A Travellerspoint blog

Semana Santa in Antigua

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There are usually 35,000 people living in Antigua, but for one weekend each year the town swells to more than 15 times its usual size with tourists pouring in from all over the world. The reason? Semana Santa, or Easter Holy Week.

Antiguans get into the Easter spirit by putting on huge processions involving hundreds of purple robe-clad men, some of whom carry huge floats with depictions of Christ carrying the cross, and mournful brass bands, all swathed in thick clouds of frankincense. These processions travel around the whole town, taking 6 hours or more to complete their route.

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Another tradition is for families or groups to create intricately-patterned 'carpets' (or alfombras) of brightly coloured sawdust and fresh flowers in the street, so that the procession can travel over them. We were able to get involved in making these alfombras with both our school and our host family.

First we coloured the sawdust by adding powdered dye, water, and rubbing it all together for 20 mins. The dye left us with stained hands for a couple of days!

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Then we arranged the coloured sawdust into patterns using stencils as a guide. The carpet we made with our school took approx 20 people 6 hours to make!!!

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And then it took about 2 minutes for it to be walked over and destroyed! After all that work we felt pretty protective over it and didn't really want it to be trashed – but...oh well.

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This is the carpet we made with our host family the following day. It took much less time, thankfully!

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The town is incredibly efficient about clearing up the sawdust and flower remnants immediately afterwards, by bringing in noisy dump trucks and teams of street sweepers. Kind of detracts from the 'holiness' of the occasion, but then again, so do the balloon-animal sellers and the guys in the procession on their mobile phones. “Hello God, can you hear me?”

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Posted by pendleton 16:47 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

The Earth Moved For Us...

Did it for you too?

sunny 23 °C

La Antigua Guatemala is a grower. For the first couple of days we were here, we didn't understand why travellers constantly raved on about it's amazingness, but now we've been here over a week we're definitely coming round to their perspective.

The town itself isn't that pretty, although it has fairly picturesque cobbled streets and low-slung stucco houses painted in muted rainbow shades. But if you step inside one of Antigua's many bars, restaurants or boutiques, you step into another world. They have beautiful courtyards with abundant flowers and greenery, tinkling fountains, shady nooks and fine fittings; very strongly evoking a bygone colonial age. It's a very pleasant sort of sanitised version of Central America where everything one could want to do can be accomplished pretty easily and crime and poverty aren't that in-your-face. Basically, it's a perfect location to ease us out of the creature comforts of travelling in the USA and into Latin America.

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We are studying Spanish at a school here for three weeks and staying with a local family (arranged through the school) in their house. It's a very basic, yet pleasant place arranged over two floors, and as the climate is so mild (similar to an English late spring or early summer, all year around!) none of the communal rooms have doors separating them from the outside which is wonderful. We're writing this from the terrace outside our bedroom which is draped in greenery and currently ringing with the dusk cries of the birds in all the trees around us. It also has a wonderful view of Volcan Agua. Antigua is actually nestled between three volcanoes – Agua, Fuego and Acatenango. Fuego (Fire) is still very active and we saw a mini-eruption the other day from the schoolyard which was rather exciting. We've also felt a few minor earth tremors, which are reminiscent of standing on the ground above a tube train going underneath. Not quite London!

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Our Spanish tuition is quite intensive and is all one-on-one so we are picking it up fairly quickly and are now able to converse with some of the locals (with some waving of hands) which is great. All the lessons are also outside in the school's courtyard, fuelled by copious amounts of the great coffee which grows nearby. In typical Antigua style, the school's courtyard is beautiful, with lots of trees and flowers, and hummingbirds visit frequently. Our school lays on a number of free/subsidised activities in the afternoon, which allow us to see more of the area, mix with more of our fellow students, and try out our fledgling Spanish on the (semi-suspecting) locals. So far, we've walked up to the Cerro de la Cruz (the hill of the Cross), above Antigua itself, visited a macadamia nut farm and created a colourful carpet (alfombra) for the Easter Holy Week processions in the town – but more about that later.

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We're also getting three excellent meals a day sitting with our host family – a mix of foreign and traditional cuisines. The traditional meals are even more yummy than the others – usually consist of maize (corn) in tortilla form or some other preparation (of which there are many – pupusas, tamales, chuchitos, ...), beans, loads of fresh fruit and veg and some meat and cheese. And loads and loads of homemade piccante sauce, washed down with freshly-prepared fruit juices.

We are enjoying the laid back (well – it would be if it wasn't for these pesky lessons!) lifestyle and are slowly starting to unwind and taking the London sticks out of our arses (hence the lack of recent blogging – apologies). It is a wonderfully laid back place where plans are usually very elastic things and most of the time we're just going with the flow of whatever comes across our path that day, be it creating a carpet of flowers for a procession or an impromptu salsa lesson. Case in point – it's taken Jon a week to get around to getting his hair cut (He also had his first cut-throat shave, which was a little bit too exciting).

Just to round up, here are a couple of pictures of us and our gringo Americano flatmate Toddito making ceviche (raw marinated seafood) with the family today. Yummy!

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Hasta luego!

Los Pendletones

Posted by pendleton 11:40 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

It's Not A Swamp

It's a Wet Prairie

overcast 21 °C
View The planned itinerary, correct as of December 2008 on pendleton's travel map.

IT'S NOT A SWAMP

It's a wet prairie

Ever since I was a kid I've wanted to go on one of those big fan boat things that we saw cruising around the swamp on some rubbish TV serial . Today was the day to fulfil all those dreams, in the Everglades National Park.

We decided we needed a break from Miami's hecticness so we rented a car for a day and headed south to the Everglades. On the way, following the teachings of the Good Book (the Lonely Planet) as we do, we stopped at a food and drink shop called, amusingly, Robert Is Here for some tasty key lime-flavoured milkshakes and ickle tarts.

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Nummy. Tart and sweet, just how we like them.

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A little further (just outside the National Park itself in fact) we got to the park's slightly tacky little sister, the alligator farm. The main attraction there was a short ride on the airboat, which was honestly about the most exiting thing I have ever done. Look, we have evidence...

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Our driver James pootled us around the parts of the swamp where he knew we'd be able to spot gators and turtles and then turned the fan up to maximum and gave us a thrill ride through the flat, grassy, unoccupied parts of the park. It was fantastic, especially as he kept on doing donuts and getting us all excitingly splashed!

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After that we saw several reptile-related activities at the park (snake show, alligator feeding and an alligator show), all of which were pretty cool, as we got to hold the baby critters!

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For those that haven't had the pleasure, snakes feel very nice, firm and supple (and not cold and slimy at all), while baby gators have a similar texture but their skin is a bit looser.

After the shows were over we had a quick wander around the National Park itself, which was nice, but as with a lot of America's national parks you need to set a serious amount of time aside to really appreciate it as they all tend to be massive. We had a quick wander around it (the only temperate rainforest in the world, fun fact) and saw a gator eating another one. Yeah! Nature red in tooth and claw, that's what we like!

Jon

Posted by pendleton 17:52 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Bienvenida a Miami

Party in the city when the heat is on, all night on the beach til the break of dawn

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Our plan was to spend 6 days in the Miami environs to thoroughly explore the Everglades, drive down to the southernmost point of the US - Key West - via the famous 7-mile road over the sea (the one that's always blown up in films), kick-start our tans on the beach and dance through the night at the Winter Music Conference parties.

And what did we actually end up doing? Not much. The plan above would have been great if we had been going for a week-long holiday, but after nearly a month on the road we were pretty shattered. Hence, we now know we need to build in a rest break every so often. This is a good thing to discover fairly early on in our travels – and we also need to remember that a) we're not as energetic now as we were in our early twenties and b) our tastes have changed: our preferred habitat is now sitting in a nice restaurant where we can chat, eat good food and slowly sip well-made cocktails. Ah well!

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Instead, we hung out around South Beach for the entire time and made a brief half-day trip to the Everglades (which will be covered in our next post).

Miami's South Beach is exactly like you see on the TV – all pastel art deco architecture, turquoise/teal ocean, golden sands and palm trees. At the end of March the town hosts the annual Winter Music Conference so the place is crawling with clubbers, djs and partygoers of every stripe. The vibe is pretty similar to that of Ibiza Town: beach-side bars and restaurants pumping out the latest house choons at all hours, girls going clubbing in tiny bikinis and wedge platform heels, bronzed and buffed 'Marios' flexing their muscles on the beach and the ubiquitous 'Brits Abroad', easily identifiable by their lobster-like complexions and garish football shirts. In addition, it's the start of spring break so American college kids come down to South Beach in their droves to get waaaaasted, maaaan!!

We went to a Miami booty-bass night and a club girl taught me how to shake my tush: “you just throw your fat around”. Jon = happy.

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We also went to the 2-day Ultra Music Festival and saw a few good DJs/bands – Reprazent, the Ting Tings, the Freestylers, the Prodigy. On the plus side (for us, anyway), the British acts weren't very well known so we got right to the front of the crowd for every act we wanted to see. On the down side, everything was VERY expensive ($7 per can of Heineken, excl. tips! And bottles of water for $5! We also weren't very impressed by the cliques and tribes of American festival-goers, they didn't make for a very fun crowd. They were pretty self-conscious, with no sense of irony or silliness, so there was none of the tongue-in-cheek loony-ness that English festivals do so well (e.g. Bestival). And of course, we missed our friends – festivals just aren't the same without you guys! :(

Apart from that, we just chilled out on the beach and at our hotel, and ate a lot (quel surprise!). We found a whole new school of cooking - Nuevo Latino - which mostly involves really really good ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus or chilli or something else that slightly sears it). Very yummy.

Adios, Miami!

Posted by pendleton 09:25 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Rolling with our homies in the ATL

For a little spot of 'r&r' (Raj 'n' Rama??!)

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We arrive in the bosom of the Bholes late on Friday night, drop off our stuff at Ashleigh's and head to a local bar in Decatur where she's hosting a charity 'beer-pong' tournament (which we are too late to join), and we enjoy some 'March Madness' college basketball. A couple of beers after a long and tiring road-trip journey makes the world a much more just place, even making the basketball tournament bearable. Go Wisconsin! 'March Madness' is a huge thing in the US – you bet money on which of 64 teams are going to win their heats and rounds, and eventually win the whole tournament in early April. Even President Obama bets on this when he's not worrying about 'the economy' – when he released his picks a few weeks ago it caused a furore.

In the ATL we have a succession of lunches, dinners and and lazy days, spending some lovely time catching up with all the (ear-piercingly loud) Bhole clan. Many thanks to everyone for looking after us so well – especially Ashleigh, Sunil, Adriana, Raj, Rama and Suneeta kaku for hosting us and to Sonya and Sarina for running around after us making us feel as welcome as ever. Unsurprisingly, Aaron has grown more than ever and now towers over both of us, and the little kids are growing up fast too.

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Most of 'Cousins Club'. From l-r: (top) Neena, Sonya, new inductee Jon, Angi, Ashleigh, Sarina. (bottom) Derrick, Claire.
Missing Aaron & Isabella :(

Posted by pendleton 16:32 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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