Our journey begins, mostly, at a tiny isolated hotel in Guatemala City. Near the airport, judging by the ride there, and in a less than stable area, judging by the seven locks we negotiated to enter and the sturdy bars covering anything not made of cement. In contrast to those indications, we spent a peaceful night and in the morning boarded a minivan/”shuttle” to Antigua. A simple way of making it from A to B, despite the fact our driver got lost and only found the hotel he was looking for after a half dozen cell phone calls and directions from another half dozen bystanders.

Antigua is a beautiful, and justly famous, colonial city which was the country’s original capital following the Spanish Conquest. Despite being shaken nearly to dust by several massive earthquakes during the following centuries, it was always restored more or less to its former glory. Today it strikes me as exactly what we picture when we think of a typical Spanish town. Of course, over time and thanks mainly to tourism it has become fairly modernized. Strict regulations (it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) have ensured that even BK and Mickey D’s look “colonial”, at least on the outside.

Anyway, pictures do Antigua far more justice than words so I’ll move on. One of the more interesting places we visited was Las Capuchinas ruins (funny how a shitty, rundown building becomes “ruins” once enough time has past). It was formerly a very strict convent where the nuns, and wannabe nuns, slept on wooden planks with straw for pillows (and I’m told the showers had terrible water pressure, too). It was remarkably well-preserved, so much so that the centuries of sexual frustration emanating from its halls still managed to turn me on slightly.

We also got a chance to watch some of what appeared to be local men’s league soccer game, or should I say “futbol”. Anyway, we decided that, despite the relatively high level of play, it was probably still only beer league calibre based mainly on the fact that at least 1/3 of each team was as wide as they were tall. We also noticed that it was usually these men who opted to put an unnatural strain on the ever-popular “short-shorts”. The result, White 1, Blue 0.

As with most Spanish towns the Parque Central is the main hub of activity. Vendors, buskers, touts, police and tourists all congregate to various degrees throughout the day and night. On Sunday night a DJ was set up next to the square with music blaring loud enough to be heard for miles – unfortunately this only managed to inspire about 5 couples into dancing while the other 200 or so people converged in a tight circle as though it were some fascinating street brawl. In addition, so far, every trip to the park has been rewarded with a Santa-sighting, despite the fact we are now nearly a week past Christmas (could it be a latitude thing?). Not to mention the fact we have yet to figure out his purpose in being there, he’s not collecting donations, selling anything, or really even entertaining anyone, although he was carrying around a little Harry Potter-looking doll the other day who was also outfitted in a matching Santa suit. I, for one, found that pretty amusing, if possibly a touch deranged. Fireworks have been the order of the day (and morning, and night) throughout our stay, which can become a touch irritating after a while but is easily shrugged off considering how much kids love having things “blowed up real good”. I had less patience however, for the fat 50-year old tourist and his son(or “travel companion”) that spent at least half an hour setting off the kind that deafen everyone within a 500 metre radius, right in the square. When I shook my head and asked him “What are you, ten?”, he simply stared at me blankly, possibly confirming my suspicion, and hope, that he had been by now rendered completely deaf.

On Monday we decided to get active and go on a volcano tour. The trip involved driving about an hour and a half to where we would embark on a 2-hour hike up to the summit of the Volcan de Pacaya. Pacaya is still very active, and actually erupted in 2000, showering debris up to an hour away. Well, the hike turned out to be a lot tougher than advertised, probably not mentioned on purpose to keep people from shying away, along with their cash. We managed all right, although we were definitely tired, but one older couple had to turn back, and a few of the others probably should have. For the first hour and a half we hiked steadily uphill mostly through the bush before emerging onto a plateau overlooking a huge river of cooled lava rock to one side and the formidable-looking peak to the other. The final 30 minutes found us trudging directly up the side of the cone through a deep layer of ash. The whole 1 step forward (or more accurately, up) and 2 steps back syndrome. Eventually we reached the rim, which was a bit anticlimactic due to the fact we were now among the clouds and could not see anything down the volcano and also couldn’t see into the volcano because it was thick with sulphurous gases pouring upward. Every so often the wind would shift and send us running, choking, for cover. The bright side is that if I’m ever in need of a touch of nostalgia, lighting a match directly under my nose should bring it all flooding back. The trip down, on the other hand, turned out to be the true highlight. Our guide led us to another path, even deeper with ash and rock than the first, which we proceeded to hurtle down like maniacs. It was almost exactly like skiing with shoes on as we skidded 8-10 feet per step all the way down to the plateau. Of course, upon (nearly) successful completion of our wild ride I was feeling pretty nimble and full of myself so just before it levelled out I jumped across to the first solid ground since the peak. Let me re-phrase that; what APPEARED to be the first solid ground since the peak. My ensuing embarrassing tumble represented yet another victory for the Powers of Nature over the Forces of Stupidity. Then, to add injury to insult, I realized a while later that I quite possibly broke my finger in the fall. A day later I’ve decided its probably not broken, but it is taped to its neighbour and is painful enough to have rendered my left pocket useless (not to mention forcing Laynni to type this).

So, today being New Year’s Eve, I’ll break off now and leave those stories for later. WE hope everyone has a good Christmas and will have a great New Years’ Eve. Talk to you soon.

Dean & Laynni

p.s. (Why is there always a ps, you ask? None of your business!)

The last time the Giants played a playoff game (as they do this Sunday) I was in Thailand
The last time they played the 49ers (as they do this Sunday) I was in Mexico
I’m beginning to feel a bit like a jinx

Go Giants!