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La Hermosa Antigua (The Beautiful Antigua)

Our Friday began at 4:30 AM to be on the bus by 5 in hopes of avoiding morning rush hour in Guatemala City. Our plans were thwarted when the clutch on our bus failed, leaving us stranded for 2 hours on the side of the highway. We finally understood why Nancy always told us the drive from Zacapa to Antigua was anywhere between 3 and 8 hours! We found a rather sketchy driveway to pull off into complete with cement walls, barbed wire, armed guards, and many trucks passing in/out transporting filtered water containers. They didn’t like us being there and made us physically push the bus further down the drive to keep away from the steel gates. Becca, Diego, Jason and Ashley got the real Guatemala travel experience, peeing on the side of the highway behind the bus. Luckily our group was big enough to block the borders and give us some privacy. Megan was prepared to pass us tissue and hand sanitizer through the bus window. After finally being rescued we stopped at our favorite 7-11 for some breakfast sandwiches and coffee.

The whole bus was playing Word Connect to pass the time. Jason invented two new words- “brino” (short for brinoceros) and “larft” (definition TBD).

We finally arrived in Antigua around 2 PM (9 hours later!!). The hotel was really cool with a courtyard in the center and a parrot that says “hola” when you walk by. We spent our evenings after dinner on a lovely veranda outside our rooms. First stop in the city was Cerro de la Cruz, a giant cement cross on a hill overlooking the city. The cross was originally made of wood in 1930 and was placed on the hillside because the view of the city and Volcán Agua was so wonderful. During Holy Week (Semana Santa) each year the locals commit an act of self-sacrifice and climb to the top of the hill on their knees.

We were lucky enough to be in Antigua while the town prepared for Semana Santa, starting on the Friday before Palm Sunday and ending on Easter Sunday. We witnessed a few small processions, though the largest one will be on Easter Sunday. Locals lay the streets with “carpets” made of colorful wood chips and flowers. The designs are very intricate and oh-so beautiful! The community comes together to design and construct these carpets which line most of the streets in the city! We saw a few on our way out of town Sunday morning and spoke with a woman in a jewelry store that had spent 2 weeks gluing dried flowers to styrofoam balls for a giant rosary. These will go on the floats that the people (children and adults!) carry on their backs through the city. The floats are so large that it can be challenging to make tight turns in the city streets. The men walk around in purple hooded robes in representation of Lent. We wished we could stay for the processions Sunday but we were told it gets insanely packed and we wouldn’t make it out of town unless we left early (6 AM). Megan even left at 3 AM to make her earlier flight!

We all loved the culture and vibe in Antigua. If there is one word that we used more than the phrase “no gracias,” it would have to be “beautiful.” Antigua is full of rooftop bars with amazing views of the surrounding volcanoes and ruins. From a microbrewery rooftop we were able to watch Volcán Fuego ‘vape’ with a beautiful sunset as the backdrop. We visited the famous yellow arch, spent lots of time shopping, and visited a few of the 40 ruins in the area. There are dozens of textile markets and jade stores. Many shops also sell wooden masks and ceramics. Art is so ingrained in the culture and every piece has a story. It was so interesting to be here during the hustle and bustle while they prepare for the busiest week of the year!

Saturday we left the city to take a guided hiking tour to Volcán Pacaya. The hike was 7km total (roughly 4.3 miles round trip). It was the perfect day for a hike! Not too hot and the trail was shaded, though Ashley still managed to get a little burned. The path was covered in loose packed dirt (and manure), which made for a very dusty hike with a lot of trips and slips. Becca only face planted once! The locals sell walking sticks and follow you up  the mountain with horses for those that give up midway. This was Diego’s 3rd hike ever, taking the cake for his favorite yet... though he wasn’t a fan of almost “biffing,” as Megan would say. The view at the top was amazing with volcanoes Agua, Acatenango, Fuego, and Pacaya on the horizon. We were overlooking Laguna de Calderas, Guatemala City, and the growing fields for avocados, corn, and peaches. At the bottom of Pacaya, we roasted marshmallows using pits of the lava rock that still hold heat. Pacaya spewed a few rocks and let off a little steam during our excursion! The last lava flow was 4 days ago, but it was on the opposite side of the mountain. There was a cute gift shop at the bottom that the locals began after a devastating eruption in 2010. Instead of asking for money, the town decided to sell jewelry using the shells of coconuts inlaid with lava rock. The shop and it’s pieces were absolutely gorgeous.

Sunday is a travel day for us and the majority of us are spending 7 hours in the airport and 8 hours in the air. School tomorrow will be a reality check! We just got word from Megan that she has safely arrived in the US. She will post this blog when she lands safely in Seattle. Unfortunately, this will be our last post. We want to thank everyone for following our trip and sending us encouraging words! We could not have done it without the support of our family, friends, classmates, and teachers. Shoutout to Nancy from HIM for stepping up to be our clinical preceptor. We learned so much and look forward to working with you in the future, whether it be coming down again, sending donations, or even being a preceptor for another group someday!

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