Nuestra Familia Guatamalteca @ La Casa de Ana-Luisa y Manuel, Antigua
We had been excited for this part of our trip for months. We had pre booked with a school that had been recommended to us by a lot of travellers, and was also highly recommended in lonely planet and trip advisor. I was happy to finally be in a place where I could learn Spanish so I could speak for myself and participate in conversation, instead of always relying on Al. It’s really difficult travelling and having to rely on your partner to speak for both of you, not only for Alice.
We arrived after a horrific drive in the shuttle bus. The driver was terrible, constantly swaying, speeding and recklessly driving all round. Once we arrived (and we had our bags firmly on our backs) Alice had a go at him and told him he should be ashamed driving like that especially with his son in the shuttle. I participated by throwing the payment at him and storming off.
Old Antigua @ Antigua
We walked a couple blocks to the school office where they organised the “padre de la casa” to come collect us. Here we go! Super excited to meet our new family.
Adolfo walked in, helped us to the car with our bags and drove us a couple blocks to the house. He wasn’t a man of many words, but at least he asked us a few bits and pieces. Once we reached the house we met Odilia. Neither of them gave much of a tour, we were shown our room and that’s about it. We questioned them as to who lived in the house, it turned out it was essentially student housing. Odilia and Adolfo were married, but had now separated. Their children were all grown up, and no one but students lived in this house. Odilia would come cook, have a little chat but wouldn’t eat with us or stay, not quiet what we had expected but the room was incredible. We looked out of our window directly onto Volcán Agua and around the corner of the balcony we could see Volcán Acatenango and Volcán Fuego volcanoes.
Mischievous Children @ Parque Central, Antigua
Don’t Ever Point @ Parque Central, Antigua
Adolfo and Odilia told us that meal times where breakfast 0700, lunch 1230 and dinner 1830.
As we arrived on a Sunday, it was the family’s “day off” and students take care of their own meals. So we settled in, met a couple of the other students then went and grabbed some food.
The next day we met all the students at “family breakfast” and everyone spoke English mostly. Odilia was lovely and spoke a bit of Spanish to Alice, and the food was good. Unsure at this point how we felt about everything, we headed off to the school office where we were introduced to our teachers and shown around the school garden. My teacher was Marta and Alice’s was Olga.
Our first spanish lesson was pretty much our teachers sussing out our level of understanding, our vocabulary and our speaking of Spanish. During the first hour of my lesson, I heard what I thought was a truck rumbling up cobble stone streets, Marta quickly told me that it was actually volcan Fuego erupting, I nearly lost my bladder with excitement. Alice had heard the same and thought it was an earthquake!
The garden was a great place to learn, everyone had a meter squared table and plenty of space so you couldn’t hear others around you, and you were outside in the fresh air.
We studied from 8-10am then had a half an hour break, then would study again until 12pm. We went straight home for lunch and then back out again for school activities.
The school activities changed daily and weekly. That week’s scheduled looked something like;
Monday – city tour, Tuesday – salsa lessons, Wednesday – macadamia farm tour, Thursday – movie, Friday – trip to hot springs
All the school activities were included in our fees, and the ones that weren’t cost maybe $1 for transport. We decided to go on the city tour, thinking it would help to orientate us a bit. It turned out to be 15 minutes of history then a guy just walking through a market with us.
We did however, see and learn about the following;
Catedral de Santiago started to be built in 1545 but was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. It was only ever partially rebuilt and you can still see the (lack of) effort made to repair in the form of concrete smothered scars.
We saw a convent that was destroyed by the same earthquake, abandoned, repaired and turned into a men’s prison and then abandoned again.
An arch encases one of the main streets which, back in the old days, linked two convents together to prevent the nuns inside from having to/being allowed to go outside. Now, of course, it belongs to one of the biggest hotels that would sting you approximately $500 a night (!!!).
Fancy Bridge @ Antigua
As we had some homework, we decided to walk around the city to orientate ourselves a bit better, find a cafe to sit at and get our homework done before our dinner time.
We also had a wander through the big local market, which was incredibly massive and sold all things like piñatas, vegetables, flowers, household furniture, first hand clothes, second hand clothes, meat and everything in between.
A Tiny Fraction Of The Mercado @ Antigua
I tried to make sure Alice knew where she was at any given point, just in case she ever happened to need to go somewhere without me, or got lost. So after pointing out a few landmarks, I asked if she was clear. “Look, there is Calle Doble Vía, so as long as I can find that, i know I’m on the right road, i can just ask someone!”… For anyone who doesn’t know, doble Vía means “two way”. The street name was 8.a avienda sur, I decided that it wasn’t an option to get seperated.
As we walked through the city, we were mesmerised by our surroundings. Every direction you looked, there was another huge volcano staring back at you. It was one of the most beautiful places we had been, “beautiful cobbled streets”.
Ancient Streets @ Bella Vista Cafe, Antigua
That night we became a bit more acquainted with the other students in our house who were really nice (Julia from Germany, Pablo also from Germany, Fiona from Switzerland, Carlos from USA). The food was awesome, mainly because we had expected only rice and beans, so Odilia’s home cooking was a nice surprise. Odilia was really lovely and nice to chat to but looked so exhausted all the time.
The week ticked on, we joined in a couple of free salsa classes and met some lovely people, Alana from UK, Jodie and Nate from NZ, David from UK, Jess from AU, Kira from Germany. We also did a textiles class where we made bracelets, well ours turned into ankle “scarfs”, brightly coloured, uneven, wonky but beautiful ankle warmers.
During the week we decided to go speak to Julio, the manager of the school. We explained to him that we were pretty disappointed that the “homestay” we were sold as a full immersion had turned into a student housing situation. He was a bit of a dick about everything, and tried to make us pay more for his “premium immersion” house. We explained that we weren’t going to pay more, if only because he had sold us something and failed to deliver and now wanted to charge us more for it.
I’ll keep this short, Julio turned out to be an absolute wanker. Trying to deal with him turned into an absolute nightmare, where he failed to listen or understand. Other than being sold a “full immersion” that didn’t exist, we were being charged $120 each for a private bathroom room, but the other students paid only $80 each for a shared bathroom. Julio couldn’t understand that if we took up two bedrooms, one private and one shared bathroom, we would be paying less, but taking up more space. He refused to see our point and meet us on the second week, so we had resigned to the fact we would probably have to have two rooms. By Friday afternoon, Julio had instagated three arguements with us and we had gone to see his “premium immersion” family. We weren’t too sure about this one as it was pricey and they had two dogs, one of whom was a wee bit older and a bit grumpy, to the point that the padre of the house stood between us and the dog whilst we looked around. We were pretty over the management of the school, but really happy with our teachers, so after yet another arguement with Julio, we finally came to an agreement on the price and agreed to move houses on the Sunday.
We were really disappointed as we had settled into Odilia’s house for the past week and we weren’t sure on moving, but we were exhausted from Julio’s poor management of the situation so we packed up and moved into our new casa.
We wandered up to a cafe that had been recommended by some friends, Bella Vista. We endulged in some hot chocolates and did our homework on the terrace, overlooking the beautiful city below us and looking up to volcán Fuego and Acatenango.
Lunch Break @ Antigua
The following week, we were so glad we moved. Ana-Luisa, her husband Manuel, their house helpers Odela and Leslie and the two dogs Sam and Nina turned out to be everything we were hoping for. There were two other students- Christine a lovely retired lawyer from the states and Gretchen an awesome “I quit my job as head of IT to come down to Guatemala to learn Spanish” also from the States. We had fallen into a family who we loved. Nina, the grumpy dog from the first visit turned into being my best friend for the two and a half weeks, she was full of character and I fell in love with her. We would walk the dogs whenever we had free time, even one time making a family trip out of it with Adam, Rach and Gretchen and going up to a view point over the city “Cerró De La Cruz”. Sam turned out to be a big, more boisterous Ripley (staffy that we looked after in New Zealand) and would poop directly in front of people instead of giving Alice a little privacy when she had to then clean it up.
Gretchen, Jess, Alice, Nina and Sam @ Cerro de la Crux, Antigua
Dinners were full of Spanish chat with Ana-Luisa and Manuel, and sometimes their daughter Louli and her kids would be around as well. Everyone spoke English, but forced us to speak Spanish, and helped us along the way.
While Manuel Is Away, Sam Will Sleep Inside @ Casa de Ana-Luisa Y Manuel, Antigua
We spent a lot of afternoons eating, chatting and doing our homework together with Gretchen, in between my doting on Nina.
Nina Y Jess @ Casa de Ana-Luisa y Manuel, Antigua
Our family was a busy and hard working household. Ana-Luisa also ran a cafe attached to the house, so she was always on the go, and man could she cook! Some of the best soups I’ve had in my life. We were again, very spoilt and felt very much at home and amongst family for the time we spent there. Manuel had pigs and got up at 5am everyday to tend to them, he also ran a neighbourhood watch and helped Ana- Luisa in the cafe. Ana-Luisa had actually fallen and broken her knee cap two weeks before and she was in a full soft leg cast, that did not however stop her running all over the place and working 7 days a week!
Adam and Rach arrived a few days after we moved into our new home, we managed to hang out in between doing all our homework, after school activities, the 3/4 salsa classes per week and our meal times.
Park Life @ Parque Central, Antigua
We visited a chocolate museum/ factory on an after school activity out in a nearby pueblo and saw again how chocolate is made. This time was slightly different in the way that they combined the chocolate and other ingredients, as they pounded the chocolate into 1cm thick discs on a table mat made of vines. This way when the chocolate was pounded and started to stick, the workers would lift the table mat and tap the discs until they came lose. This chocolate was mainly made to be drinking chocolate, which we were able to try the varieties at the end of the tour. Alice managed to try every single flavour at least twice (you know, so she made an informed decision) and then way out of character and very shockingly we managed to buy more chocolate than anyone else on the tour. We bought some to take home and share with the family and also for our teachers.
We were planning to climb another giant volcano on the weekend that Ad and Rach were here but it was supposed to be thunder storms all weekend and we were so tired from school, homework and all of our after school activities! We did however let Adam cook a big roast chicken and vegetables dinner for us, seeing as it was a Sunday and we weren’t getting fed at home. They had rented a big air BnB about a 25 minute walk out of Antigua. It was amazing, they had a 3 bedroom place with a terrace, huge living room , dining room and kitchen. We went over a few times to hang out when we could. Air BnB is awesome. They luckily got some half good weather for Acatenango and got to watch Fuego erupt with clear skies but unfortunately their walk up and summit was a white out.
View of Volcán Fuego @ Rach and Ad’s Roof Terrace, Antigua
We spent the weekend chilling out and going to La Finca Caoba with Christine where we listened to live music, ate delicious over priced hippy friendly food, chatted and wandered around the farm.
The last week we said goodbye to Adam and Rach early on in the week, as it was the last time we would probably see them on this trip as we still had another week of school and another week or two to explore the north and west of Guatemala so we doubt we will catch up with them. We involved ourselves heavily in a couple more salsa classes, a lot of homework (the more homework, the more we could practice and learn) and in family life.
Friday we had our last lesson. We had both built great connections with our teachers, I was really fond of my teacher Marta. Marta has a life full of stories, both happy and sad, and I struggle to remember meeting more than a handful of women that are so strong and resilient.
We booked our climb up Acatenango in for Saturday to Sunday, I was really not looking froward to another hellish volcano climb, but I wanted to try, feeling like I would regret it if I didn’t.
Mama Ana-Luisa packed us up a lunch to take on the Saturday morning and we were picked up bright and early. We drove just under an hour to the owners house where we collected a little bit of food, hired some gloves and walking sticks, the drive the last little while to the start of the trail. We were joined by Jess and Kira who we had met at school and immediately befriended the only other Aussie in the group, Steph (from country NSW).
Aussie Sandwich @ Volcán Acatenango
The first couple of hours were a bit grim, we lost one girl within the first 20 minutes because it was tough. At the first stop a lot of people on their way down were pretty negative about the climb, which we promised we would be the opposite to them on the way down for others just starting the trek. “It’s the hardest climb ever”, “it’s awful”, “…oh but the view is nice”.
It was about five hours up to base camp and no where near as hard as Tajamulco. A good pace set by the guides combined with about a third of the weight in our backpacks, we managed to really enjoy the hike. We had a huge group of 22 people but somehow we all managed to stay together and there were no dicks in our group! The whole group were really nice and we all got along really well. On the way up we collected a few puppies that we coaxed into staying with us, unfortunately only one did, but she was lovely! A real motivational dog.
As we climbed further up, the louder neighbouring volcán Fuego got. The eruptions shook Acatenango as we walked.
Fuego Exploding @ Volcán Acatenango
Smokin’ @ Volcán Acatenango
When we reached base camp (that was already set up!), we literally looked straight out of our tents onto the ever erupting Fuego. The view was incredible. The guides had started a fire so we all got changed, added more layers as it was getting very cold and settled in just before the rain and cloud came. We patiently waited for the storm to pass. The rain did clear after an hour but throughout dinner and into the night, the clouds remained. We could hear Fuego erupting, but we had no spectacular lava views that we knew where hidden behind the clouds. The guides cooked us up some beans pasta and veggies, which was all pretty good. Afterwards they made us hot chocolate and handed out marshmallows and roasting sticks – heaven! Our new Aussie mate Steph taught us how to cook the best marshmallow, it really was an art.
Roaring Fuego @ Volcán Acatenango
Alice decided to set some alarms which meant we would get up every 2 hours to check to see if the clouds had cleared. She was not going down without a view of some lava! Everyone went to bed early about 8:30/9ish, in the hopes that we would get some views later in the night, or wake up earlier than the 3:30am summit start to again try get some views of the lava.
About half an hour later, the prearranged wake up call from some other members in the group rang out. “LAVA LAVA LAVA”. We jumped out of bed and sure enough, the clouds had parted and Fuego was spewing lava. We stayed up for at least an hour watching, recording and taking pictures of this magnificent act of nature. If only we had had a tripod! Taking photos was really hard and Alice spent about 45 minutes leant up against a small fence balancing her camera in the freezing cold. It was incredible, the sheer rumbling and cracking sound of it was so impressive.
Lavaly View Of Fuego @ Volcán Acatenango
Fuego Fireworks @ Volcán Acatenango
The next morning at 3:30am the whole group trekked up the side of the volcano to the summit. Again, this was no where near as hard as Tajamulco or as we had expected. We reached the summit in time to see a beautiful sunrise and to enjoy the absolutely spectacular views.
Made It To The Top @ Volcán Acatenango
Sunrise @ Volcán Acatenango
We ran, slid and rolled our way back down Acatenango in under three hours and were home by 1pm. We met some absolutely wonderful people in our group during the hike and saw some incredible views that we will never be able to forget.
View From Our Camp Of Fuego @ Volcán Acatenango
That night we had a couple beers with Steph, Steph’s mate Tammy, Gretchen and Michael (new student in our house who had replaced Christine) on the terrace at Antigua Brewing co, where they served a beer appropriately named Fuego.
The next day was a series of washing, packing and organising for our overnight bus that night to Flores. Our farewells to our Guatemalteca family was extremely sad, a lot of tears and an invitation to return for Christmas (more a demand) from Ana Louisa, and we were off.
Three weeks had flown by, we had managed to eat at Alice’s favourite crepe restaurant Luna de Miel five times, despite only having a handful of meals free. The crepe restaurant served only giant crepes, sweet or savoury. It was owned by a French guy that was a mate of Manuela and Alice confirmed they were just as good as in France but bigger. They were pretty delicious in her defence. We had managed to squeeze in copious amounts of homework, socialising and 3/4 classes of salsa each week. Antigua had become a home away from home, with one of the most inviting, lovely families we had met. We will never forget our time here, nor the people we met. This place is truly magical.
Our Awesome Group @ Volcán Acatenango
Christine’s Last Dinner @ La Casa de Ana-Luisa y Manuel, Antigua