Guatemala – Antigua and Xela – Part 1 – guest post

RO: Prietenii nostri, Mihai si Emi, se plimba de cateva luni bune prin jurul lumii, iar cand mai prind vreo farama de internet, ne tin la curent cu locurile spectaculoase pe care le-au vazut. Ca noi vrem sa ii torturam cu intrebari si detalii despre toate destinatiile, asta-i alta poveste 🙂 Pana una alta, ne spun cum li s-a parut Guatemala, pentru ca pare sa fie tara cea mai indragita de ei pana acum 🙂 Ne povestesc despre Antigua, un orasel colonial de toata frumusetea, despre hilara experienta cu autobuzele tipice guatemaleze si despre primele impresii din Xela. Stay tuned, urmeaza si alte episoade la fel de amuzante 🙂

EN: Our friends, Mihai and Emi, are travelling the world for a couple of months and when they have a tiny bit of internet, they keep us posted with the spectacular places they see. We have to admit that we are tempted to torture them with questions about all the destinations visited so far 🙂 But until then, they tell us about Guatemala, because this seems to be their favourite country so far 🙂 They tell us more about Antigua, an extremely beautiful colonial town, about the hilarious experience with the typical Guatemalan buses and their first impressions about Xela. Stay tuned, other episodes are coming, equally fun and amusing 🙂 
Mihai si Emi Around the world

*** EPISODE 1 *** 

RO: Desi nu imi sta in fire m-am hotarat sa imi calc putin pe inima si sa scriu cateva cuvinte despre, probabil, cea mai frumoasa experienta pe care am avut-o pana acum intr-o tara, si anume Guatemala. Am plecat din Romania fara prea multe lucruri stiute despre aceasta bijuterie ascunsa de marea majoritate a oamenilor. Era o bucata de drum pe care Emi a cercetat-o, insa si ea a fost mai mult decat placut surprinsa. Intrarea in tara nu a promis prea multe. Stiind ca in Guatemala City nu sunt prea multe lucruri de facut si ca este in top cele mai periculoase orase din lume am decis sa plecam de la aeroport direct catre Antigua, un orasel colonial aflat la vreo ora de capitala. Am luat un collectivo (mini-bus) impreuna cu alti 4 turisti si dusi am fost, trecand printr-un Guatemala City cam murdar, destul de poluat si cu claxoane care nu conteneau. In Antigua aveam cazarea la o gazda, Don Ismael, care avea o casa cu o curte interioara cat o sufragerie ceva mai mare, catre care dadeau toate camerele. Ne-am lasat lucrurile si am pornit spre orasul totalmente colonial parca inghetat in timp. Doar poluarea era putin cam exagerata dar am scapat repede de ea urcandu-ne pe un deal (Cerro de la Cruz) de unde aveam o priveliste panoramica spre orasul incercuit de vulcani. Guatemala este o tara destul de periculoasa, asa ca asta a fost o excursie in care din pacate nu prea am scos camera, insa Antigua nu parea sa se incadreze in tipar deoarece e frecventata de foarte multi turist veniti la cursuri in scolile de spaniola.

EN: Even though it’s not my way, I decided to write a few words about probably the most beautiful experience we’ve lived in a foreign country and that’s Guatemala. We left Romania without knowing too much about this hidden gem, it was just a part of our journey documented by Emi, and even though she knew what to expect, she was also pleasantly surprised by this country. Getting into the country wasn’t quite promising. As we knew that there is not much to do in Guatemala City and that this is one of the most dangerous places in the world, we decided to head directly to Antigua from the airport, a small colonial town at one hour away from the capital. We took a collectivo (mini bus) along with four other tourists and there we were on our way, passing through a dirty and polluted Guatemala City, where the excessive horns seem to be the permanent background noise. In Antigua we stayed at a host, Don Ismael, who had an interior court as big as decent living room, from where you could see all the rooms. We left our luggage and headed to the colonial town that seemed to be frozen in time. Just the pollution was a bit too exaggerated but we got rid of it by climbing a hill (Cerro de la Cruz) from where we could see a gorgeous panoramic view towards the town surrounded by volcanoes. Guatemala is quite a dangerous country, so unfortunately this was one of the trips where we did not show our photo camera too much, but Antigua seemed to be different as it is frequented by lots of tourists coming here for Spanish courses.
Cerro de la Cruz_Guatemala_Antigua

RO: Dupa ce am lasat Cerro de la Cruz in spate, am mai ratacit putin pe stradutele pavate cu piatra pana s-a facut seara cautand sa schimbam bani la una din cele 2 banci ale orasului care acceptau euro. Apropo, cozile sunt imense, timpul de asteptare la fel, asa ca preferabil ar fi sa se schimbe mai multi bani deodata. Dupa ce am rezolvat problemele organizatorice (banca, gasit tur pentru a doua zi), am cautat un loc in care sa luam cina. Erau destule restaurantele asa ca a fost o decizie grea – am mancat la chinezi 🙂 Am zis ca in urmatoarele sapte saptamani, cat vom sta in America Centrala si de Sud o sa avem destul timp sa mancam tacos, burritos, fasole neagra si alte delicii locale. Intorsi la cazare, gazdele noastre nu stiau ce sa faca pentru noi ca sa ne simtim mai bine. Niste oameni destul de micuti, toti (eu parand pentru prima oara la 1.78 un mic gigant) si intotdeauna veseli, desi munceau mai tot timpul.

EN: After we left Cerro de la Cruz behind, we wandered around the cobblestone streets until sunset, trying to exchange some money at one of the two banks of the town that accept euros. By the way, the lines are huge, the waiting time as well, so it is best to change more money at a time. After we solved the administrative issues (finding the bank, booking a tour for the second day), we searched for a place to have dinner. There are plenty of restaurants so this was a though decision to make – so end up eating Chinese food 🙂 In the end, we had seven more weeks in South America to try plenty of tacos, burritos, black beans and other local delicacies. Back to our guesthouse, our hosts didn’t know what else to do for us to make us feel better. Tiny people (for the first time in my life I considered myself a giant at my 1,78m height :D), always happy, always smiling, even though they were working almost all the time. 
RO: Dimineata am luat un mic dejun neobisnuit pentru noi dar care avea sa devina uzual pentru urmatoarele saptamani (omleta cu fasole neagra – pe care ei o intind ca pe paine si pe burritos – si bineinteles, nelipsetele turtite de porumb. Dupa ce am mancat la Don Ismael am pornit intr-o mica drumetie cu un tur (cei care se stiu cu o conditie fizica precara, pot inchiria un magar pentru urcare), pe un vulcan din apropiere, Pacaya, unde am avut ocazia sa vedem un camp de lava, ce e drept racit, dar inca fumegand dinlauntruri. La unul dintre aceste hornuri ghidul ne pregatise o gustare inedita – frigarui de marshmallows. Dupa ce am savurat gustarea, ne-am grabit spre un punct panoramic unde am fost surprinsi de un apus spectaculos, si cu priveliste directa spre volcan del fuego care mai arunca din cand in cand nori de cenusa. In oras pentru cina am ales o mica bodeguta frecventata de localnici. Mancarea a fost delicioasa asa ca de aici incolo am decis sa evitam locurile turistice si sa mancam unde ii vedem pe oamenii locului. Preturile in Antigua sunt un pic mai mari decat in alte orase guatemaleze in principal datorita valului de turisti. Dar tot nu se compara cu restul Americii Centrale si de Sud.
Intorsi acasa am inceput sa facem bagajul si sa ne planificam urmatoarele zile, cat si sa cautam cazare pentru celelalte destinatii. A fost imposibil sa ne rezervam toate biletele inainte sa plecam din Bucuresti si nici nu ne doream asa ceva pentru ca neplanificarea tuturor pasilor deschide calea multor experiente neasteptate.

EN: Next morning we had quite an unusual breakfast (which eventually would become the ordinary one for the next weeks) and that’s omelette with black beans (they spread on bread and burritos) and of course, the famous corn tortillas. After we ate at Don Ismael we booked a hiking tour (for those who are not willing to do so much physical activity, a donkey can be rented for the hike) on a nearby volcano, Pacaya, where we saw a lava field, a cooled one, but the underneath steam could still be seen. At one of these horns the guide prepared us an unusual snack – marshmallow skewers. After we savored the snack, we headed to a panoramic point where we’ve seen a spectacular sunset, with gorgeous views directly towards the volcan del fuego, which is still throwing some ash clouds in the air. Back in the town we chose to have dinner at a local tiny restaurant. The food was delicious so from there on we decided to avoid all tourist traps and only eat where we could see the locals. The prices in Antigua are a bit higher than the rest of the towns in Guatemala and that’s mainly because of the tourists coming here. But of course we cannot compare it with the rest of Central and South America. Back home we started packing and plan the next days, as well as searching for accommodation for the next destinations. It was simply impossible to book all the tickets before leaving from Bucharest and we actually didn’t want that, as not making plans means more unexpected experiences.
Pacaya Volcano_Guatemala_1
Pacaya Volcano_Guatemala_2
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Pacaya Volcano_Guatemala
Pacaya Volcano_Guatemala_3
Pacaya Volcano_Guatemala_5

Volcan del Fuego - Guatemala
Volcan del Fuego – Photo Source:

RO: Practic a doua zi urma sa inceapa adevarata aventura deoarece ne propusesem sa taiem din costuri si sa mergem cu celebrele Chicken Bus-uri (foste autobuze scolare cumparate la mana a doua din State, vopsite in culori vii, cu “echipaj” format din sofer si unul sau mai multe ajutoare care au importanta misiune de a colecta banii de la pasageri si a-i ajuta sa incarce bagajele mai repede ca sa minimizeze timpul petrecut in statie). Indrumati de veselul Don Ismael pornim spre terminal, unde ajungand cateva minute mai tarziu intram in vorba cu oamenii, ca sa aflam ce traseu trebuie sa urmam spre Quetzaltenango (cunoscuta ca Xela), urmatoarea noastra oprire si mai important unde trebuie sa schimbam autobuzul. Ne urcam in bus-ul indicat dupa ce am verificat ca rucsacele sunt prinse bine de acoperis. In autobuz incepem discutii cu localnicii in spaniola noastra mai mult decat indoielnica si ni se explica unde trebuie sa coboram, ba chiar vreo doi coboara cu noi, cam in jumate de ora, ca sa ne si arate care este statia pentru urmatorul autobuz. Trebuie sa intelegeti imaginea, eram doi whitey-white cu cate un rucsac mare in spate fiecare si cu cate unul mai mic in mana. Localnicii foarte vorbareti incercau imediat sa ne afle povestea si din ce zona a lumii venim. Vedem un autobuz pe care scria Xela si ne indreptam spre el. Tipul cu care vorbeam ma trage de maneca si ma atentioneaza ca ne lasa la vreo 40km de Xela, de fapt. Imi va arata el care trebuie luat. Ii dam cu flit ajutorului soferului si ne punem din nou pe vorba. Cinci minute mai tarziu il vad pe unul dintre amicii nostri ca sare impreuna cu altul direct pe banda a doua a carosabilului in fata unui autobuz care franeaza brusc si trage pe dreapta ferindu-i in ulima secunda. “Asta e al vostru!” Ne zice alt mic guatemalez.

EN: Basically the true adventure would start in the next day as we decided to cut some costs and use the famous Chicken Buses (former school buses bought second hand from the United States, painted in bright colors and with a “crew” made of the driver and one or more helpers with the extremely important mission to collect the money from the passengers and help them load their luggage faster so that they can minimize the time spent in each station). Advised by our happy Don Ismael we’re heading to the terminal, where we started talking to people in order to find out what itinerary do we have to follow to get to Quetzaltenango (known as Xela), our next stop where we had to change the bus. We got into the bus after we’ve checked that our backpacks are safely engaged. In the bus we start talking with the local in our dubious Spanish and we are told where should we get off. A couple of people actually get off at the same station with us, in approximately half an hour, and they even offer to show us where is the station for our next bus. One has to understand the entire picture: two whitey-whites, each one having a huge backpack in the back and a small one in the hands. The talkative locals were trying to find out what’s our story and from what part of the world are we. We saw a bus on which it was written Xela and we headed towards it. The guy we’ve been talking to grabs my hand and tells me that the bus will leave us 40 km away from Xela. He offered to show me which bus do we have to take. We ignore the driver’s helper and we continue talking. Five minutes later we see some of our friendly locals jumping from the bus straight on the second line of the road in front of a bus that is forced to briskly brake and then stops, avoiding a tragedy. “This is yours!” Says another tiny Guatemalan. 

Chicken Buses_Guatemala
Photo Credit:

RO: Din bus sare un tip la vreo 25 de ani si ne intreaba daca mergem in Xela. Buimaciti de toata actiunea baiguim ca da, si ma uit la tovarasii nostri de conversatie, care ne indeamna sa ne urcam in el. Cand ma intorc spre Emi, vad un pusti de vreo 12 ani cum ii ia rucsacul in carca si fuge cat il tineau picioarele spre spatele autobuzului. Abia m-am tinut dupa el, Emi ramanand in fata sa clarifice daca e ok autobuzul. Pustiul, dupa ce a aruncat rucsacul pe autobuz se intinde dupa al meu, i-l dau. Cum il semi-prinde, vad ca autobuzul incepe sa se miste, sar prin usa din spate, si incerc sa vad daca Emi se urcase. Nu se urcase ea nestiind ca eu intrasem prin spate. Ii strig soferului ca mi-as dori si sotia in autobuz. Inca o frana, Emi vazandu-ma in autobuz se urca si ea si asa incepe experienta noastra cu adevaratele Chicken Bus-uri. Ne asezam in spate unde era loc, in timp ce autobuzul deja incepuse sa goneasca. La 3-4 minute, in mers, la vreo 50km/h, pe niste serpentine se deschide usa din spate brusc si sare pustiul inauntru. Uitasem de el. Ramasese pe acoperis sa ne lege rucsacele ca lumea. Fara prea mult ceremonial trece pe coridor pana in fata. Noi eram blocati de ce tocmai facuse, restul autobuzului nu putea sa fie mai dezinteresat. In timp autobuzul s-a mai umplut, pana nu au mai ramas locuri practic, asa ca oamenii au inceput sa se inghesuie pe bancute fara sa se supere unii pe altii. Stateau acum cam peste tot 3 pe doua locuri si cate unul infipt intre cele doua randuri de scaune. Chicken Bus-urile avand in vedere ca au fost concepute pentru scolarii din State, sunt rezistente, insa nu sunt cele mai incapatoare. Erau insa perfecte pentru mayasi.

EN: A 25 years old guy jumps from the bus and asks us if we’re heading to Xela. Confused by all this action we dare to confirm and we look for approval from our talkative local friends. They guide us to hop in. When I turn back to Emi, I can see a 12 years old kid grabbing her backpack and runs towards the back of the bus. I barely managed to get him, while Emi stayed in the front to make sure everything was ok with the bus. After throwing the backpack in the bus, the kid wants mine. I throw it to him. As he catches the backpack, I can see the bus starting to move, I use to back door just to check if Emi was already in. She didn’t get into the bus as she didn’t know that I entered using the back door. I scream at the driver that I would prefer to have my wife in the bus as well. Another brisk brake and Emi gets in, just in time to start our real experience with the true Chicken Buses. We went to the back where we found some free seats, while the bus already started to move. Several minutes after that, while driving at around 50km/h, on a sinuous road, the back door opens and the kid jumps in. We totally forgot about him. He remained on the top of the bus to hold our luggage properly. He passes next to us and goes in the front of the bus. We were completely shocked by his action, but the rest of the bus couldn’t care less. Meanwhile, people were crowding in the bus, staying three persons on two seats and between the rows of chairs. As the Chicken Buses were made for the US students, they are good enough but not quite capacious. But they were simply perfect for the Maya people.
Antigua to Xela

RO: Poezia experientei e greu de povestit: Bus-ul gonea cu viteze exagerate pentru o masina asa mare, prin micele satuce; oamenii inghesuiti dadeau unii peste altii in curbele in care trebuia sa te tii cu ambele maini de ce apucai ca sa nu fi azvarlit, micul mayas care din cand in cand sarea din si in autobuz si cand mai apucam sa facem o oprire, ne trezeam brusc in masina cu 5-6 vanzatori ambulanti care faceau din haos un haos si mai mare incercand sa vanda tacos, empanadas, fructe, snacks-uri si cine mai stie ce. Cu greu ne puteam abtine de la a rade uitandu-ne la actiunea din jur si traind acest film. Bineinteles cum am anuntat in jur ca nu stim in ce statie trebuie sa coboram au inceput toti sa se intrebe unii pe altii pana ni s-a facut cel mai bun traseu pana la cazarea din Xela. Am coborat din autobuz (trei ore mai tarziu) inca buimaciti de ce tocmai traisem si cu ajutorul unei strazi intregi de localnici ne-am urcat in autobuzul din Xela care ne-a lasat aproape de hostel-ul unde ne rezervasem o cazare (Casa Kiwi). La hostel ne intampina un ungur destul de vesel de la care am aflat ca orasul nu este cel mai sigur seara dar ziua daca dorim sa ne aventuram nu ar trebui sa intampinam probleme.

EN: The “poetry” of the experience is hard to imagine: the bus was driving with tremendous speed for such a big car, passing through all the small villages. The cramped people were hitting each other in the curves and we had to hold ourselves with both hands for whatever object we could find, otherwise we could be thrown away, the tiny Maya kid was jumping in and out the bus and when we were actually stopping, some barrow men were making the chaos even more chaotic by trying to sell us tacos, empanadas, fruits, snacks and God knows what else. We could barely stop laughing looking at all the action around us and living this film. Of course, right after we announced that we are not quite sure where should we get off the bus, everyone started to talk until they made us the best itinerary to get to our accommodation in Xela. We got off the bus (three hours later) still shocked by what we have lived and with the help of an entire street of local we managed to take our next bus from Xela that left us close to our hostel (Casa Kiwi). At the hostel we were greeted by a cheerful Hungarian guy who told us that this city is not the safest during evening but during the day we should not have any kind of issues. 

Photo credit:

Chicken Buses in Guatemala

Xela, Guatemala

Xela Guatemala_1
RO: Noi alesesem Xela ca baza pentru un hike de o noapte pe cel mai inalt varf din America Centrala, Tajumulco (4200m), dar sosisem cu 2 zile inainte pentru a ne aclimatiza (Xela fiind la 2330m) asa ca aveam suficient timp sa descoperim orasul. Centrul avea si el un aer colonial doar ca ceva mai impunator cu cladiri mai inalte decat cele din Antigua. Bancomatele de aici cerand o taxa destul de mare la retragere, a trebuit sa intram intr-o banca sa schimbam niste euro. Am avut insa neplacuta surpriza sa ne refuze doua bancnote care aveau o taietura cam de 1mm pe motiv ca ei nu au cum sa o schimbe mai departe. Intrand in mai multe banci am primit acelasi raspuns. Deci este indicat in Guatemala, ca bancnotele Euro sa fie fara niciun defect. Dolarii insa pot avea. Orasul nu era foarte spectaculos si putin cam murdar, ca de altfel toata tara, dar oamenii se uitau la noi cu prietenie asa ca nu prea ne pasa. Ne-am pierdut pe stradutele din jur, pana cand s-a facut seara si am intrat intr-un restaurantel cu aer ceausist noi fiind pe buget de backpacker si nevrand sa ratam vreo ocazie de reducere a costurilor :). Din experienta, in astfel de locuri nu mananci caviar, dar ce mananci e de obicei mai bun ca in alte restaurante. Asa a si fost. Am primit un bol cu ce credeam eu ca e supa, cu un fluier de picior de curcan in el, niste orez pe margine farfuriei pe care statea bolul si niste turtite tamales. Am inceput sa mananc din supa, dar dupa cateva minute, uitandu-ma la orez si neintelegand ce sa fac cu el am chemat-o pe chelnarita, cu intentia de a clarifica cum trebuie mancata supa. Contrariata s-a uitat la mine si in farfurie, apoi s-a facut toata un zambet. “Asta nu e supa, e sos. Orezul se pune in sos si se mananca cu tamales si curcan!!!” Intr-adevar supa era mai buna cu orezul in ea si cu carne 🙂 Nu mai spun ca imediat ce a plecat si a ajuns la bucatareasa cea grasa si la colega ei s-au pus toate pe ras. Ce mai, a venit europeanul si le mananca sosul cu lingura 🙂

EN: We have chosen Xela as our base for a one night hike on the tallest peak in Central America, Tajumulco (4200m), but we got here two days earlier so that we can get used with the climat (Xela is at 2330m height) so we had plenty of time to discover the town. The city center had a colonial charm but it was a bit more imposing and the buildings were taler than the ones in Antigua. As the ATMs have quite a big fee upon withdrawal, we had to search for a bank to change some euros. Unpleasantly, two of our bills were rejected as they had a 1mm scratch. We tried t ochange them on two other different banks and we got the same response. So just as an advice, all euros have to be intact in Guatemala. However, dollars can have defects. The city was not spectacular at all and quite dirty, as the entire country actually, but the locals were very friendly so we didn’t care too much about the town. We wandered the streets around until evening when we got in a kind of communist restaurant (we were quite low cost so we couldn’t miss a chance to save some more money :D). From our previous experiences, this was the type of place where you definitely won’t have caviar for dinner, but the food they serve is better than other fancy restaurants. And so it was. We got a bowl of what we initially thought it was soup, with Turkey leg in it, some rice on the edge of the plate and some tamales tortillas. I started eating from the soup but after some minutes, looking at the rice and not knowing what precisely to do with it, I called the waitress to explain how should I eat the soup. Confused, she looked at me, she looked at the plate and started smiling. “That’s not soup, that’s sauce. You put the rice in the sauce and eat it with tamales and Turkey!!!!!” Indeed, the soup was better with the rice and meat in it 🙂 Not to mention how much the waitress laughed with her colleagues, thinking at the European guy that came here to eat their sauce by spoon 🙂