Guatemala Part 3 – Churches and Lava

We’ve been in Antigua for the last few days, which used to be the capital of Central America. It’s a very pretty town, with a lovely central park and it reminded us of San Cristobal de las casas in Mexico. We spent a day wandering around the shops and the ruins of the cathedral (3q/25p entrance fee), which has been destroyed twice by earthquakes. The contrast of the shafts of sunshine and shadows and the plants growing in amongst the columns and cracked walls made it look just as beautiful as a well preserved, lavishly gilded cathedral.

Under the font at the front of the ruined cathedral, there is a smoke-blackened Jesus, with money all around him. I’m not sure what happens to the money (it doesn’t go towards Cathedral maintenance, that’s for sure!) or what people hope to get by throwing it in there – is it a bribe, or a payment to get your prayers answered..? Maybe they’re just buying hope, like throwing money in a wishing well. It’s certainly a very beautiful and inspiring place, especially when the sun is shining.

On Thursday we took a minibus to the foot of Pacaya volcano, which is one of 3 active volcanoes in Guatemala. We bought sticks from the local kids at the bottom of the volcano to help us walk up. These kids have a good scheme going; it’s 5 quetzals (about 40p) for a stick and then on the way down, they accost you and take it back, so it’s more like a loan than a purchase! We managed to get 2 sticks for 7 quetzals after a bit of bartering, but the kid who met us on the way back down was none too impressed with my offer to sell him my stick back for 6 quetzals…

It took us about 2 hours to hike to the top of the volcano. Most of our group (nicknamed “Championes” by our guide) made it, but a couple of the ladies paid to get on a horse after just a kilometre or so. The horses don’t go all the way to the top (it’s far too steep and rocky for them), so the people who took horses missed the best bit (and the only reason that anyone would want to do the hike, as it’s like walking across Mordor)…

As we got to the top of the volcano, it got very warm, which felt strange as we were so high up, it had been mostly very windy and cold. We clambered over sharp rocks that had been only recently created from cooled lava (and some of which glowed red underneath and were warm enough to melt rubber-soled shoes). The sticks came in handy here, to bang on rocks, making sure they were firm enough to step onto. Finally we came to flowing lava – a river of luminous orange molten rock, hot enough to cook marshmallows in about 20 seconds, which Ise was brave (or stupid?) enough to do.

It was both scary and totally surreal and something I didn’t imagine I’d do in my life. On the way back, it was cold and dark and the last kilometre or so seemed to go on forever – we were shattered and very glad that it hadn’t rained, as the dirt path would have been even more treacherous!

We’re now in San Marcos at Lake Atitlan. It’s very pretty, but there’s not much to do, so we’re only planning on staying for a couple of nights. Last night we went to Blind Lemon’s restaurant and bar, where the American owner plays the blues (musica de pollo) – Dad and Kit, you’d have loved it.

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11 Comments so far

  1. mum and dad C on August 16th, 2009

    Wow! The volcano looks amazing. Nothing like a bit of Johnny Cash before breakfast. The video downloaded with no problems. I’m glad to see that you are getting a wear out of the thermals, Gude! I was very tickled by the deal with the sticks. What enterprising children. M

    Once again no problems with Health and Safety regulations spoiling your view or undercooking the marshmallows. 2 hours up – that’s as long as it took me to cycle up L’Alpe D’Huez (2000m). How high was the volcano? Hope you got a rest up there as well as the marshmallows. It must have been weird to see all that red hot rock flowing so freely. Sorry to have missed the blues. Hope you enjoy the curry. D

  2. Gude on August 16th, 2009

    Glad the video played okay – Ise spent most of yesterday afternoon on that!  I am wearing my thermals in bed at the moment because the mountains are chilly at night.  Those kids should have been at school, but they obviously made a fair bit of cash from the sticks and some of them led the horses too, which cost about £7 a trip (that’s the cost of almost 2 main meals out here).

    Dad, the t’interweb tells me the volcano is about 2500m high.  Our guide told us it was a 4km hike up (so about 5miles round trip).  We did get a rest at the top, along with some local perros (dogs) who clearly thought the climb was worth it for the heat and free marshmallows!  Totally weird – like being on another planet.

    Curry was yum and enormous, so a winner with us! x

  3. N 'n N on August 17th, 2009

    Love the on top of the world photos. For one moment I thought you had cracked the camera lens when I saw the ferry photo…but then worked it out that you were taking the photo through shattered glass. Never mind the pretty underwear…wasn’t sure whether you meant you had given up wearing any at all or whether it meant you were wearing bloomers.
    Glad you are so happy and feeding your reservoir of experience.
    love N ‘n N

  4. Claire, Adam & Izzy on August 18th, 2009

    There are SCD trailers??!!

    all sounds amazing.  typing this with dopey babe in arm and waiting for the video to load so I can “introduce” you … volcano looks incredible – loving the toasting marshmallows!!  xx

  5. Kit on August 19th, 2009

    Hey you crazy magma-dogding monkeys! Nice vid – looks great, I’d be well in there with Ise toasting the marshmallows 🙂   Hope you’re still having a blast whatever you’re up to this week.
    Sorry I haven’t been in touch much lately – stupidly busy with work and gigs as usual. Have to Skype again soon, let me know a good time. Lots of love xx

  6. mum H-G on August 19th, 2009

    We’re loving your blog – can’t wait ’til it’s in the shops!  What amazing experiences you are having. Whom do you know has ever toasted and eaten marshmallows on top of a volcano? What amazing experiences you have got under your belts already – and loads more to come.  Thank goodness you didn’t sink the boat on lake Mead, Isaac. Love Mxx :*

  7. Stine on August 21st, 2009

    Molten hot magma! That vid is amazing. I think I’d have been a big girl’s blouse about going up there! Keep blogging dudes – it sounds incredible and we love it!
    Miss you xx

  8. Gude on August 22nd, 2009

    You wouldn’t have been a big girls blouse!  It wasn’t nearly as scary as the caves which were cold and wet and claustrophobic…  Been on coaches for the last 4 days, but I will blog as soon as I can.  We’ll try and Skype you tomorrow too.

  9. David on August 24th, 2009

    Brilliant video guys… Marshmallows toasted on hot molton lava at the top of a volcano. You really couldn’t make this up and clearly with the video evidence – you didn’t! Cracking soundtrack… Inspired choice Ise! Some super photo’s of the two of you. You both look REALLY well and so so happy… That makes David happy 🙂  Will be in touch. Love to you both. xxx 

  10. Gude on August 25th, 2009

    Would you believe, I chose the song David?!  Ise agreed it was an inspired choice though.  I did suggest “Feelin Hot, Hot, Hot” too  😉

  11. David on August 25th, 2009

    I don’t belieeeeeve it! Well actually I do my darling. I simply made an assumption as you had said Ise worked on the vid. Good teamgool work! Am now singing ‘Feelin hot hot hot’ and can’t get it out of my head. xxx