really touristy and to be fair: the most beautiful lake in Central America? For me, Lago de Suchitián in El Salvador or Lago de Coatepeque in Nicaragua were a lot nicer; the most beautiful lake in the world? Even in Germany we have nicer lakes such as Chiem- and Bodensee, the guidebooks and Internet really exaggerated here :O Moreover, it was quite chilly in the mornings and evenings especially and not really warm for swimming, Guatemala is in general a lot chillier than I would have thought - but that is probably mainly due to the altitude, even the lake is located at an altitude of 1,600m.
    On Thursday late afternoon I then went after a super relaxed morning first via boat from San Marcos to Panajachel and from there via Sololà passing the lake with its 3 volcanoes and then a lot of farmland and corn fields back to Antigua.
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