Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Guate! Guate! Guate!



As a recurring theme of this blog and of my own musings, I have been thinking a lot about the concept of "home" as I am just about to pack up and deconstruct another one of mine, but as I mentioned in my last blog post, there are certain places that feel like home even if you have no obvious connection to it. On the flip side are places that are "home" but don't quite fit, and then there are places that you would be quite content to make your home because they do just that: fit.


Antigua, Guatemala has entered into that last category for me. The combination of ever-sunny weather, brightly colored buildings and clothing, warm and welcoming people, breathtaking views of volcanoes, and fascinatingly exotic fruit made me feel like I wanted to stay for 4 years and not 4 days. And the big BONUS:  no mosquitoes!! Perhaps it was because I visited in the dry season; however, it is still remarkable. I dare say this is the first warm-climate country (perhaps the first country period) where I haven't gotten bitten by even one mosquito. Usually, I step of the plane and get my first bite between the gate and the baggage claim. It grows to be the size of a tennis ball by the time I am at the hotel, and then I get two more in the hotel room. But in Antigua, not one! Not from sitting outside, not from hiking, not from being near a lake. It is incredible!

Even silly things like the gym, a Spanish-style, interior courtyard type building with machines around the perimeter of the courtyard and the open space in the middle for yoga or aerobics, would be what I would have chosen a gym to look like! What's more is that they blasted techno through the loud speakers. Again, that's what I would do! I don't know why such a silly thing made me so happy, but it did. Most gyms I have been to play a random U.S. radio station that is usually 80% commercials,19% annoying music, and 1% good songs. I think I bought an Ipod to drown out the radio. But in Antigua, as I turned off my Ipod to hear their music, I thought, "This fits. I could live here."

This was of course one of many moments. Two things about me: I am a vegetarian, and I am easily amused. So a walk through Antigua's mercado was like my Disneyland.

Mercado
Just the sight of an utterly foreign-to-me fruit, a jocote, kept me entertained for hours. Even more so when I learned that it is where cashews come from!! I had no idea. Sadly, I think my choice of fruit was poor and the smell was to pungent for me to muster the courage to eat it, but I was enthralled nonetheless.

jocote!
So it is easy to see that when even the little things like fruit, lack of mosquitoes, and techno music made me love the city, the big things we did, like climb an active volcano, visit a working coffee farm, drive to a volcanic crater lake were not just the cherry on top, but the sundae on top of  another sundae.

The Hike up Pacaya: An Active Volcano 

And what a hike it was! I have never been on such a strenuous hike... and hadn't really intended on it for this trip, assuming pumas, jeans and a light long-sleeve would be appropriate gear. Imagine the Sahara desert being at a 60 degree angle and you can get a sense of what it was like. The angle was brutal and the ash/loose dirt did nothing for traction. I was convinced it was a scheme to take us up the "hard way" so that the men following with horses (for rent of course) could say "Taxi, Taxi!" every five minutes and eventually wear us down. I am exceedingly stubborn though and despite the 3 inches of dirt inside my shoes and being wet through, I summited the mountain on foot.

Volcan Pacaya
I had prepared myself to see flowing lava, as my boyfriend had made clear that this was the point of climbing an active volcano, but alas, no lava. It was however hot enough to provide a nice cavern for a sauna-type experience and to provide areas for roasting marshmallows! Good enough.


La Finta Azotea: The Coffee Farm




Visiting the coffee farm (la finta) Azotea, I felt the weight of my addiction. It was like a pothead walking into a field of marijuana plants. Don't worry, I didn't throw myself on the beans and starting shoving them into my mouth or anything... instead I just took pictures of almost every item in the museum. The tour was run by a patient and clear-speaking (which I appreciated as it was in Spanish) Guatemalan native, and both the museum and the tour were extremely well-organized, exceedingly educational, and exceptionally impressive. The tour went through the history of coffee, whose origin is Ethiopian through to the phases of the coffee bean (cherry, pergamino, oro and tostado) all the way to the health effects of coffee, the history of the farm, and the types of coffee machines used over the years and from country to country. And we even saw the field of beans being toasted by the sun. I honestly think this was one of the best tours I have ever taken of anything. If you go to Antigua, visit Azotea. (And their "Coffee is great too!", proclaims the addict. You can order some here.)

Lago Atitlan


There are 33 volcanoes in Guatemala, three of which are active, and three of which surround Lake Atitlan (none of which are active now... I think). It is also the deepest lake in Central America, and has been referred to as "Eden on earth." I don't think I would argue that point.

So all of that, plus an lovely stay at Hotel Casa Noble, good food and fun nights out in the city made for a lovely vacation and for another dream of home.

2 comments:

  1. Wow! Um.....were you on the same trip as me? hehe. I did these same things and LOVED the same things. I just got back from Guatemala a few weeks ago and miss it more than I thought I would! I just subscribed, BTW and will be reading more of you! :o)

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  2. Hi Kim- Thanks for your comment! I recently saw your blog post and was going to make a similar comment! Guatemala is amazing, isn't it? How funny... maybe we'll even bump into one another on the next trip! ;) happy traveling (& writing!)

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