Our first volcano climb of the trip so far, hard work but worth it. No flowing lava or burning rocks, that was all happening on Volcan Fuego, out of bounds to climb, but visible from Antigua on clear nights. Volcan Pacaya is definitely active, we could see the clouds of steam erupting from the crater peak as we walked, but it is considered safe enough to allow tourists to visit.
It was a long walk up to the summit of the volcano, the guide kept stopping for short breaks, pointing out things of interest and ensuring that the group didn’t become too spread out. We had all heard the stories of the robbers who used to target groups of tourists and relieve them of all their money and cameras. Increased security has improved things here and the robbers seem to have moved on elsewhere. Our guide still carried a few good sized rocks in his jacket however, and there were a few uniformed lads with guns, just in case. We got to the steaming crater, that was the summit, as the sun was beginning to go down.
Sian holding her breath at the summit of Volcan Pacaya
After the obligatory photos and the odd lung full of sulphurous gas, we started the descent.
By the time we got half way down the volcano, the sun had set and the only light we had was from the moon and a couple of torches. We all stumbled ungracefully down to the waiting minibus, now very glad that we hadn’t ridden here. It was good to be able to sit and rest our aching legs while someone else fought with the night-time traffic. Day time riding was bad enough, the difference was noticeable immediately on crossing the border, no-one pays any attention to any of the rules and drives as fast as possible. I think only the lack of traffic prevents more major accidents of which we saw surprisingly few. However, I never saw one vehicle on the road that didn’t have a scratch, dent or broken light.
We had planned to learn Spanish in Todos Santos, but ended up in Antigua along with everyone else.
The Famous arch in Antigua, with yet another volcano as a backdrop
December is apparently a slow time for the language schools, so we were able to pick and choose – not easy with 60 or so to choose from. We decided to share a teacher to save a little money, it worked out well as we learnt the same things and were able to practice together. Diligent students that we were, we didn’t have too much time to take part in the laid on activities, we also had ‘bikey’ things to do.
We had been given the name of a local guy, Roberto, who rode a K100, we met up after class one day and went to the local café where the riders from Guatemala city hang out on the weekend. Swapped stories, speaking a mixture of English, Spanish and German, as it turns out that his wife is of German descent. He offered to let us use his place to do our oil changes and some routine bike maintenance, so the following Sunday we rode up the racetrack that links Antigua to Guatemala city to Roberto’s house, picking up some oil from the petrol station along the way. The oil change done in a few hours, Arno took the starter motor out, it has been making very strange noises since Mexico and he feels it is only a matter of time before it gives up the ghost. Of course I am just as keen to find a solution as guess who will be pushing Black Betty if the electric starter doesn’t?! Roberto offered to take the part into his work place and get one of the electrician’s to look at it. So after a lovely BBQ with him and his family, we left the BMW at his place and rode back down to Antigua on the XT.
Roberto looking on as Arno changes the oil
A couple of days later, we went back to Roberto’s, to re-fit the starter motor, which had been fixed. Arno was delighted and so was I, no more pushing the bike for me, or so I thought…..
We had arrived in Antigua on a Sunday afternoon, having ridden with Ruth & Merv from Huehuetenango, where we had spent our first, almost penniless, night in Guatemala. The ATM’s in town wouldn’t accept any of our proffered cards and it was pure luck that we found a bank just before it closed, where we could get cash advances on our Visa cards.
Parked by the famous arch, noses in the guide books, our search for accommodation was interrupted by Gustavo, who lived in a nearby village. He told us that he and his wife Leonore, had ridden their motorbike down to South America a couple of years ago. We swapped email addresses and agreed to meet up while we were in the city. We finally made it to their place one afternoon after class. They lived a lovely 45 minute ride from Antigua, the road winding through several villages and hundreds of fields that must have totally supplied the area with all its fruit and vegetable needs.
Their house had been built by Leonore’s father, who had at one time worked in Switzerland. It was the Guatemalan interpretation of a Swiss cottage, complete with sloping roof, balcony with flowers and inside a huge stone fireplace.
Us with Gustavo, Leonore and the bike they rode down to South America
It was a wonderful place and a wonderful afternoon as Gustavo & Leonore told us of their trip and also a little of their history. An added bonus for us was that we managed to speak Spanish almost the whole time – 2 weeks of lessons do make a difference! A shame we didn’t have more time, but our 2 weeks in Antigua were over and it was time to move on if we were to see more of Guatemala than just a classroom.
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