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Pacaya and Antigua



And the most beautiful city in the Americas, Antigua.

You want pictures? We got pictures. And they open up in the same window to save precious bandwidth, because your children’s future depends on it!

So now I’m really at Pacaya.

This is a day after I saw this sign the first time. I drove down to Antigua (the most beautiful city in Central America) and hopped a bus to Pacaya. I should have just drove down on my bike – $10 cheaper and three hours quicker

This is the thing that I was most excited about doing in Central America: touching lava.

These were by far the cutest kids in Guatemala. I was putting away my camera when I got out of the van: They all rushed up to the van and started saying “Stick!” like the seagulls in Finding Nemo – I wish the video that I took was a good enough example of what I was talking about, but it wasn’t.

Here’s what the stick is for. I didn’t get to do that for some reasons I will explain later.

I had heard about the stick from some travelers that came here before, and I had purchased a stick before I got out of the van.

It was at this point in our trip up the mountain that our guide told us that we would have to stay fifteen yards away from the lava because some people were injured by the flows a few days ago.

If you know one ounce of me, you understand how little regard I have for orders like these. You also know that I didn’t drive three-thousand kilometers to stand fifteen yards away from lava.

Of course, I wanted it to be a flowing stream of lava like the one in that other video, but this was incredible anyway. You can tell that I am pretty excited.

This video was taken at 3x optical zoom before people started swarming the lava.

I could go right up to the rocks with my shorts on. When the lava is flowing and not tumbling, the guides said that it would burn your leg hair off.

Tumbling glass.

Just look at the still image for a second before you click the button. Try to imagine what tumbling glass would sound like.

Now press play.

I think that is a pretty good description. Maybe I am way off, though. I haven’t asked anyone if they thought it sounded like tumbling glass yet.

This one would be a fantastic E-Harmony pic.

Like I said before, the guides didn’t want us anywhere near the lava and I was having exactly none of that.

I picked out a couple rocks that tumbled pretty far down past the major flow area and went and touched them – It was fine. Then I got more daring. In the picture where I am right now, it is very hot, but not hair burning hot. I started to go into these areas to pose for my photographs and pick up the rocks, and of course there were many people in the quickly accumulating crowd that were not to be outdone. They might just have been people that saw the lava, realized that they’d never seen any before and that they might not get this chance again for a long time, and wanted to get the most out of their experience on Pacaya.

So they decided not to follow the rules.

There were people in our group that stayed fifteen yards away from the lava the whole time (like the guides/guards said). I felt bad for them.

Lighting a cigarette on the lava . . . I’ve since quit smoking.

The guide let me know that it was time to go, and I hadn’t had a chance to explore those flows up there. I guess those were more dangerous, but I never found out. People I had met before told us to go on the evening tour because you got to see these lava flows at night and take pictures. I actually thought that this was the night tour.

The title of this picture on flickr is Photography classes and a new camera.


We all stopped when we saw this to take pictures and I was excited to be able to get the shape of the mountain with my point-and-shoot.

So here is where I tell you about why they were the cutest kids in Guatemala and tell you about the other travelers that I met up with who were complete toolbags.

The toolbags that I met in El Salvador were negative about everything. All they did was bitch and complain about whatever they had seen that wasn’t up to their uncompromising standards. For instance, I asked them, “What has been your favorite city that you have visited over the course of your trip?” (they were also backpackers). They responded, “I really can’t say I’ve liked any place enough to call it a favorite.” One of the guys was a deadbeat dad from Canada who hadn’t seen his kid in 30 years. The other guy, I don’t think he was really that bad, but he just got stuck with Negatron there.

I asked them if they had seen Pacaya – they said that they had seen it last week. I asked them about how awesome it was, and they told me a couple things about what was going on around the mountain. The negative guy told me about the stick.

Now, I’ll be paraphrasing here, but he said something to the point of, “Yeah, I bought the stick and took it up the mountain. I got to the lava and I was touching the lava with the stick. Then, when I walked back down, the kids were there asking for the stick back. I paid for the damn thing, and it’s mine to do whatever I want with it.” So I asked what he did with it and he said he threw it away when he got back to his hotel.

Of course I am thinking about this the whole way down the mountain. Someone in our group with a stick wants to throw it away – I tell him that I will take it down for him.

When we get back down, the oldest girl is at the base of the footpath. When she sees that I have the stick, her eyes light up. As soon as she says “Stick,” there are a few more girls that pop out of some surrounding houses and come running up to greet me and the other arriving hikers. I give one to the older girl (in the pink) and one to the youngest girl (with the stick in the red). They are the happiest kids that I have seen all trip.

A few minutes later, they come back with confetti and are throwing it at us. I don’t know if it is a daily thing, because they really seem excited about the confetti, but either way, they are jumping around, throwing confetti on us. You can see that they’re really enjoying it. I took a few movies of the girls and showed themselves to them – they were amused by that. I asked one girl to say something in Spanish and she said Spanish. Cute kids.

I felt bad for that guy who didn’t get to see the happiness in the children’s eyes. I had wanted to return the sticks to the kids for a while, but it was a warmer welcome than I could have expected.

I got back to the states and went to a meditation retreat.

In the retreat that I was on for the last two weeks, I got a deeper understanding about the impermanence of all things. One of the more powerful things that the discourses talked about was to examine the event when someone does you wrong. That person (intentionally or unintentionally, knowing or unknowing) brings harm to you and you internalize it. Then you bring it up the next day, then a week from now, maybe a month from now, and maybe (if it sticks out in your mind for any particular reason) a year from now. The person might not even known and might not have intended to hurt you, but you feel the effects of that pain forever until you deal with it, and you are hurt again every time your mind arrives on that memory.

Staring down the barrel of another 152 pictures to caption, I am thinking of doing other things with my life. Writing isn’t tedious for me, it’s simply time-consuming. Thinking about the enormity of the task at hand always gets you thinking about how long the process is going to be.

Just as the negative concept of pain can harm you for your whole life if you keep bringing these wounds up, if you do kind work, you give that benefit of experience for a lifetime. The few days I spend over the next week will do just that, for this is a body of work that I and my family and friends can enjoy for the rest of our lives.

Mortality and impermanence. Hmm.

I haven’t been to a lot of cities in the Americas, but this one is the most beautiful . . .

See, someone else agrees with me. Now just because some guy from a magazine said that Antigua was the best city to travel to in the world doesn’t mean it is true, but I challenge you to go there and not fall in love with it.

Seriously – please go.

This was the morning of my first full day in Antigua. As the wind whistled around the streets, I took in the Spanish charm of the old capital. Antigua actually means “old” in Spanish. It’s more of a nickname that became a name. This was the third capital city of Guatemala and the last before the current capital, Guatemala City. I always wondered why capital cities in some countries tend to change location so often, and I think I found the answer here.

Somehow, I don’t think George was the type of guy to demand his own capital.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . . .

Some time in the past, some Guatemalan President or Mayor said, “Antigua shall remain awesome for the rest of Guatemala, and while we may have to pay for it in the short term, we’ll stay awesome through all that BS and it will work out for us. Trust me.” The one thing that you notice here is that everything is extremely well taken care of. There must be strict laws on property maintenance here since I never really felt like I was in the bad part of town. People cost is cheaper here than a lot of other countries, and I have seen nowhere else use it to as much of an advantage as Antigua.

Now you understand how excited I am about divinity seeing as my last two captions of these church pictures were completely non sequitur.

There was a lot of gold down here. I always correlate gold with latinos for some reason. I can’t really understand why. I’m not even trying to be funny here, but does anyone else have this issue? I doubt it.

Antigua is TOURISTY! I hadn’t seen so many tour groups go to a place before in Central America. It was like Vegas down here with all the groups that visited.

Maybe it is my sense of individuality and adventure, but I associate tour groups with death. I overheard elder-lies talking about their mortality more than a few times as I wandered around the cities and other tourist destinations of Central America. These pasteurized chain gangs for foot-in-the-gravers always seem like people that are finally getting out there to have a “real” vacation after a life of two-weak vacations and suburban corporate monotony. If I ever have one, my family might not be so open to my land-and-start-asking-questions way of traveling, but it saves money and gives you a richer, more authentically local experience.

Now I can freely talk like this since I am 29 years old right now and have a whole life full of adventures ahead of me before I will be resigned to the wheelchair paths. Relying on the current rate of advance in modern tech, I figure that by that age, all of us blue-hairs I might just be brains in jars with adamantium skeletons powered by the hydrogen in the air.


Check this book out.

This is either “Our Lady of the” somethingorother or “The Virgin of” somewhereorother.

If you noticed, I have about 65 pictures of the ruins at Copàn and Tikal. I am not looking forward to the captions under those pictures because I have absolutely nothing of substance to report. So far, all I have that is interesting in Copàn is something about a redheaded MILF that was looking at me the whole time I was there. I will think of something.

I am buying one of these for my next trip.

I will definitely remember more this way. It will make it a lot easier to post here. I think it would be fantastic to have some Indian to pay to type all of this stuff for me and pay them $3 an hour to input all of this data. I am not a slow typer, I just work better at streamofconsciousness kind of writing.

Rating the countries in Central America:

Best In Culture

1. Guatemala
2. Belize
3. Panama
4. Nicaragua
5, Mexico


1. El Salvador
2. Nicaragua
3. Guatemala
4. Honduras
5. Mexico

Most Fun

1. Guatemala
2. Nicaragua
3. Panama
4. El Slavador
5. Honduras

Easiest Place To Go if You Don’t Know Spanish

1. Belize
2. Costa Rica
3. Panama
4. Mexico
5. Guatemala

Place I Could See Myself Dropping in and Living the Easiest

1. Guatemala
2. Nicaragua
3. El Salvador
4. Panama
5. Mexico

Please don’t go to Costa Rica.

The flights are a bit more expensive to Guatemala City than they are to Costa Rica, but once you land, you are much better off than you would have been. I am on a crusade to tell people about the other countries in Central America and let people know there are other options other than CR I hear people saying that they are planning on going to Costa Rica an awful lot and immediately start thinking of ways to convince them to go to some other place like Nicaragua or Guatemala or even El Salvador.

Really, as far as the crime goes in each of these places, I didn’t really experience any, but they get a bad name from tourists coming back after walking home from the bar drunk late at night in a city they don’t know and getting mugged, Look you stupid American – If you walk home from a bar drunk in an unfamiliar town, you are at a greater risk of getting your shit ganked. It’s a fact unrelated to the country you’re in.

This from the guy who saw the stabbing and had a cabbie, four border dudes, and countless street merchants steal from him. Still, it’s all about the way you carry yourself in these places.

When I arrived in Antigua, I was awestruck by the beauty. I only had a few minutes to find a hostel, check in, and jump on the bus to the Volcano, so I didn’t get to take the city in the day I got there. Thinking back, I should have just tailed the van from Antigua to Pacaya instead of paying for it.

The van driver didn’t like me very much. Coming back from the Volcano, we came up on an accident that was going to close a road for an hour and a half, I jumped out to have a cigarette (I don’t smoke anymore) and he started driving away.

The people in the van told me that he was cursing under his breath when I left and suggested I stay in the van for the rest of the time. Of course, I didn’t listen to them, and when he started driving away again, I had to jump on the back of the van and ride for about a quarter mile until we hit some more traffic and I hop back in. I suppose I was being a bit of a nuisance.

Have you seen enough pictures of this place yet?

Seriously. Book a flight already. Saw some round trips for $460.

You can stay for two weeks in a private room here for less than $200. You could easily get living expenses to $100 a week if you made your own meals, $200 if you wanted to eat out a few times, $400 if you wanted to do everything there is to do here.

It has a cross and you can see the city. Beautiful.

I was the only one at the top when I got here, but within minutes of my rest at the base of the statue, the place was overrun with tourists. It turns out that you can just drive up the back way, but I had just started a diet, so I hiked it.

I stayed here with my camera pointed at the volcano, waiting for the clouds to clear off so I could get a shot of the town with the peak in the background, but the cover was such that the clouds came by and slowed to a stop like a stratus speed bump. They never cleared off.

The whole time I was here, there was a vacationing family taking pictures, and the son (about 42) was impolitely micromanaging everyone in his family, especially his elderly father. Granddad was the photographer, and the shots couldn’t go fast enough for father, paying no mind to the wife, who kept calling each successive shot the 2009 Christmas Card Photo.

His infirm mother, who had spent the last twenty minutes tennis-balling the path to the overlook with her walker, was physically stopped about 20 yards short of the goal after she had been told not to about five times.

“Ma, don’t come down here, it’s dangerous”


“Ma, it’s too slippery. You’re gonna fall.”


“Ma, seriously; I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”


And finally, the son reached her and “helped” her turn around. She just wanted to see the view. She had earned the right to trudge that last twenty yards, but it wouldn’t be granted.

This time, the Granddad was getting in on the act, too. Now I can see where he got his micromanagement skills from. The entire time, I was silently vowing not to treat my parents like that, and of course, that will require overcoming all the nurture I’ve been blessed with.

Writing this, I am reminded that I haven’t sent out my 2008 Christmas Cards yet. I write that christmas card each year in no more than two hours, but it is the printing and managing of the address book that I have trouble with. How well does that Plaxo thing work, anyway? I have never really done anything with that site, but it seems to me like it would be my one-stop shop for this problem.

Looking into this building, I thought it would make a fantastic open air restaurant. I couldn’t capture that spirit with the shots I was taking, but I still liked this building.

A few minutes after I took this, I was in the market in Guatemala, and the vendors were much more aggressive than usual. It was great to be able to tell them exactly what I meat when they asked me to buy their crap:

“Mister, what are you looking for?”

“I am not going to buy anything, I’m only looking”

“But it is very cheap. How about a (insert useless tourist trinket here)?”

“Yes, I like that very much, and price is not an issue. My backpack is very small, and I have more places to see, so I don’t have any room to carry your beautiful (useless crap) around the rest of Central America with me”

“Oh. Well, have a good trip then!”


It felt better than ignoring them, or saying “no want nothing,” but I must have had this conversation seven times in the market.

Then I saw the ceviche who asked the same question and I was all over it. Twenty-Four ounces of shrimp and conch ceviche for $10 – I made three meals out of it. It was unbelievable.

I must have taken twelve shots of this place with all sorts of cars in the way of the church. Obviously the one with the horse-drawn carriage and the motorized cab made the final cut.

I was having a conversation with some of the people I met at the hostel over drinks at the Irish bar in Antigua (I actually stayed at the hotel or the co-founder of the place in Belize, which was interesting) and they were talking about how they wanted to go shoot the automatic weapons at a gun range here. I was immediately on board with this idea and started looking for a place to do this.

I ended up coming to the visitor information center to ask about this and was told where I could go to find this place (It turns out that they told me to go to a church and not a gun range, but that isn’t the point of the story) and after I had received the info, I wandered around the place.

Just like everything else in Antigua, It was gorgeous. This shot is from one of the inner courtyards.

I don’t have a picture for after the gun range, so I’ll tell you my soccer story now.

As you already know, I love soccer, to watch or to play. I saw a soccer match going on on the way home from the range and I wanted to get into the action, so I went home, got my shoes on, and moto’d back to the game. There were guys with jerseys playing guys without jerseys, and I when I asked one of the jerseyed fellows if I could join in, they said no. I sat around for a few more minutes and one of the non-jerseyed fellows asked me onto the pitch. So we played.

The best guy there was on the jerseyed team – simply a magician with his footwork. I told myself that I wasn’t going to get faked out by this guy, because if he was contained, their team was ineffective. Lo and behold, the one goal that they scored for the rest of the game was when Ronaldo deked me out of my gringo shorts and got a perfect shot off upper ninety. We had scored ten or so since the keeper on the other side stopped trying, but I remember that goal irritating me a great deal.

The sidelines named me crema y queso. It is hard not to fuck with a 6’2″ white guy asking to play soccer with a bunch of kids. The guys on my team challenged me to a motorcycle race back to the city. I think we tied, but he was carrying someone else on the bike, so I would have to concede defeat here.

I was surprised about how little kick these things had. I was even shooting a .45 without really feeling a lot of kick. I guess the .50 is a whole other ball game, but those weren’t available.

In this picture, I am making the most of my experience, since they didn’t have any AKs or Uzis to shoot. I was really looking forward to tilting an uzi sideways and unleashing hot fury on some unsuspecting paper crip (or blood . . . sorry Snoop).

I mean it wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t know how many bullets I actually shot.

There were some Chinese that were also shooting at the range, they were having a shoot off. I did OK when I tried, but these guys had been doing this for a while I think. They were there the whole day. I asked them where they were from in China in Chinese and they very vehemently let me know that they weren’t Chinese, they were Taiwanese.

I couldn’t really get into a policy debate in either Spanish or Chinese, so I let that one slide. Plus, if they didn’t like my opinions on their country’s sovereignty, they had guns.

We finished two games of speed monopoly at the bar (we made up rules to make it faster – no mortgaging, no selling houses, must improve property once every X rounds). It was surprisingly successful. Halfway through our second game, there was a couple that wanted to get into the next round, but it was kind of wearing out its novelty by the time we finished that game. Still, a weird board game to have at the bar and even weirder that we were able to execute it and still have fun.

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