April 9th to April 24th 2015
So an update from where I last left you… there is a lot of catching up to do! We have been to Las Vegas with 30 of our nearest and dearest for my best friend Lauren’s wedding to her teenage sweetheart Dave. What a wedding it was and it was amazing to be there with such amazing people to witness such a beautiful day. My mum and dad even made it out for the wedding too, after which they continued their own holiday.
The goodbyes where even worse than the first time we left. I think it was more difficult because this time we are traveling a bit differently. There is no plan. There is no route. There is no time limit. Waving to the girls as they got in their taxis outside Caesars, I felt like I was on the set of a movie. I am aware of a couple observing me; as I attempt to hide my streams of tears under possibly the smallest John-Lenon-like sunglasses, and bite my lip to try to stop the quivering while I kiss and cuddle goodbye. I can see a couple watching me with questions written all over their faces. They ask me if I am ok, and I assure them I am, (not really)… I know they wanted to know more, but I was not in the mood for divulging. I was too overwhelmed in my own world, I think in that moment I was not sure if I was crying with the sadness of goodbyes, the relief that I was not going home back to re-join the rat race and was still free to continue exploring or that I was just completely scared of having no plan. Saying goodbye to my parents later that day was no any easier, overcome by the same emotions after having shared some amazing memories and on our last day a full day out enjoying the sights of Las Vegas, a full family day out, it had felt like a long time since we had done that – it had been, I have been away for 7 months already!
We re-start our adventure back on the road and head to McCarran International Airport to catch a flight to Guatemala. Checking in to restart the adventure was not as smooth as we had hoped. There are long ques, and we find out we are traveling with the USA equivalent to Easy Jet; but in fact it turns out Spirit Airlines are actually worse! After seeing people crying at check-in due to four-day delays, and hearing a woman screaming and running off shouting ‘Oh that is just great, you’ve ruined my wedding’…. Nkosi and I do not hold much hope that our flight will neither be on time, nor simple. We were correct. The woman checking us in sighs with annoyance that we are an international check in. When she asked for our flight details leaving Guatemala and we said we did not have any, we are told we cannot check in unless we purchase an exit flight from Guatemala. With not much option we purchase a flight there and then, on the promise that if we rang to cancel in 24 hours then we would be able to refund it (this turned out not true). My bag was also 10kg over the allowance so we had to pay for this too. The biggest surprise of the check-in process when the attendant asked us (while holding our passports) what country we were from… it does state GBR at the very top…even more awkward when she had to ask her manager what country it stood for. Any way, simply relieved to be on what seemed to be the only flight on time that night, we head through to the departure lounge. After a short wait, we line up with people and dogs to board the plane to Florida where we had a 6hour lay over. The plane ended leaving 30 minutes later than expected, I think it was down to there not being enough space with all the dogs on the flight. I’m the luckiest person ever on the flight (not)… I am strategically sat next to the two tallest people on the plane. One side of me is Nkosi (6’3) and on the other side of me was what felt like America’s longest legged human ever (about 6’7 at a guess). Safe to say I was really comfortable. Finally on our way the plane lines up to the runway and revs the engine to take off. Suddenly though it switches off again. Of course we could not leave Las Vegas without one drunken idiot on the flight, and the plane was made to turn around while he was escorted off the plane, while shouting ‘I’m famous’ down the isle. After this the flight was smooth, they layover was long but 15 hours after leaving Las Vegas we were finally in Guatemala City.
We had arranged for a pick up at the airport by the Spanish school we were studying with in Antigua. We decided to skip Guatemala city and head straight there. We gave ourselves two days to get our bearings before we would move in with the home stay that had been organised by the Spanish school which would last for two weeks.
Straight away from the moment we were picked up in our taxi, I was thankful that Nkosi had convinced me to participate in doing the Spanish course. The taxi driver spoke not a word of English, and the whole journey was deadly silent. Driving through Guatemala city, it felt like many others, extremely busy, with an American input of the typical Yellow school buses. The taxi cost us 35USD and we made it to Antigua in around 1hour 45 minutes.
I do not know what I was expecting with Antigua, I had not done much research, and in my head, I had previously seen Antigua as just a stop off to learn Spanish in one of the cheapest places to do so. I think it’s a beautiful thing, when you have no expectations and no pre-deposited opinion or views on place and no opinions to cloud your actual judgment. I fell in love the moment I arrived. I’m not sure I have ever been anywhere so picturesque!
The hostel we had pre booked was a complete flop to the place we saw on the internet. The hotel had actually moved since booking. It had no windows and no real vibe about it. We had only booked two days so no big deal and our home stay was to follow. Straight away we were out and about searching the streets, visiting the local park and people watching for hours. Within ten minutes of sitting in the park we had bought 2 necklaces that I didn’t really want. Looking around it was evident that there were some really poor people in Antigua, particularly when I could only see feet coming out of the bin because a woman had dived over the edge scrounging for food. We walked around and came across a quaint little bar where it was two large cocktails for £2.30. In there we met Nayo, Cindee and Chris and arranged to meet them later that night for our first weekend in Guatemala.
On our way out to meet them we met a lad in our hostel called Generous…. just like his name he was interesting to say the least. The guy had self-named himself because he was so generous with marijuana apparently! He filled us with horror stories of how he had been held hostage and of how dangerous Guatemala was. For the rest of that night, Nkosi was my personal body-guard and we practically ran home from the night clubs if only we could find home! When the doors are shut on all these old buildings, they look very similar and we spent a good hour running around in a circle! The police are on the corners, but the guns they carry are huge, I even said to Nkosi at one point; “imagine if one of these police officers lost the plot, we would be finished in second…” no, it didn’t calm his nerves when I said that!
On Sunday we moved into our home say, where we met our adopted mum for the next 2 weeks; Violeta. Nkosi is much more confident than me with at least trying to speak Spanish. It was a strange experience at first, being in someone else home and not being able to communicate properly with them, but it was evident that the family were just really nice and were really trying to help keep us involved even though we could not communicate very easily.
Introducing our home stay family to you…
Mi Madre; Violeta, who works incredibly hard all day long cooking for us and passers-by who use the restaurant.
Mi Padre; Raffiel, who is a policeman and happened to be on holiday for the 2 weeks we stayed with them.
Mi Hermano; Fernando, who helps Violeta all day every day
They also have 3 other sons, Julian, Brian and Alejandro who work outside the family business.
Let me just take a minute to explain the whole reason behind why we decided to learn Spanish and do a home stay… NKOSI! It was his dream to learn Spanish and persuaded me to do so with him as it would benefit us both in traveling Central and South America. I could agree that after one taxi ride he was probably right.
We started our home stay on Sunday night and then up bright and early for Spanish school at Antigua Plaza on Monday morning, classes from 8am to 12 pm for the next 2 weeks. Day one…after 1 hour, I was definitely over learning Spanish… day 2 and 3 it got a bit better when I started to see the benefit, especially when by day 4 when we decided to climb a volcano, Nkosi and I were the translator for the tour group! There are lots of schools in Antigua to learn Spanish at. We were recommended this one by a friend and I am glad we did. it was really intimate, and the teachers were really nice. Ana, the school owner, could not be more helpful, plus the price is great too for private tuition.
Upon joining the school we were given a list of activities to do, and Nkosi and I set out to do one activity per afternoon. Week one included, Learning Salsa, Cerro De La Cruz, Chocolate making, helping refurbish a bar and climbing a volcano!
So we attended a Salsa school, and originally going to book classes everyday for 2 weeks, but though before doing so that we would try the taster class, so glad we did. Salsa was what I wanted to do, and hd persuaded Nkosi that it would be fun and was only fair with learning Spanish. We turn up and Nkosi is the only novice boy, but he doesn’t mind. It turns out it’s all male instructors and the numbers work out perfectly. Within 5 minutes I was sweating, within 10 minutes I wanted to leave, realising that I wasn’t only going to partner Nkosi and that personal space does not exist in Salsa! I’m getting spun around, held very tightly and being pulled up against random people I don’t know whilst being told to look them in the eyes. Nkosi was good and enjoyed it and I did when I was partners with him, but I decided that one class was enough, which was slightly disappointing as I was really excited.
Next up was Cerro de la Cruz (Translated to Hill of the Cross). All we knew prior to the walk was that it was a small walk up a hill with a fantastic view and a cross on the top. Well this was true, but actually the walk up the hundreds of steps made Nkosi and I realise how unfit we actually were! Especially when we are dripping with sweat and a guy passes us 4 times up and down during a run that he is on. EMBARRASSING. To be honest I have not found any more information on the history of this landmark nor could I find any on its history, but the view was fantastic.
Our walk up a couple of steps and lack of fitness from this really should have hinted that we were not really to walk a volcano. However, determined to see everything, we decided to book the volcano hike the next day. Told by everyone that Volcano Pacaya is the easiest of all 3 volcanoes surrounding Antigua, we figure it would be a good place to start experiencing the great outdoors. Our adopted dad, Raffiel, had told us the walk was so easy, it was for girls and muy muy muy facil!!! I learnt later that this was a joke.
We are picked up by a mini bus which cost 80Q each for a round trip to the volcano. When we arrive it is a further 100Q to pay for entry to the volcano and the guide. Surrounded by children trying to sell us stick for the walk, I’m instantly concerned as to why we would need sticks for a gentle walk. Nkosi buys us them just in case, after being recommended to do so by the tour guide, and makes some children very happy by giving them a dollar to share. The day we chose to climb the volcano was actually the worst weather we had experienced all week. We start off strong, but what felt like an hour (turned out to be 20mins) I was sweating and Nkosi was too. I think I tried every excuse in the book to convince him to give in and get on the horse so I would too in order to `keep him company`, from asking if his asthma is ok, to saying that its ok if he was tired…none of it worked, and when we are told we are half way and there is still a horse behind us hoping that one us will give in to pay him to take us up the mountain on our horse I boost myself 10 more minutes and if it’s still too hard then I’ll get on a horse. Nkosi’s determination kept me going along with the rest of the group who all looked like they were taking a stroll in the park, it was evident that Vegas h the last 6 months of partying had caught up with us! 3/4 of the way up I want to give up and horse back it ..only to discover the horse had too and was no longer behind us and therefore no longer an option. At this point it is raining quite heavily and the tour guide whips out his raincoat. good for him as we forgot ours! Finally at the top….was walk down into all of the dried out lava and we cook marshmallows and visit the lava store! I looks how you would imagine the end of the world to look. Afterwards the tour guide tells us to wait 10 minutes incase the clouds clear, I doubt this is likely, but we wait…and they clear ad we get a perfect view of the Volcano. For some reason I had thought we were going to be sat on top of the volcano…I hadn’t considered it was active, so when I’m told to look over there at the volcano, I’m not going to lie, I was disappointed, on the other hand, the amount of smoke coming from it, I decided I was glad I wasn’t getting cooked, and the rocks at the bottom were hot enough. What goes up, must come down…going down was easy peasy! PS the children were waiting for us at the end… they have a great business plan, it turns out we have to give the sticks back! Feeling content we did it, I really enjoyed the volcano trip, and ready for my next!
We also went to the chocolate museum in the town centre. It was fun, informative and value for money. We had a fantastic guide, I imagine without him, the tour would not have been quite the same. Some kids are in our group, everyone was `arrrrrrrrr-ing` at them like they were the sweetest things ever, I on the other hand did not see he appeal and to be honest just annoyed me for 4 hours. They were picked to do everything, just because they were kids! I wanted to be used to demonstrate stuff too!!!!! The class was fun and the best part was making our own chocolate which turned out delicious and a great family treat after dinner that day.
On a Thursday with the school, we visited the markets with our teachers. By this point my teacher, Aura, had put up with my lack of skills in Spanish for 4 days and we were getting along brilliantly. I was nice to put our lesson into practice and Nkosi and I decided to buy our mum, Violeta, flowers, which she really appreciated.
Our second weekend in Antigua came around quickly and we spent Friday night with our friends Cindde, Nayo and Chris drinking beer whilst they worked on a project redecorating a bar. It was a nice evening and Nkosi even secured DJing for the opening party!
We have breakfast, lunch and dinner with our family every day, they eat very healthily and made us feel very welcome during the two-week stay. Nkosi even went to the market with Raffiel to collect ingredients for Ceviche which he and the family made later that day. Sunday is their day off so we feed ourselves. We were disappointed with ourselves to find out we missed Violeta’s birthday during our stay which happened to be on Sunday. Week 2 back in school and the Spanish is slowly getting there, although far from fluent!!!! I understand a lot more that what I can speak.
We have spent up so spend our days walking around the Central Park, taking pictures outside random buildings and generally appreciating the beautiful city. Antigua even manages to make a lamp post look cool. Monday night launches our friends bar and Nkosi DJs. I am somehow drawn into working on the bar too…I wont be doing it again anytime in a hurry. The bar is really busy and Nkosi plays a great set, with a group of 5 girls who refuse to leave all night and literally don’t stop dancing. Our dad even turned up to show some love. When the police turn up at 2am to shut us down, its bed time and with school in only a few hours, it seems like a bad idea. School the next day was the worst and I am not sure my teacher was too impressed, but she didn’t mind really, I was just useless!
The owner of the bar also invited us to his house that week, where we enjoyed some beers in the Jacuzzi! With our last day of school on Friday, we played scrabble and gave our teachers some gifts to say thank you. We said good-bye to Anna, the owner of the school and had a fun last day playing scrabble in Spanish, where I beat Nkosi by 2 points, although he closed the game on a greats one…ADIOS! Thank you Antigua Plaza Spanish school for having us. You offer great lessons in a cool environment and hopefully we will be back one day to show off our Spanish skills after a few months on the road!
Some last 2 for 1 drinks with Cindee and Chris will secure a good send off and next up we are off to San Pedro La Laguna. 9am tomorrow its going to be sad saying goodbye to the family, but ready for our next steps on the Guatemalan road…. also looking forward to walking on a flat surface after 2 weeks of cobbles!!!!
Catch up soon!!!!
Love Kym and Nkosi
Trip adviser: blonde in the big world: top 5 reviewers in the North-West of England
At the time of writing this approx 11Q to £1
I stayed at La Dolce Vita Antigua – where i would give it 2/5 – full review on trip adviser
I stayed with a home stay arranged by the Antigua spanish school
For the Spanish course of 5×4 hours a day we paid $110 each p/w