La Antigua

Two teens kiss and flirt in Antigua Centro. Photo: Alex Washburn

Two teens kiss and flirt in Antigua Centro. Photo: Alex Washburn

As mentioned before, we were rained on all the way to Cobán, which was a shame because the roads from Flores to Coban were amazing. We were still wet from the previous day as we suited up again and prepared for a rainy day all the way from Cobán to Antigua.

The day started foggy and cold. There was a running race going on in Cobán as we rode out of town we waved at runners of all ages struggling up the hills. Off into the mist and then sprinkling, I pulled up my soaked coat and gripped my handle bars readying myself for a long rainy day.

What had been dense green jungle the day before slowly gave way to pine crested mountains that reminded me of Alex and my earlier rides in the bay area, I almost expected to see Alice’s Restaurant around the next corner. We climbed and climbed the mountains, and as we crested the top the sun poked through the clouds.

Drying coffee beans are inspected and rotated frequently by hand. Photo: Alex Washburn

While coffee beans are drying at R. Dalton they are inspected and rotated manually every 45 minutes. Photo: Alex Washburn

We didn’t get rained on at all that day, and our suits were almost dry by the time we got to Antigua. The only hitch in the day of riding was taking the long way and getting somewhat lost in Guatemala City. The short story on that is that a bus helper (in Latin America most buses have a driver and a helper who shouts out where the bus goes and collects the money as people get on) overheard us asking for directions and had us follow him till we got to the correct road and then we were off to Antigua.

In a valley surrounded by volcanoes lies a sleepy cobble stone strewed town full of colorful buildings and friendly people. Antigua has that hipster vibe one gets in San Francisco or Portland and backs it up with its artisanal coffee roasters, bike co-ops, and immersion language schools. Though there is a plethora of tourists that flock to this city, their presence doesn’t feel as oppressive as in Oaxaca, and wandering the streets one can still get a feeling for its inhabitants.

Antigua is surrounded by agriculture land that produces everything from coffee and cocoa to macadamia nuts. On a tour of the R. Dalton coffee farm we learned that to be able to get arabica plants to grow in the volcanic soil of Guatemala they have to graft the roots of the robusta plant onto them when they are two to three months old. Only this root system can withstand the soil and the bugs that live in it.

The coffee is picked, processed, and even roasted (when it isn’t being shipped raw) on site. The head of the wet mill, who decides when coffee is ready to move from water tanks to the drying floors (a costly mistake if he is wrong) has been working there for 45 years. Watching him work the beans on the drying floor, checking the water density of the husks, you saw an expert working in his element.

One of the other experiences worth mentioning was today, even though we weren’t in a home kitchen making Thanksgiving dinner, we did make it to a kitchen, to make chocolate. There is a museum of chocolate here, and we took a class to learn the history of chocolate and how it is made. The class was informative, and we made traditional Mayan drinking chocolate (spicy and slightly sweet), European Hot Chocolate (with milk and cardamom), and our own chocolate candies. Good option if you have kids or just a couple free hours in the city.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Big Pictures – Guatemala

(We are constantly trying to think of ways to tell our story without just giving our readers an elongated blow by blow of our trip in every single post. This post is going to summarize the last few days with photos and extended cutlines – enjoy!)

The border crossing from Belize to Guatemala took about two hours because we sought shelter in the Aduana office from a rainstorm but it should have taken only 45 minutes. We immediate left for Tikal National Park from the border and arrived to our hotel at 5:30pm. Should you ever got to Tikal we recommend the 4am hike to Temple 4. As the darkness starts to lift your view from the top of the pyramid goes from pitch black to grey (seen here) and just the tops of the trees are visible as the howler monkeys and birds start their morning. Sitting on the top of a 1,271 year old pyramid hearing the forest come alive was one of my favorite travel experiences to date - made more poignant by my realization that the sounds we were enjoying have existed far longer. Photo: Alex Washburn

The border crossing from Belize to Guatemala took about two hours because we sought shelter in the Aduana office from a rainstorm but it should have taken only 45 minutes. We immediately left for Tikal National Park from the border and arrived to our hotel at 5:30pm. Should you ever go to Tikal we recommend the 4am hike to Temple 4. As the darkness starts to lift your view from the top of the pyramid goes from pitch black to grey (seen here) and just the tops of the trees are visible as the howler monkeys and birds start their morning. Sitting on the top of a 1,271 year old pyramid hearing the forest come alive is one of my favorite travel experiences to date – made more poignant by my realization that the sounds we were enjoying have existed far longer than the pyramid. This photo represents my favorite spanish word – ‘Madrugada’ The sliver of time between night and day. Photo: Alex Washburn

A tourist channeling Indiana Jones looks out across Tikal National Park from the top of Temple 4 just after sunrise. Photo: Alex Washburn

A tourist channeling Indiana Jones looks out across Tikal National Park from the top of Temple 4 just after sunrise. The moments where the tourists could collectively refrain from fidgeting were remarkable. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide (he wasn't very good) leads the group towards Temple 1 in Tikal National Park. This temple was actually in one of the star wars movies and is quite famous. A benefit to going to the site so early is that there are very few other tour groups and the day hasn't gotten unbearably hot yet. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide (he wasn’t very good) leads the group towards Temple 1 in Tikal National Park. This temple was actually in one of the star wars movies and is quite famous. A benefit to going to the site so early is that there are very few other tour groups and the day hasn’t gotten unbearably hot yet. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide kept apologizing for the fog but I liked the way it looked. There is something very pleasing about walking around in it. Photo: Alex Washburn

Our tour guide kept apologizing for the fog but I liked the way it looked. There is something very pleasing about walking around in it. Photo: Alex Washburn

Seeing this family of Coatis was one of the best parts about staying in Tikal. This relative of the raccoon spends its day rooting around the forest floor like little pigs in groups of 10-50. I walked up to within about 15 feet of them and the older ones were totally unafraid. On their search for food the noodled within two or three feet of me. Photo: Alex Washburn

Seeing this family of Coatis was one of the best parts about staying in Tikal. This relative of the raccoon spends its day rooting around the forest floor like little pigs. I walked up to within about 15 feet of them and the older ones were totally unafraid. On their search for food they noodled within two or three feet of me. Photo: Alex Washburn

I don't really enjoy posing in front of monuments and things but I am a sucker for a really awesome wall. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

After Tikal’s dawn hike we took a quick nap and hit the road for Flores. I don’t really enjoy posing in front of monuments and things but I am a sucker for a really awesome wall. I had Nathaniel take this our first day in Flores. Photo: Nathaniel Chaney

Flores Guatemala is a tiny island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza. The residents have a habit of jumping in the water at random times - swimming for just a few minutes and then going back to whatever they were doing. This gentleman went for a really long swim and is resting for a moment while his girlfriend waits on the shore. Photo: Alex Washburn

Flores Guatemala is a tiny island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza. The residents have a habit of jumping in the water at random moments – swimming for just a few minutes and then going back to whatever they were doing. This gentleman went for a really long swim and is resting for a moment while his girlfriend waits on the shore. Photo: Alex Washburn

Flores is an island but it's also basically one big hill full of one way cobblestone streets. The only place in town good for skateboarding is in the plaza at the very middle and top of the small community. The plaza has a church, basketball court and plenty of open concrete where the skateboarders have a rail to grind on. Xavier, 15,  and Julio Ramirez, 17, (left to right) were some of the local kids we found hanging out there. Photo: Alex Washburn

Flores is an island but it’s also basically one big hill full of one way cobblestone streets. The only place in town good for skateboarding is in the plaza at the very middle and top of the small community. The plaza has a church, basketball court and plenty of open concrete where the skateboarders have a rail to grind on. Xavier, 15, and Julio Ramirez, 17, (left to right) were some of the local kids we found hanging out there. Photo: Alex Washburn

This is one of my favorite photos from Flores. Like so many men in town this kid showed up to the water, stripped into his underwear, dove and swam for about 15 minutes with a friend and then they hopped back on their scooter and left as quickly as they came. Photo: Alex Washburn

This is one of my favorite photos from Flores. Like so many men in town this kid showed up to the water, stripped into his underwear, dove and swam for about 15 minutes with a friend and then they hopped back on their scooter and left as quickly as they came. Photo: Alex Washburn

As I type this post and am about to publish it we are in the city of Coban Guatemala. Our ride here yesterday was miserable because it rained on us more or less all day. By the time we checked into our hotel we were both soaked and my hands looked like raisins. We hope to arrive to Antigua after 4-5 more hours or riding and we are both really excited for it. I went to Antigua several years ago with a friend and it is absolutely gorgeous.

Thanks for looking.