(it's been a while since i've posted with this series, so i'd recommend you check out the other parts if you're new! :))
5:00 AM. Fraijanes, Guatemala.
My alarm went off and I badly wanted to press the snooze button and fall asleep for another few minutes... hours. Okay days. But I stumbled out of bed, gathered up my clothes and headed for the bathroom. I got up early because I knew if I wanted a shower before Antigua, well, 5:00am was necessary. The shower woke me up completely.
I packed into my bag, some granola bars, a change of clothes, and my camera. I had contemplated not bringing my Canon, but knew I would kick myself if I didn’t. Story of my life. We all filed into a bus and immediately, everyone was asleep. Quietest ride ever. I slept on and off as the bumps of the road jolted me from my sleep many times. I used those opportunities to look out the window. Once again, the variety of Guatemala’s scenery astounded me. One minute, we’d be driving by mountains covered with green trees, and the next moment we would be driving on a bridge over a rundown village filled with beautiful people and many shirts hung up to dry in the sun.
Antigua is one of the most colorful cities I have ever seen. Every building is painted a different color, yet they flow seamlessly together to make a beautiful rainbow. We pulled into a bus parking lot and all mosied out, dizzy from sleepiness, but ready to explore. After getting one last “safety talk” from Darby, we headed into the market. Or should I say, one of the markets. The amount of things being sold in Antigua is mind boggling. Everything from fruit, to postcards, to homemade dresses, to hammocks. It’s overwhelming. We walked single file on the thin cobblestone sidewalks, up and down, through the streets. Street vendors came up to us, asking if we wanted necklaces, or bracelets. Only a few restaurants and cafes were open that early in the morning, so a few of us chose a cafe called “Luna De Miel.” Famous for their crepes (OH HOLY CREPES OF GUATEMALA I MISS YOU) we had to try it out.
When you sit around a table with people you’ve only known for three weeks, but love with all of your heart… it means something. You feel something. A connection. We all ordered crepes and smoothies and laughed and talked and enjoyed breakfast. Another fantastic thing about Guatemala, people bond over food. Meals are meant to be enjoyed, with the people you love. So that breakfast in Antigua, was enjoyed. For sure. I mean, Nutella + strawberry crepes………….. no words.
So you might remember that infamous sickness that haunted the first week of my time in Guatemala, the worst stomach flu that has ever been in my body. Apparently, the crepes didn’t settle well in my stomach, and quickly after breakfast had ended, I began to feel queasy. We had decided to go to an old hotel, with ruins surrounding it, and be a bit “touristy.” I followed along, dragging behind as my stomach began to feel worse and worse. Honestly, at this point, I didn’t care about my stomach. All I wanted to do was go salsa dancing later. (Can ya blame me?) We get inside the hotel, it’s gorgeous. Absolutely breathtaking. Vines hanging along the corridor, a hundred little gardens tucked away, PARROTS. But all I can think about is the nausea. So I tell Brooke, our team leader, that I’m going to go sit down in the lobby and wait for them to finish.
This is the funny part of the story. If a stomach flu induced by crepes can be funny…? I decided that I needed to make a trip in the bathroom and let’s just say, I spent a lot of time in there. I don’t want to get in the TMI zone, but it was bad. After finishing, I came back out to the lobby and waited. And waited. For a long time. The ruins weren’t that big! They should totally be out by now! I didn’t have a cell phone on me. No wifi. Nothing. I’m in the middle of a courtyard in Antigua, waiting for my team to come out, and they aren’t coming. I wasn’t panicking, but I was close. All of a sudden, Brooke came rushing in. “Oh my gosh Ellie, there we are! We left without you!!!” Ha. Well thanks guys!! ;) But it was all good, they found I was missing and assumed I was back at the hotel. She’s a big girl she can take care of herself!! as I hobble out carrying a backpack with a $1400 camera in it, and my feet are starting to hurt because of my shoes. WOOT GO GROWING UP AND BEING IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY.
We made our way to salsa dancing, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate until the very end. Everyone had fun though, including the guys who were not too keen on the idea in the first place. They won’t admit it though. ;) And thankfully, I was able to go back to Antigua a few weeks later and take some lessons. So everybody wins!
The best thing about Antigua is for sure the food. Maybe I’m just all about that life. On our way back to the main square, we stopped by a chocolate museum. Where they make chocolate. Stepping inside, your nose is INSTANTLY filled with the smell of the best chocolate. In the front was a little gift shop and kitchen, but in the back was a courtyard where you could sit down and order food. None of us were really hungry so we ordered their famous “Mayan” hot chocolate. You know how people hype things up sometimes, and then it comes, and you’re disappointed? That was not the case with this hot chocolate. The waiters brought out trays piled with mugs, dark chocolate ganache, cayenne pepper, hot milk, and honey. We poured the dark chocolate in first, hot milk came next, then honey + cayenne pepper. Unfortunately, the pepper didn’t really dissolve, but sank to the bottom, so those of us that added too much got a big surprise at the bottom of the cup. ;)
We all were scheduled to meet back at the main square, so that we can catch a van to the volcano, but we popped into a panaderia (bakery) for a few loaves of fresh bread. Quality. I was still feeling a little bit sick to my stomach, but I was ready to hike. Little did I know that in order to get to the volcano, we had to drive up another mountain. On a windy road. For about an hour and a half. So for most of the aforesaid time, I was hanging out the window, SO VERY CLOSE to throwing up. I have never been so carsick in my life. As I was praying hard, and looking out the window, distracting myself from the nausea, we wove through the forests and villages that lined the road. I haven’t seen anything like it, these huts and buildings, with little children running around, stopping to wave and chase the van until it gets out of their village. These people lived in constant danger, the shadow of Volcan Pacaya, which could erupt at any second. But they looked like they didn’t have a care in the world. One of those little things that struck me about Guatemala, it’s not as much about material possessions as it is about people. So joyful and full of life.
When we got to the foot of the volcano, young boys and girls came up and offered us hiking sticks for 5 Quetzales. After getting everything together, we began the hike to the top. At this point, I’m with Ben, Tori, Aaron, and Chris. We decide to really hike the volcano, which apparently means go at a very fast pace with only a few breaks enjoy it when you get to the top.
Being the photographer in our small group, I made everyone stop for pictures at every lookout point. It was also maybe to rest a bit? The terrain was getting steeper as we got higher. But the views… they were incredible. Miles and miles of green trees with villages popping up every so often. We began to climb into the clouds, and the green trees faded away into gray mist. We were all chatting about something, I don’t remember the specific topic now, but pretty soon, we came to a dead end. I laughed out loud. “How did we miss the path?” “We must have passed it when we were talking!” Chris spoke up, “Well, I TRIED to tell you guys about the path back there.” Sure. We definitely all heard you speak up. But we backtracked and found that a small path that was on a VERY steep incline (it was hard to see) was indeed the right path.
Now, up until this point, the terrain had been dirt. It was like any mountain in the states, the trees were a bit different, but everything else looked like, just a normal mountain. But when we got over the hill, everything INSTANTLY changed. There was a long and thin path, on one side a sloping wall, and on the other a sloping decline. The terrain below was now ash, soft and black. Everything was covered with sharp black, volcanic rock and mist was all around us. It was straight out of Lord of the Rings. We walked for a while longer, and came to a small shack. “The Volcano Store.” The man who ran it made the trip up and down the mountain every single day. I was blown away. He sold jewelry that he had made from volcanic rock. We all ooh-ed and aah-ed, and some of us bought some. I mean, a ring made from volcanic rock, bought on the top of said volcano? Pretty cool.
Contrary to my prior belief, we didn’t go to the very top of the volcano, right next to the hole where lava came out. ;) We came to a flat-ish place, where we stopped. All around were towers of this volcanic rock that scraped up your legs and arms if you brushed against it. The ground was warm to the touch as the magma flowed feet beneath us. Someone in our group brought out sticks and marshmallows and we roasted them in a small dent in the rock. Roasting marshmallows over the hot lava. My heart will remember that forever.
I took a risk by taking out my camera while perched like a bird on top of a precarious pile of volcanic rock, but it was worth taking. The views were incredible, the people I was with were incredible, and we all felt like we were on top of the world. We were all saying to each other, “Why wasn’t this on our bucket list?” Check that one off. We gathered up some rocks to take home, and began our trek down.
It was considerably faster going back. Boys from the village were scampering all through the shortcuts, no shoes, fast as lightening. And we followed them, narrowly missing branches and severe injuries along the way. The fog faded away to green trees + villages, and it became easier to breathe. Apparently 8000 feet above sea level is kind of a big deal?
We were dirty, sweaty, sore, but oh so happy. After changing into our clean clothes, we made an uneventful and very sleepy trip back to Antigua. Dinner was McDonalds because we had to get back to the orphanage, and I’m sure your thoughts are exactly what I was thinking. Ohhhh McDonalds. But umm OHHH MCDONALDS. For some reason, it is so different in Guatemala than it is in the States. Like worlds better. I had a yogurt parfait and chai tea latte and it was like I was in a really nice restaurant. There were plants everywhere, beautiful architecture, and it was super clean. It was a nice surprise. :)
And that ended our whirlwind, adventure-packed day in Antigua. The bus ride home was filled with telling scary stories and little sleep. I remember falling into bed and being so overwhelmed with gratefulness and so very THANKFUL for that day. And the summer was only going to get better.