Antigua is a Spanish colonial city, about the size of Norwich. The entire city centre is cobbled and the houses are single-storey Spanish style in bright colours, many of them crumbling. There are lots of huge churches and a cathedral, some in a good state of repair and some in ruins, but very atmospheric. The central square/park is full of life. There are cafes, bars and loads of Mayan women selling the most beautiful textiles. We feel safe, we’ve been healthy and Antigua has been an ideal introduction to Guatemala before we move on to Maya Pedal on Monday. The Guatemalans are very friendly and don’t instantly speak to us in English so we’re starting to practise our Spanish, which us good!
Yesterday we climbed Mount Pacaya, an active volcano. In all honesty I can only describe the experience as arduous going up and boring coming down. The sky was white cloud, the trees each side were green and the path was black volcanic mud. Visibility was so poor that we couldn’t go up to the main crater so we roasted a few marshmallows in the hot steam emanating from the volcanic rock and made our way back down. The volcano last erupted in 2010, one of four active volcanoes in Guatemala.
Last night was Hallowe’en and the town was full of people dressed up. In the central square there was a band playing consisting of two huge wooden xylophones with four men playing one and three the other (there seemed to be a bass and a treble instrument), a double bass and a drum. This reminded us of a similar band that had greeted us when we arrived at Guatemala airport. The skill in playing perfectly synchronised is quite amazing. We also discovered Eduardo’s cafe last night. He’s a Dutchman who has lived here for 14 years and he serves felafel, balti, kebabs etc, all for under a fiver. We went back tonight but couldn’t get a seat so we found another restaurant and had great food and slow service for 15 quid between us. We had wanted to hear more from the Dutchman about what motivated him to settle here (freedom).
Today was All Souls and we went to a kite festival in a nearby town. There weren’t many foreign tourists but the streets were thronged with visitors and vendors selling street food, Mayan textiles and ceramics. We haven’t bought anything yet as we have enough luggage to carry and we want to shop wisely when we do. It was a bit like a Central American Worstead or Cromer Carnival. We made our way to the cemetry with the crowds where the smell of marigolds hit us. Many of the tombs were painted green or blue, some were just mounds of earth but all were decorated with marigolds, making a stunning array of colour. People were climbing all over the graves to get the best view of the kites. Some huge, colourful ones were taking off but we then realised that even bigger ones (giant kites), much too big to fly, were lying face-down on the ground waiting to be hoisted into an upright position. The ‘kites’ had a bamboo frame and were decorated with brightly coloured, intricate patterns and pictures in crepe paper. In order to raise them a tall pole was put in position and a young boy scaled it to install pulleys. The kite was then hoisted up by a team of youngsters with ropes and secured to nearby tombstones. A great cheer went up as they reached their full height of more than fifty feet and the decoration was revealed. There were about 10 of these kites and they must have taken months to assemble. Quite magnificent and we feel so lucky to have been there.
The weather has been damp and about 20 degrees since our arrival as it’s the tail-end of the rainy season. We feel comfortable now and ready to move on to Maya Pedal on Monday so we can stop being tourists, start doing something useful, and meet some real Guatemalans.