Monday, 14 May 2012

Days 14 - 28: Antigua!

After just under two weeks of pretty intense traveling we were in need of some serious chill time, it was time for Antigua! We were very lucky that Harry's third cousin, Rob, lives in Antigua with his wife who is from the city. We fell in love with the city so decided to stay for 2 weeks while we caught up with our blog, photos and sleep!

View from Cerro de la Cruz

Volcan de Agua
We got the Zephyr shuttle from Lanquin to Antigua (Q175 pp) so we could pay our tab for the hostel. The shuttle left Zephyr at 8am and it should have taken around 7h to Antigua but we had to make a short stop along the way while they replaced the brakes of the bus (we wondered how long they waited before it was necessary!) and we also had to pull over for 45mins while the Central America cycle tournament (equivalent to the 'Tour de France') passed by. We arrived in the Parque Central around 5pm and the first thing we saw was the intimidating volcano, Volcán de Agua, covered by a thick dark band of cloud.
 
A delicious breakfast served in Antigua's best Rainbow cafe
Our lovely fruit vendors
 It was very easy to stay in Antigua and make it our base. It had the feeling of small town but has all amenities and choice of a city. We were there during low season so many places we quiet during the day, which was extremely welcomed, but was still bustling and zealous at night. There was an abundances of cafes, restaurants, juice bars and bakeries which made selecting a place for coffee or a meal difficult. We have summarized our favourite places in our "Top Tips" section of the blog, but our top pick by far was Rainbow Cafe. A beautiful and whimsical cafe, restaurant and bookshop that serves fantastic, wholesome food at good prices for Antigua (we found the prices in Antigua were the highest in Guatemala). The coffee is good and staff are extremely friendly. Every evening there were bands playing a variety of styles, our favourite was Open Mic on Wednesdays.There was plenty to see in Antigua with loads of ruins that were a result of a huge earthquake in the 18th Century, the classic Arch of Santa Catalina and Cerro de la Cruz, which is the large cross on top of the hill that gives the best view of the city. Antigua is also surrounded by three volcanoes (Agua, Acatenango and Fuego). There is the option to climb some of the volcanoes, sadly we didn't manage to scale any of them. Although, the first thing we saw every morning was the largest volcano, Agua, in the south and we were lucky enough to see the large eruption of Fuego on the 25th May





Volcan de Fuego's eruption at night (foreground is a cafe roof).
One of the main reasons we were in Antigua was to learn some Spanish (which was/is pretty pitiful!). Antigua is famous for Spanish language schools; there are so many to choose from and many of them offer a home stay with a local family (this is a hit or a miss as many families do not interact with the students). We attended the school San Jose el Viejo for 5 days, 4 hours a day (8am-12pm) which cost US$85 pp. This was the cheapest school we could find but it was also the most impressive (unfortunately all our photos of the school were lost when a dog called Bolt ate our memory card (long story involving tequila)...). The "classrooms" (actually a desk with 2 chairs) were situated outside in a beautiful garden with flowers and a fountain and this was only the entrance, the garden extends to where the fancy accommodations were and the plantations such as avocados and coffee. The lessons are one-to-one which was perfect as we had 100% attention and both of us could learn in our own styles at our own pace. The teachers were professional yet casual and friendly. There was also unlimited free coffee that was greatly appreciated at 8am!  Finishing school at 12pm meant we had the rest of the day to explore the city and take a salsa lesson or two..

Our first salsa lesson at Salsa & Stylo. Our fantastic fast talking, fast moving teacher, Martin, in the background, he even walks too quickly for a clear photo.

We also spent loads of time with Rob's family which was incredible. We went to the 6th birthday party of Sophia, Robs niece (incl. pinata), Sophia's grandmothers birthday (incl. Tequila) and every day we were greeted with many hugs by the whole family! Guatemalans really like hugging :-) We also took part in Antigua's first 5km run (Carrera Arco Iris) with the family to support Children with cancer. We were given free t-shirts and medals when we finished... it took a while!



The most amazing pancakes I have ever had!
 We made a short visit to Central America's only organic macadamia farm, Valhalla. Tony, our friend worked there and explained the whole process from selecting the correct trees to removing the shell to making the final products such as macadamia oil for facials, nuts for eating and in chocolate. There were many very clever manual techniques used to filter out the bad nuts and sort their sizes. Yet, the best part of the farm was the breakfast! We had the most amazing pancakes with macadamia butter (alternative to peanut butter) topped with a blueberry jam!

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