Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Antigua, Guatemala – Days 174 to 180

Antigua and Volcan de Agua from the Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint
What is it with travelling to Housesits? The bus left on time, we were on the right, very expensive, luxury, lots of space to get a fair nights sleep, bus which instead of arriving at the bus station in Guatemala City to connect with our 06.00 shuttle to Antigua crawled into the bus station at 09.15. 

Pussycats Paris and Spot wondering who we are on our first day
Our shuttle, not surprisingly, had gone, but there were five of us expecting transport so after a phone call, made by a Danish girl who elected herself, probably justifiably, best Spanish speaker we were told we would be collected 10.30/11.00. At least we knew. We had planned to meet Sue, the homeowner outside her gated community about 08.00, though that in itself was a scary prospect as arrangements had been difficult to make, her not knowing the name of the road the community is on, telling us about the hotel next door, so I suggested meeting there, only for her to say it was three blocks away, that the driver would know the place anyway (as it turns out he didn't, he tried taking us to a hotel somewhere else entirely). 

Parque Central in Antigua, Guatemala, far left Volcan de Agua
Antigua busses. Not that comfortable but aren't they full of character - fabulous!
I'd begged a very nice lady on the bus if I could make a quick call at about 08.15 to say to Sue we had no idea where we were but still not at the bus station. Once we had a collection time I borrowed the bus station phone to ring Sue again, by which time she had found the name of the road she lives off, and then we were collected at 10.15! So having driven all round Antigua dropping the other three girls off, and another couple of blokes we'd picked up from another bus station, and trying to navigate the driver to the road we thought we wanted, despite Brian's phone app not knowing about one way streets, of which there were lots, we finally arrived at midday and had to borrow the shuttle drivers phone to say we are here! People really are very helpful.

A typical Antiguan street, this one with the famous Santa Catalina Arch
It's a lovely little house, on a secure gated community, beautifully cool, good for us and cats and we are thoroughly enjoying it, knew a week wouldn't be long enough!

Sue showed us round town, some of which we've remembered, some of which we haven't, but time is escaping us anyway. We didn't get up to wave her off, she left for the airport at 04.00!

The Nim Pot shop by the Arch in Antigua. 'If you only go into one shop in Antigua, go into this one' the man on the bus told us. Well, it was quite an experience and contained lots of locally produced textiles and objects, but it was also top prices. Jackie did buy a bracelet however
What do you think?
Sadly B felt less than sparkling when we finally woke up, must have been his dinner as Sue and I were both fine, so we started on the 'housekeeping' but did eventually have to go to the supermarket as we had to buy food! He finally decided he must be empty only to get to the supermarket to come over all faint. It was warm in there, so I sent him out to sit down and he found a very nice lady in a hostal, who sat him down and brought him water. 

This is much more 'me', don't you think?
He had to come in to pay, as we'd only taken his passport for ID for paying by credit card. Sadly I still wasn't finished as I'd refused to by a 3 lb chicken for £5.70 and their veg selection was rubbish. This meant I had to find the market and do it on my own, where everyone we've spoken to about here says you have to barter which I hate. Anyway, I didn't barter got a 6lb chicken for £5.70 and the veggies I wanted so I felt really quite pleased. Didn't roast the chicken as he thought it would be a waste, so ate one of the three tins of tuna I have been carrying since we said farewell to Roxanne and Darrel! When I finally came to cook the chicken, which we are still eating, it's wings had been removed! Most strange, but I guess actually gave us more meat than expected!

The macaws in the Casa Santa Domingo 5 star hotel that's built around the ruined Santo Domingo church and monastery that was destroyed in the 1773 earthquake
Whats your opinion? 'No comment!'
Next day he was feeling fine, so I thought I'd really push my luck and visit the second hand market. Stall after stall of clothes which have come from the US and are randomly displayed and sold for a pittance. Much as I hate shopping, I do want a frock (or a skirt at a push) for the cruise, seemed perfect, but after going through racks of clothes, (which must have been good for the bingo wings) we came away empty handed, mostly as the vast majority of things were just far too big for me!

A transmitter mast disguised as a tree at the Cerro de la Cruz
We've walked up to a viewpoint Cerro Cruz, hoping to meet up with Helen who we transferred to Flores with, as she is now here studying more Spanish, this means her time is not as free as ours however, so nothing has coincided. She decided to go to Pacaya volcano on Saturday, which as it turns out may have been a better choice than our Sunday trip. Pacaya is one of the three active volcanoes in Guatemala, so you don't expect to get to the summit, but you do expect some excitement! Normally we would choose to walk in the morning, but in this instance the afternoon trip with the chance to see lava at sunset was a bigger draw.

We met at the booking office as there was a parade coming past our house, however traffic seemed to be a problem as everything was delayed. We were collected eventually by a small mini bus and transferred to a slightly bigger minibus, for the hour and a half journey. Fortunately this meant as last on we were first off and first on to the new bus, so got comfier seats! The weather forecast wasn't brilliant, but at least we weren't roasting as 22 of us trekked up, with two lovely guides. Apart from an Asian gentleman we were the oldest by a long way, so although there was nothing to prove I don't want to be at the back! We'd been warned about small children renting walking sticks (so I'd got my walking poles) and about the taxi horses that follow you up..... We however were far from needing these. 

The Iglesia de la Merced church. Can you see Jackie?
The viewpoints came and went in cloud as the distant thunder got closer. We got to the high point of our walk with, on other days, fabulous views and started going down again. Always depressing, but not for long, before we came upon the lava field from 2010, with other groups littered all over it. At this point two things happened, it finally started to rain, and the summit cleared, so with waterproofs on and hoods up we stood in awe and watched molten lava and rock being thrown into the air. 

The ruined Antiguo Colegio de la Compania de Jesus
As the rain eased and the lava field cleared we were led across to a popular point where sticks and marshmallows were issued, inserted into a hole in the ground we toasted our own marshmallows in the natural heat. Fabulous, eating enough for the sugar rush to get us back to the summit, we then started on the descent, as sunset, and as the heavens opened. Only stopping once for a great view of further eruptions as we neared the bottom, we arrived at the minibus absolutely soaked to the skin. It was going to be a long journey back, and we were not going to be back for the promised 20.00. As we entered Antigua, I asked if we were coming from the direction of Guatemala City? We were, this meant we'd be passing very close to the end of our road, so with no further ado, we stopped the bus and leapt off. Fortunately dinner was all prepared, oven and kettle on, chicken dish in and rice on while we took it in turns to shower, apologies to the people, transferred from the bigger bus to the smaller bus as they got to our road and no one got off! Still we were probably eating dinner before that actually happened ....... It was a really good trip though.

The fountain and, behind the cathederal in the Parque Central
The cats were pleased to see us, but expressed their displeasure at our tardiness, we thought we'd had a breakthrough the previous night, as Paris and Spot spent most of the night on the bed with us, Smiley being a night owl, is mostly seen as a lump in the bedclothes during the day and is missing at night. That was a one off. The mosquito that has buzzed us every night and that I thought I had killed was still in evidence however! Today has been an adventure for Paris and Spot as I had to sneak into next door when we wanted to go out, to find them asleep on an upstairs bed! I thought they'd both come running out, but no, only Spot, so Brian also had to sneak in and chase Paris round the bed to get him out! 
This is the ruined Santo Domingo church that is now part of the five star Casa Santo Domingo hotel. It's been covered by this tent structure and is now used for weddings and festivals. The hotel, which the general public can walk round, has been beautifully built around the ruins, some of them now converted into restaurants, meeting rooms and open spaces. It's very, very nice, but here's the thing, the city was virtually destroyed in 1773 by a powerful earthquake, the latest of many over 250 years that caused major destruction in this old capital city. In 1776 the Spanish decided that enough was enough and moved the capital to the safer area where Guatemala City now stands, leaving this old capital that was called Santiago de los Caballeros in ruins and was virtually abandoned. Regulations prohibited the repair and construction of new buildings, so the Old City of Guatemala (Antigua - meaning old or antique - Guatemala) in its earthquake ruined state survived with many of it's 16th century broken buildings and cobblestone street layout. Many of these building remain with lumps of fallen stonework lying where they fell, today protected as a UNESCO site. Is it right that the old Santo Domingo Church is now used as a tourist 5 star hotel, or should it have been left as it was?
Jackie saying 'hello' to one of the macaws in the Casa Santo Domingo
Orchids growing in the Casa Santo Domingo
Our three charges for the week, LtoR: Paris, Smiley and Spot
I just love these old ruins, left as they fell in 1773. I've forgotten what this one was, but I think its the Convento de la Compania de Jesus
The 'still in use, but half ruined' San Fransisco El Grande
Inside the ruins of the San Fransisco El Grande
The remains of the San Fransisco convent, a very large building destroyed with most of the city in a series of major earthquakes in 1773
So here's the cause of those earthquakes, Antigua is at the top, in the centre is Volcan de Agua that buried the first city in 1545, Volcan de Fuego on the left is continuously erupting today and has caused major earthquakes. We visited Volcan Pacaya, another continnuously erupting volcano in the bottom right. Maybe if the Spanish had seen this aerial photo they would never have constructed their capital in that place! Apparently minor earthquakes here are very common, every few weeks, but we haven't felt anything! Was rather hoping we would experience a tremor of some sorts as it would be a first for us.
So here we are on our way up Volcan Pacaya, or at least a subsidiary of it, the main volcano is still erupting, so we can't get near that. As you can see, the weather didn't play ball, low cloud and, a bit later heavy rain
Walking down into the subsidiary crater where eruptions occurred in 2010 and 2014
Standing in front of the lava debris of the 2010 eruption (or was it the 2014?)
And then the rain set in, but the cloud cleared to reveal the main active summit
Now you've got to go with me a bit here, but this is a zoomed in section of the main active vent. Just to the right of the central vent is a bit of lava being ejected in an orange spurt. It was a long way away, I have a very average camera and it was cloudy, but it is definitely there. Not quite as good as good as some of the documentaries on TV I grant you, but we were there and it was real and, somehow it's much better than seeing a better picture on TV. You won't be impressed I know, but we were!
Cooking marshmallows in a hot vent from the 2014 eruption
And very tasty they were too, despite the rain drops you can see on the camera lens!
Did we mention there were other people on the tour with us?
At the risk of being totally ridiculed, this is a video I took on the way down. By this time is was totally dark, as you can see, in the blackness you may be able to see the orange glow of the erupting cone of the volcano. There were many people around jostling for position, it was a long way away and raining so the camera was struggling to focus. Just go with it and use your imagination!!
Meanwhile, back at the house, Spot decides she wants some fuss
Spot and Paris accompany Jackie as she writes the blog, while drinking a glass of wine
Spot decides there's been enough blog writing and wine drinking going on, it's Spot time!
A photo of our last G&T's from Louises (of Tepoztlan, Mexico) Christmas present to us of a bottle of Bombay Saphire Gin. I had carried it in a plastic bottle (so it looked like water when going through customs) through the border from Mexico into Belize and through the border from Belize into Guatemala (past the notice that said 'Strictly no alcohol beyond this point')

1 comment:

  1. Is last bit of GnT has been going a long time! Hee, hee. Xx