On our fist day in Antigua, we decided we were going to take either a bike tour or go horseback riding. We thought it'd be fun to include a little adventure, and get to see the countrysie a bit. After investigating the horsebacking riding and discovering it was $50 per person per hour, we promptly decided to go with the biking.
The bike tour we booked was the Tierra Alta, or something like that. Described as providing beautiful views of the surrounding volcanoes and surrounding villages. Our guidebook even proclaimed it as a "lazy downhill ride". This sounded good to us, sign us up!
We were met the following morning by a cheerful guide in a van with mountain bikes strapped to the top. Off we went. We knew we would be getting a ride uphill, we were not at all worried at this point, thinking we would be breezily coasting downhill. WRONG. So very, very wrong we were! My first tip off was when the guide handed us gloves. Umm, biking gloves? Why ever would I need this on my leisurely ride?
Alex and I got our bikes adjusted for us, were given a brief instruction of how to best use the brakes, and off we went. Except, not on the normal road. Down a dirt road, down into the farmland below. Highly confused, I thought our guide was taking us on a nifty short cut. No such luck. Begin Bike Ride From Hell.
For the next 3 hours Alex and I rode through dirt, tree roots, loose sand, and more dirt. This was not my idea of a pleasurable experience. I fell over multiple times, and basically was walking my bike about 70% of the time because the terrain was so difficult.
A view of the terrain we were riding on. In an "easy" section. Whose idea was this?
On the up side. We saw some coffee plants, and possibly a volcano in the distance. We also cycled through some local villages at the very end. However, I was so exhausted, the only neat thing of note that I saw was a group of women laughing and making tortillas by hand. Or likely laughing at the dirty, bleeding gringa cycling by. Ouch.
We finally made it back, though dirtier and more bruised and battered then I've been in quite some time. After a long shower, luckily a hot shower!, we were feeling a little better and headed out to lunch. We found a lovely little local restaurant that had a rooftop deck that served us up some tasty food for about $2.50 a person! Score!
Afterwards, we did lots of wandering around the city, checked out the local market, the beautiful churches, and randomly ran into a huge church procession, similar to what we had seen a few years earlier during Semana Santa in Sevilla. I never know what to make of these parades, as all the rituals of Catholicism kind of freak me out. However, it was interesting to see, and certainly a greater window into Guatemalan culture.
Guatemalan woman, like those in other developing nations, carry their wares on their head. Something I absolutely love, and am incredibly jealous of.
I particularly liked the intricate street designs made of all sorts of plants and flowers. I am also always amazing at the strength of the people who so carefully bear the weight of these parade floats on their shoulders. No trailers here. Just devoted man power.
The parade passed our street and we moved on, but later that night as we left for dinner, we saw that it had made its way through nearly every street in town, culminating in front of the church in the central square. Seeing all the people out and with everything lit up at night was quite an incredible sight.
Throughout our travels in Guatemala, it was interesting to see how great a hold the church had on the people. As we rode the buses through the country, roadside priests would regularly jump on board and belt out a 30 minute sermon, then just as randomly jump off, perhaps to meet the next bus of souls coming along.
On our last day in Antigua, we planned out getting to Lago de Atitlan, our next destination, again going by shuttle rather then regular bus. It ended up being just slightly more expensive, and a direct route. We decided to go for it. We also managed to see a few more ruins, including a spectacular church that had fallen during an earthquake. The ruins were neat to see, especially the front archway that remained full intact, while the rest of the structure had crumbled behind it. Day 3 was also incredibly clear, allowing us to see beautiful views of the surrounding volcanoes!