Thursday, March 12, 2015

Chicken Bus and Volcanoes to Antigua

"Chicken buses" are everywhere in Guatemala and, we hear, Central America.  They are repurposed US school buses painted in flashy red and green, and often they sport a weird mix of religious and amorous decals, such as "Jesus Lives" juxtaposed with "This Bus is My Baby" or something like that, both huge and right in the middle of the windshield.  The drivers don't seem to worry about not being able to see the road.  Whenever someone gets on, the luggage is thrown on the roof rack and the bus begins driving away at breakneck speed while the driver's helper ties the luggage on.  When he finishes, he climbs down the back ladder, opens the rear door, and goes inside to collect the fare from passengers.  It's a busy job.  We've seen numerous guys hanging on the backs of buses for dear life while flying down the highway.
Photo credit: drlopezfranco on flickr

We had no desire to bike up the incredibly steep and narrow road back to Solola and the main highway, so we took one of those buses up the hill this morning.  We implored the guys to be careful with our bikes, then cringed as they threw them on top with the rest of the luggage.  We changed buses in Solola and disembarked in the junction town of Los Encuentros, feeling thoroughly Guatemalan.  Ride a chicken bus... check!  

Even after the rough treatment, only a water bottle cage was bent, thank goodness, so we started pedaling toward Antigua.  Mostly downhill, beautiful overlooks of the lake and its surrounding volcanoes, and the cool temperature at high altitude all made for a nice ride.  
Around midday we entered a big valley with some volcanoes ahead, and as we were watching, one of them started to erupt!  It wasn't sending out huge lava rocks, but there was definitely an expanding plume of gray ash.  We looked around... umm, should we be concerned about this?  No one else seemed to notice, so we figured it was a regular occurrence and continued on our way.

The traffic increased as we neared Antigua, so we were happy to finally arrive in the city.  After wandering around a bit trying to find someone with enough managemental clout to override the silly rule that RVs, but not tents, can camp on the grounds of the tourist police station, we finally gave up and found the cheapest hostel in town, which turned out to be surprisingly nice.  

Antigua is a very picturesque old town with incredible churches everywhere, and it's also super touristy.  We'll be enjoying it for what it is, especially speaking English with people other than each other, which is kind of like being allowed to write again with your dominant hand.  Hostels are great for meeting other travelers, or so I'm learning; we'll be sharing our dorm tonight with new friends from all over the world.

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