We took the overnight bus from Flores to Antigua via Guatemala City. We shared the double-decker luxury transport with locals and a troupe of God-fearing Christians. Although the two are normally synonymous in Latin America this particular religious group were fresh out of the United States ‘to make a difference’, one of them had said.
They were instantly recognisable as they all wore the same outfit; bleached pure white shirts, sinfully black ties and shiny laminate name-tags that clasped to their top pockets bearing their name and ‘Jesus Cristo’ in large bold italics.
I mention them because the ten hours south to the capital consisted of a chorus of incessant babbling with Bible anecdotes as a theme.
We arrived early morning in Guatemala’s metropolis where life had already begun for many. An unappealing city with thick black poisonous clouds of smoke emerging from the exhausts of forgotten western automobiles; passengers squeezing on old yellow American school buses, now redecorated with beer and cigarette ads; the sun illuminated graffiti riddled walls; scruffy feral dogs burying their faces in the pavement; the logos of globalisation juxtaposed on a backdrop of heavy pollution and the working-class.
We stopped for a quick change of transport at the bus terminal which was ample time for a stampede of taxi drivers to solicit their business to us.
For the next two hours we shared a stuffy collectivo with ten others before being dropped in the old Spanish plaza of Antigua.
The third capital of Guatemala lays beneath three dormant volcanoes, Volcán de Agua, Volcán de Fuego and Acatenago. Antigua (meaning old) has experienced several devastating natural disasters over the centuries. In particular an earthquake that ravaged the colonial city in 1773. Now rebuilt, the small city still has the facade of Spain with many of its original homes, churches, monuments and arcades restored to their former glory.
We were there for the Earth Lodge, accommodation high in the mountains that looks down onto the valley where Antigua lays. Specialising in ‘luxury treehouses’, all with varying levels of comfort, views and amazing home cooked food, it was our little treat. We spent three days at the top, basking in the sun, listening to the rain hit our metal roof, giving their cat, Bruno, shelter from the wet and enjoying the magnificent vistas. Access was not easy so we only spent one day in the old city, walking the cobbled streets, enjoying their music, sampling the coffee and cuisine, watching as some children played whilst others worked.
Antigua offered a pace and a vibrancy which we came to love. So it was
a sad day when we had to travel back to its ugly sister, Guatemala City, to catch our flight to Ecuador.
© John Brownlie 2012
* Getting from Flores to Guatemala City and/or Antigua is reasonably easy as there are tour agencies on the island that will organise it for you. We used the booking group inside Los Amigos [hostel] who organised the whole trip including the taxi to the bus station for 290Q ($36). You can organise yourself, the bus station is located five minutes south of Flores by taxi (expect to pay around 5Qs ($1).