We had such a great experience with Adventure Life Journeys during our Peru trip in 2002 that we decided to book a Guatemala and Belize tour through them as well. They offer a variety of tours which all sound excellent, so it took us a while to nail down exactly what we wanted to do. In the end, we decided to go at Easter time and they created a new trip that was exactly what we were looking for. Antigua, Guatemala, is famous throughout the world for its Semana Santa (Holy Week) festivities, which include elaborate religious processions and the making of intricate "carpets" out of sawdust and flowers in the streets. We determined that if we were planning to go to Guatemala anyway, we might as well make our trip coincide with this fantastic festival. So we signed up for Adventure Life's Guatemala Easter Festival 12-Day trip. We wanted to extend the trip to also spend some time in Belize. Because the Rainforest and Ruins trip contained Tikal as well, we decided to attach some of the elements from that trip on the end. Finally, because we were going to Guatemala at Easter, one element we were missing out on is a homestay with a local Mayan family. We also felt no trip to Belize is complete without a little time on the Caribbean so eventually we discovered the Monkey River Extension trip which would provide both of those aspects we were looking for. Originally, the Monkey River Extension portion of the trip planned for a stay in the Mayan village of Red Bank. However, just a few days before the trip, we received word from Adventure Life that Red Bank was undergoing some tribal strife, and they thought it would be wise to change the destination to Blue Creek Village instead. This was fine with us, and was just another example of Adventure Life always being on top of the situation and keeping our safety as a priority.

To prepare for the trip medically, we went back to the Lahey Travel and Tropical Medicine Clinic. Most of our immunizations prior to our Peru trip were still effective. The exception was typhoid, which is only valid for two years. So we were given a typoid booster shot. They also prescribed cipro for traveler's diarrhea (to take only if necessary) and chloroquin as an anti-malarial. We needed to take the chloroquin once a week, starting a week before the trip, and continuing for four weeks after returning home. Both Craig and I experienced rather colorful dreams while taking the chloroquin but I can only imagine it was far better than a risk of malaria. Fortunately we never needed the cipro.

Friday 4/2/06 - Arrival in Antigua

We started out on this trip with very little sleep. The night before we departed, we had tickets to the symphony. When we got home, we watched some of our guilty pleasure TV shows ("Survivor" and "The Apprentice"), did some last minute packing, and went to bed at around 2:00am. When the alarm woke us up at 5:30, we looked out the window to find the entire back yard flooded due to the massive amounts of rain we had gotten in the past day or so. Steve drove us to the airport at around 9:00. The ride in was slow due to the weather, but once we got to the airport there was absolutely no waiting. We checked right in and ate breakfast at Burger King. We arrived in Miami at 2:45. We ate a meat empanada in the terminal and passed the time by looking at our fellow passengers and trying to guess if any of them might be on our tour. There were three older folks sitting opposite us that looked promising, especially when I saw the title of the book that the woman was reading: Murder with Puffins. Puffins have been an inside joke between us ever since our Alaska trip.

We arrived in Guatemala City at around 7:30pm. We had to wait a while for our bags. We cleared immigration and customs and headed out into the throng of people waiting outside near a waterfall and "Welcome to Guatemala" sign. Our driver met up with us and took us to his van. He didn't speak any English, but we were able to communicate the necessary information to one another. There was a lot of traffic getting out of Guatemala City which turned out to be due to an overturned bus which had fallen off of an overpass. A line of hearses waited to take the bodies away. It seemed to be an inauspicious start to the trip.

We saw lots of U.S. car dealerships and restaurants (there was a McDonald's shaped like a Happy Meal box). We also saw Merck and Bayer offices. Driving was quite a free-for-all in the city. We saw more carnage (another accident and a dead dog in the road). Eventually we got out of the city and things were a bit more calm. After about an hour, we turned off the main road and our driver announced "Es Antigua." We immediately found ourselves in a grid of narrow cobblestone streets, and the atmosphere was much more quaint and calm than Guatemala City.

Antigua was at one time the capital of Guatemala. Its history is interwoven with that of the three surrounding volcanoes: Volcan de Agua, Volcan de Fuego, and Volcan Acatenango. After the founding of a temporary capital near the modern town of Tecpan, the Spanish set up a permanent capital near Ciudad Vieja in 1527. A mudslide from Volcan de Agua destroyed this permanent capital, and Antigua (then known as Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala) was established as the third capital in 1543. It became a very important and influential city, and the third printing press in the Americas was installed in 1660. There was an earthquake in 1717 which destroyed part of the city. Many colonial buildings that still exist to this day were built soon after this earthquake. In 1773, there was a six month period of earthquake tremors. In its wake, damage and disease forced the capital to relocate to Guatemala City. This relocation actually worked to preserve the city. Antigua was not subjected to the industrialization or population explosion that plagued other Latin American capitals. The result is a city that still maintains a colonial feel. Streets are paved with cobblestones, and it is a very pedestrian-friendly city with a population of around 35,000. (Facts courtesy of Insight Guide: Guatemala, Belize, and the Yucatan, edited by Huw Hennessy, Copyright 2000, Apa Publications.)

We drove down a series of one way streets past the Parque Central to the Hotel La Sin Ventura. When we tried to check in they didn't seem to have our reservation on file, even though we had a hotel voucher, but our driver straightened it all out. The hotel is a walk-up and has a restaurant and very active bar beneath it. We headed up to our room (302 on the 4th floor) at 9:50. The room was small and somewhat dim, but clean. Like in Peru, you are not allowed to flush toilet paper; it instead needs to go into the wastebasket. The hot water is only available during certain hours of the day but this never seemed to be a problem for us. We perused our tour information packet for a while and then decided to go to bed.
Hotel La Sin Ventura, Antigua

Interior Hallway, Hotel La Sin Ventura, Antigua

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