I booked an afternoon 2PM hike for 9USD to go to Mount Pacaya. 9USD supposedly includes a guide and all transportation to and from the volcano. The bus which was supposed to be a collectivo (shuttle bus) ended up being an old US school bus also known in Central America more commonly as a chicken bus. Central American seems like a place where old yellow US school buses go to die and live out the rest of their miserable existance.
For 9USD the tour was pretty much what I had expected. The guides themselve spoke absolutely no English and carried no emergencies supplies or previsions however I was thankfully able to understand about 3/4 of what they had said. I will say this if you're not at least reasonably in shape you would not have a very good time on this hike. It's not exactly a walk in the park. I would imagine you can probably pay a bit more money for a proper tour with English speaking guides. There are many companies that offered overnight hikes and camping as well.
The bus ride to Pacaya took about 2 hours and the entrance fee to the Volcano Pacaya cost 40 queztales (5 USD). We didnt end up leaving Antigua until 2:45pm so essentially the bus departed on time if I were judging by Guatemalan time. Started hiking up the mountain around 4:45pm. You can "rent" walking sticks for 5 queztales (~65 cents). I hiked with a couple Brits at the front of the group because we wanted to make it up the mountain before sunset. The hike itself is only about 5KM however what starts as a very easy and well maintained trail with beatuful views of Guatemala City below quickly escalates to loose volcanic ashe where you can quickly lose your footing and finally to the point where you're hiking over solidified lava that is as razor sharp as broken glass. It definitely would not be a good idea to fall up here; you would end up with some very nasty cuts and bruises or worse.
We made finally made it up to the summit or rather where we could see lava pouring out of the side of the volcano right around sunset. I could only stand about 4ft near the lava before the intense heat overwhelmed me and practically scorched my eye brow off. The hike took about an hour and a half to two hours. The rest of the group was extremely far behind so we had almost an hour up top to kill time before the rest of the group finally caught up. I guess the tradition up here is to roast marshmellows on the lava so we decided to partake however we took this a step further and decided to make smores. Sadly, I didnt get any pictures of this part.
It was an extremely interesting sensation standing next to an active volcano and being on the top of the mountain. Like most mountains, the weather is very turbulent and unpredictable. It was very windy and cold however standing next to lava however negated the cold part. At some points if you didnt have proper footing the wind could have easily knocked you over.
When the rest of the group finally reached the summit we started our descent just as a massive fog rolled in almost completely obscuring my vision. Climbing down the side of the mountain in pitch black darkness in cold and windy conditions while making sure not to fall on razor sharp volcanic rocks was definitely a "fun" experiece.
Thankfully I came prepared and brought an LED headlamp. The tour company explained that some sort of flashlight and walking stick were absolutely nessesary. I am extremely glad I had a headlamp otherwise holding a flash light in one hand while carrying a walking stick in the other would have been very difficult. Lots of people were very unprepared. A couple people were hiking in t-shirts and carried almost no water or food. It took a big longer to descend since we were pretty much doing it in pitch black conditions with very little visibility. At one point we had completely lost half the group and had to wait about 5-10 minutes for them to catch up to us.
We made it back down the bottom of the volcano at around 8:30pm. Perfect Guatemalan time since the tour itself was supposed to be back in Antigua by 9pm. We actually didnt get back into the city until 10pm.
This hike was definitely one of the highlights of my time in Guatemala. How often do you get to say you hiked up an active volcano? Unfortunately there was two casualities on this hike and those were my running shoes. In addition to the bottom of them being completely melted they were thoroughly torn up and ripped to pieces from hiking on sharp volcanic rocks. Oh well, it was either that or hiking in sandals.
Anyway, my little adventure is just about over. I'm headed to Guatemala City in a shuttle bus to catch my flight back to Boston. I should arrive home around midnight and then it's off to work Wednesday morning. I'm absolutely not looking forward to seeing snow nor am I looking forward to these new TSA security guidelines. Been watching the news over here and read about the recent security breaches.
I left Flores last night on the overnight sleeper bus to Antigua around 10pm. Mark decided he would also come because he wants to do a Spanish language school in Antigua for a month. Antigua is apparently an extremely popular place to take a Spanish language course. Most of the schools here charge between 75-100 dollars a week for classes.
Ted was originally going to go to San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlan
but he decided to tag along and head to Antigua with us for a night. We paid around 30USD for a "supposed" sleeper bus from Linea Dorada. They do have sleeper buses however they apparently didnt put us on the right one.
Arrived in Guatemala city around 6am so it took about 9 hours total. Even though I had a long sleeve thermal shirt on the bus was freezing cold and I was practically shivering all night. Definitely take a sweatshirt or jacket if you're taking an overnight bus. The bus wasnt exactly what they had described, it was very similar to the ADO buses in Mexico but I wouldnt exactly classify it as a sleeper bus.
Unfortunately when we arrived in Guatemala City we were informed they only had two reservations for the shuttle bus to Antigua and not three like we booked. The guy was a real asshole about it so we ultimately decided to take a taxi to Antigua and split the cost. Wasnt a huge loss since we only lost about 5USD for the bus ticket from Guatemala City to Antigua. The taxi was about 45-50 minute ride for 30USD. We split three ways for 10 bucks a piece and arrived about 30-40 minutes before the bus.
Spend the entire day walking around Antigua. It's a really beautiful old Spanish colonial city. Felt like I was walking around somewhere in Europe rather than Central America. A much bigger version of Flores. Antigua was founded in 1500s and was the colonial capital of Guatemala until 1776 when the capital was moved to Guatemala City because a large earthquake completely desimated the city in 1773. Antigua still maintains it's colonial charm. It is a city 5000ft above sea level surrounded by three volcanos. There is also another volcanno called Pacaya which is still active and apparently a popular day trip.
I had never hiked a volcano before let alone an activate one so I booked an afternoon hike to Mount Pacaya for 9USD. The trip is supposed to leave at 2pm and return around 8:30PM. Apparently you can hike to an active lava field where you can literally melt your shoes if you're not careful. Hoping to get some cool pictures of some live lava tomorrow. I have a feeling this hike is really going to kick my ass. Two weeks of hardly any exercising besides scuba diving (drift dives), two short runs and lots of heavy lifting of beers to my mouth.
I was originally supposed to leave Sunday night but I couldnt get the correct bus in time; the bus on Saturday was completely full. The flights were also fucked up so my best option is to try on the Tuesday flight since it has open seats. Hoping to be home by Tuesday night. I take that back, I kind of have to be home by Tuesday.
Woke up at 5am and took the bus to Tikal. Bus ride took about an hour. Spent about 5-6 hours exploring the ruins before heading back to Flores.
The weather was absolutely perfect for exploring the ruins this morning. It was overcast with a great little breeze. I climbed most of the ruins in a long sleeved shirt. Last time I explored Tikal the weather was absolutely brutal.
It´s definitely better to get the first bus to Tikal in the morning before it rains or the sun comes out. You also have a greater chance of seeing more wildlife. Today I saw a bunch of howler moneys, wild turkeys, an izote (coatamundi), and some tucans. Took a bunch of pictures of Tikal which I will upload when I get home.
Met another guy down here named Ted who is on holiday for about 3 months in Central America. He has lived in Korea for the last 15 years teaching English. He is also taking the bus to Guatemala City tonight. We finished walking around Flores today and took some pictures. This is a really awesome little place. You can walk around the entire island in about 15 minutes. Most of the bars and restaurants also have a great view of the lake.
Decided to cheap out and ate some delicious tacos at a street vendor in the park for 5 queztals (65 cents US each). Flores seems to be relatively expensive compared to the rest of Guatemala but still cheaper than Mexico. I imagine Antigua and Guatemala City might be the same.
At this point I am just killing time until the sleeper bus to Guatemala City leaves at 9:30pm tonight.
Woke up next morning and checked out of Chinatown Inn. Walked down the street and had some breakfast. An actual proper breakfast place with eggs, bacon, hashbrowns and toast.
I had already previously booked my return ferry to ticket to Belize City using San Pedro Water Taxi Association. I believe the ferry from Ambergris Caye to Caye Caulker plus the return ticket from Caye Caulker to Belize City cost around 7.5-9USD. Unbelizeably cheap.
We arrived in the "great" and "wonderful" Belize City around 11ish. Giving us plenty of time to sort out a bus to Flores which supposedly leaves at 2:30PM. Booked a bus ticket on San Juan bus company in Belize City at the ferry terminal to Flores, Guatemala for 40 Belize dollars (20USD).
The bus finally left Belize City around 3pm. Originally it was supposed to leave at 2:30pm however a Danish girl had her iPod stolen while walking through Belize City only 4 blocks from the bus terminal and had to fill out a useless police report.
Belize City is an absolute shit hole of a place lined with shanty little shacks and filled with Rastafarian crackheads and nut jobs. I would only recommend going there in passing to catch a bus or a ferry elsewhere. In fact if you can skip Belize City and head to the islands directly from Chetumal or Corozol you are much better off. The sooner you leave Belize City the better. You see there are some third world cities that have a interesting aurora surrounding them. You know they're terrible but ultimately they end up being somewhat safe and have many fasinating things to see and explore. Unfortunately Belize City is not one of them; avoid at all costs since it has no redeeming values whatsoever.. I dont think I have ever meet anyone that had a good experience in Belize City. I have no idea why any cruiseship would ever dock here.
The bus through Belize and into Guatemala was largely uneventful with the roads being a little better in Belize. Once on the Guatemalan side we had to worry about dodging the occasional rogue donkeys, some pot holes and stray dogs. The border crossing at the Belizean checkpoint took a little over an hour however once on the Guatemalan things oddly moved much quicker. We crossed into the Guatelian border as it began to get dark and I figured I would experience some local culture by purchasing a Gallo beer for 10 Queztals at a local tienda before reboarding the bus onto Flores.
We arrived at Flores around 9PM. Total travel time by bus was about 6 hours including the hour and half that was spent queuing in customs and immigrants in Belize and Guatemala. Guatemala customs was much faster.
Although i've only been in Flores for about 2 hours this place is already starting to grow on me. It's a little colonial town with cobblestone streets and old shop buildings. Me and Mark ended up finding a pretty decent hotel room for about 12USD/night. Flores is actually an island on a lake connected to the mainland by a small causeway; it is the main travel point for most people heading to visit the famous Tikal ruins. So far it seems like a very safe little place with lots of charm. I will try to do more exploring. I have a catch a bus at 5am tomorrow to explore Tikal all day and then I have the entire rest of the day to explore Flores before finally getting the overnight sleeper bus to Guatemala City at 9:30pm before returning to Boston. Should arrive in Tikal around 6am tomorrow so tonight is an early night. Adios and Buenos Noches