Joined: Sep 2011
Location: Somewhere in Latin America
39. Enchanted Antigua
Being at a hostel as touristy as Zephyr reminds me of how different my mindset appears to be compared to other vacationers or shorter-term travelers. Due to the way that I’m traveling (via motorcycle and with no end-date) I find it difficult to really connect with the people who are on a 3 week whirlwind tour of all of central america. Jumping from place to place as fast as possible and checking off all the trip-advisor recommended activities before burning on to the next location. The energy of ‘go-go-go-go’ at an all inclusive resort type place like this is cooked into every piece of food and dripped into every cocktail. The thought of ‘we only have tonight!!” is almost palpable and seems to be on the tip of everyones tongue. If I only had a few weeks, shit even if I only had a couple months, I would probably be feeling the same way and doing the same things. But luckily I have much more time to party after this place, and the next, and the next even if I so choose. After seeing so many hostels like this over the last few months they have become less and less interesting. Thus the exciting vibe of ‘wooooohhhhh a bunch of other travelers in one spot, let’s go crazy!’’ is slightly lost on me now. At night when we are all getting blasted at the in-hostel bar off body-shots and beer bongs I find myself slipping away and going outside to shoot the shit and share a drink with the locals or night staff instead. Asking them questions about where they are from, their families, how they got to working here, do they like it, how has the town/city/country changed since they’ve been here etc. I feel much more engaged in these conversations and remember them much more clearly the next day, compared to the inebriated conversation with a sloppy-drunk australian chick who had the exact same things to say about the “cute little hats the locals wear!” as the 5 other girls I met under similar circumstances in the last week. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of other travelers that I have great conversations with or people that I met that were absolutely fascinating to talk with. But at places like this they are sometimes slightly more difficult to come by. Time to head to another spot and see if I can find more of the latter.
Because I came into Lanquin (the town next to Semuc Champey) in the night I haven’t actually seen any of the surrounding area. Even in this wet and foggy haze, man it’s beautiful.
My next stop is going to be the city of Antigua, maybe a 5 hour drive away. It’s supposed to be sunnier on the other side of the mountain range that I’ll cross on the way. I sure hope so, I’ve been wet for 3 days straight now, it would be nice to give my kit a sun beating for a change. I stopped in a bustling little pueblo that seems to be a junction for several main arterial roads, lots of busses and through traffic. I pulled off near one of the main corners in town and found a small food stand for some breaky. Sweet chicken, some sort of noodles (like chow-mein kind of), and a lot of tortillas was 8Q (~$1). I’ve realized that nobody really talks to you as a foreigner around here (central america) until you break the blatant stares (as if you were a rare fish in a fishbowl) by dropping a few words in spanish to them. Then the blank ‘am I looking at a martian’ stares quickly change to smiles and ‘hola!’ followed by interesting conversation. I experienced the same thing here as I sit down at the small table where the locals are eating their ‘fast food’ before work. It’s awkward at first as they seem to feel like they ‘have to’ avoid eye contact with me, or maybe even are uncomfortable that I’m eating their with them. But once I break the ice with something as simple as ‘man it’s cold’ or ‘food looks awesome right?’ (in spanish obviously) they are first surprised and then quickly become much warmer and engaging. At this place we take turns asking eachother questions, where are you from, do you have a family, what are you doing here, do you like it etc. The guy I’m talking to eventually asks how old I am, I say 25 and then he smirks and the ladies cooking the food giggle with amusement. He asks me how old I think he is, I guess 30 as he doesn’t look a day older than 32. He laughs and says he’s 47. Everyone here seems way younger than they actually are. Maybe it’s the food, the physical labor, or something in the water that’s keeping these people looking so young and strong.
About 2.5 hours of rain later I crested the mountain range and began coming back down the other side towards the capital Guatemala City. As if I crossed an imaginary line, the clouds opened up and with every 100ft of elevation dropped I could feel the glorious sun beginning to bake out all the water in my body, as if I were a stinky wet loaf of sourdough bread getting baked in an oven. It was a glorious feeling and I couldn’t help enjoying the immense sense of happiness as my riding gear turned into a nice warm cocoon. Moments like this make the shitty cold riding totally worth it, you just don’t appreciate the good riding as much if it’s not interspersed with some shitty times as well.
I made it into the capital but honestly didn’t see very much. Besides getting lost for a hot minute and running into another ADVrider in traffic I didn’t really experience anything in the city. I know it’s supposedly ‘big’ but seemed pretty chill to me. Guess I am comparing to mexico city which isn’t a fair comparison.
Here’s a shot looking back down at Guat city as I was on my way out towards Antigua.
And a vanity shot of the killer.
En route to Antigua from the east is a long series of steep roads that help kill off a lot of elevation. For some reason these really reminded me of the hollywood hills.
Not knowing where I was going to stay I stopped in at the first hostel that I had plugged into my GPS, El Hacier.
It’s rooms seemed a bit expensive at 80Q a night so I opted to camp instead for 30Q out back where I parked my bike. This allowed me to set up my gear and shit to dry too.
Found two nicely kitted DRZ’s parked out back as well, AteamNM mentioned that two girls riding down from Alaska on DRZ’s were in the same area, pretty sure these are their bikes. Hey Becky and Andrea!
I got my shit set up and then went out walking. Antigua is apparently only 9 blocks by 9 blocks (albeit big blocks) and on a simple grid layout so pretty easy to get around.
There were 4 guys chilling in the sidewalk having heavy conversation so I opted to walk around them off the sidewalk to not interrupt. They called me out as I walked passed them in the road for thinking they were dangerous or going to rob me “yo man we aren’t going to rob you, why are you afraid of us homey?” “In spanish obviously). I don’t think they thought I would understand them so I turned around and walked right up to them. I said I just didn’t want to interrupt their conversation and gave each of them the standard hand-slide and fist bump that is customary amongst friends here in central america. The tension immediately eased and we ended up shooting the shit for a good 45 minutes after that. Talking about the stigma of people south of the US border, why tourists are afraid of locals, the politics and the media that influence those feelings, the prevalence and effect of religion here, and of course women. It may seem obvious to everyone else, and I feel bad that it is still so surprising to me, but I am constantly refreshed and fascinated by the conversations I have in situations like this and how it shows how we are all really so similar even though we are from such different backgrounds. It felt like I was chilling on the street drinking beers with my homies from back home killing the evening going back and forth about women, culture, and politics. Really funny guys too and I enjoyed hanging out with them for that time. Now that I see this photo in the light, one of them may have even peed his pants in laughter at some point.
We parted and I kept walking, now in search of food. I heard live music coming from this joint so I asked how the food was to one of the people lingering outside. She said “It’s amazing, but I’m the cook ;-)”.
I dipped in and ordered a shrimp, bacon, and cheese burrito and listened to the music while I waited.
Holy shit-balls it was an amazing burrito! Definitely in the top 5 burritos that I have ever eaten. My mouth is watering thinking about it right now. More expensive than other meals at 46Q (about $6) but for one of the best burritos I’ve ever had that’s a damn fine price.
I met some other people my age here and ended up kicking it with them the rest of the night. Fun group and good drinks.
Over the next few days I relaxed and explored more of this fascinating place. Antigua isn’t very large, and 10 years ago it used to be much more dangerous. With the increase in tourism the place has mellowed out quite a bit but the flair of it’s old ways seem to still be worked into it’s bones. Although there are more tourists, I don’t get the feeling of it being a tourist town. Yeah there’s great cuisine that is scaled up a bit but I don’t physically see that many tourists. I like this, it’s a nice blend of good food and mostly local people.
During the day you can walk around and see the town, there’s lots of ‘ruins’ as this is an older city.
There are several small parks for people to gather in.
One has some pools that appear to be designed back in the day as a place for people to do laundry. Today you can still find people doing this here.
The pace is overall slow and relaxed during the day.
If you look off into the distance from anywhere in town you can usually find a volcano, as long as it’s not hiding in the clouds.
I like the architecture here, and some of the craftsmanship in the old doors is pretty great.
An afternoon drink is a common thing, a nice rum goes well with some guitar as the day lingers on.
If you need some good ol’ Texas ribs check out Pappy’s BBQ. I met up with Becky and Andrea from Motoventuring From Alaska To South America - A Collaborative Video Blog! to try out the grub, it was hands down the best ribs I’ve ever had, but the sauces they had on table almost stole the damn show as well. It was the most expensive meal I have had in a very long time at 114Q ($14ish?) but for a whole pound of the best ribs I’ve ever had I felt OK about it. They only make a limited amount each day and are open until they sell out. Thanks for the meetup ladies and great food idea. Maybe we’ll catch eachother down the road again.
When evening comes it’s great to go grab a drink at Cafe No Se and sample some of their ‘Ilegal Mezcal’, or really anything on their shelf that is tequila. The story behind this place is that a guy traveling in the area about 10 years ago started the bar with his last $500. It was a different time here back then and things were much simpler. He opened it as a cafe to avoid paying for the liquor licences and simply poured people great tequila’s into coffee mugs all day. He would also make runs up into Mexico to Oaxaca (the home of mezcal) and smuggle the liquor back over the border into Antigua Guatemala to serve in his ‘cafe’. There are all kinds of stories about him dressing up as a pastor thinking the cops wouldn’t search his van that way, or rafting crates down the river and across the border. That’s where the name “Ilegal Mezcal” came from. Eventually the authorities caught on and he had to go legit and name his place as well. He didn’t know what to call it so he just named it “Cafe No Se” (Cafe I Don’t Know). Now it’s a growing brand and they distribute all over, into the states as well so go check em out.
The interior shows it’s wear from the past 10 years or being a seedy underground joint. I love the decor, it is the perfect place to drink something called Ilegal Mezcal. Dark, dingy, and usually full of questionable characters. By far my favorite place in town to hang out.
There are several different rooms but are all pretty small, this is the second bar area.
This candle is about 4.5 feet tall and is a pyramid of wax that appears to have been burning and dripping since the place opened 10 years ago.
Love the art too. Just full of bad-ass shit.
Inside on one of the dark unlit walls there is a small entrance that is only about waist height that you crouch down and under that leads to the Ilegal Mezcal bar. Inside here you find ‘shrines’ to the patron saint of anyone involved in the criminal or ‘darker’ activities in life. Here people leave offerings of drinks, cigarettes, or drugs.
I took these pictures in the afternoon one day. A lady was in the Ilegal Mezcal bar area by herself practicing the banjo. I grabbed a stiff drink and listened to her transcribe in music exactly how this town felt. Music seems like the only real way you can describe the unique blend of emotions for this town. Antigua, you are a special place, I like you.
SeanPNW screwed with this post 12-22-2013 at 12:09 PM