Imagine walking in a verdant vista. You are almost fully enveloped by nature; by foliage, which bristles overhead in the gentle breeze or which crunches underneath your feet as you shuffle forward. Through the small gaps of light peering through the trees you can make out that there is not a single cloud in the azure sky. And then you hear a rumble. The ground shakes. You keep still. Nothing. And then, another rumble. The ground shakes again. There are still no clouds in the sky, so you deduce it cannot be a brewing storm. Another rumble. It is as if a dormant giant has awoken. You keep on walking, but the rumbling becomes more forceful and more frequent. Double, double, toil and trouble. A few minutes later the foliage disappears and you have an open expanse in front you. In the near-distance you see a volcano. And it’s erupting. After 110 years. That was Momotombo in Nicaragua and I was there.
Drama aside, although the episode was reminiscent of the famed T-Rex scene from Jurassic Park, I actually did not see the volcano erupt; rather, I could see the volcano, and I could hear it unexpectedly erupting, but there was no molten lava sprouting from the Momotombo’s tip. Alas.
And that sums up my trip to Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. There were so many sights for me to see – and those that I did were wonderful – but I felt like I only saw half of what could have been seen; enough to entice and excite me whilst also making me leave with a sense of regret and hunger.
I arrived in Guatemala City in the late evening and took a taxi straight to nearby Antigua. Antigua is often ranked as a highlight of a traveller’s trip to the region (whereas Guatemala City is distinctly not), and with it only being a 45 minute car journey away, it made sense to skip the capital for the jewels of this colonial city. Waking up the following morning, however, it became immediately evident that there was only one small problem: the weather was woeful.
The rainy season had continued for three weeks longer than expected. The air was damp and the sky shrouded in fog. During the intermittent periods of respite from the rain, I managed to visit a vista called Cerro de la Cruz which overlooked the city:
As you can see, it was a bit miserable. That said, Antigua offered a pleasant start to the trip, but I opted to shorten my stay and forego one of the many nearby volcano hikes, not least because the views from atop would be as captivating as those of an unmade bed.
The following day I travelled to Lago de Atitlán via Chichicastenango. Chichi is renowned for its markets which, according to Wikipedia, sell handicrafts, food, flowers, pottery, wooden boxes, condiments, medicinal plants, candles, and copal (traditional incense), cal (lime stones for preparing tortillas), grindstones, pigs and chickens, machetes, and other tools. That is interesting, because my experience was that it largely just sold tourist kitsch. However, the sheer size of the market and the relentless vibrancy of the street vendors made it a worthwhile experience. True to form however, the elements also played their part in this experience:
Lago de Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America. Small towns dot around its edges, each with a different colour and ambience. I stayed in in Panajachel, the largest and most vibrant of the towns. Although Pana has a bad rap in the guide books, I actually quite enjoyed it: it may have lacked the tranquillity as the other towns, but it did still allow unhindered views of the lake and a sense of culture. It is also the most convenient town to embark on a day trip of all of the towns. Here are some photographs from this trip:
Immediately following the tour I embarked on a 19 hour journey to Flores in the north of Guatemala (back via Antigua and Guatemala City). Flores was quaint island which would have been an enjoyable spot to relax had time allowed. But alas, it did not, and relaxing aside Tikal is the main launching pad to visit the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal:
After Tikal I travelled on to Rio Dulce, a town with the same name as the famous river. In Rio Dulce I took a one-day one boat tour down the river to Livingston, an outpost at the tip of Guatemala which felt more Jamaican than Central American (this was abetted by the Garifunan people who resided in Livingston). Rio Dulce, and Livingston in particular, provided an interesting counterpoint to the rest of Guatemala: it did not quite feel like a world apart, but certainly a different country. I seemed more serene, as if the river’s slow and slinking flow ebbed in and out of the environs.
Next up was Honduras which is ostensibly the big bad boy of the region, so much so that San Pedro Sula has been feted as the murder capital of the world since 2011. Take that Caracas. The journey from Rio Dulce was only five hours and the border guards were efficient, friendly and not officious. I only visited the town of Copán (and its accompanying ruins), but it left with me an edifying desire to visit more of Honduras (albeit the nice parts). The cobbled town was served by a series of intersecting streets rising up a hill; it felt like a community and a friendly one at that, and it had the sense of being a quainter version of Antigua. Every traveller I met there was surprised at how nice it was and, again, it was somewhere which I wish time allowed me to enjoy for longer. Alas. Next time Honduras.
Next up I took a one-day shuttle to Nicaragua. The weather there was bliss: unremitting radiant sun at a lofty temperature of around 26 degrees. Heaven.
In Nicaragua I first visited the historical city of León, which was my base for volcano boarding and a trek up El Hoyo (where I experienced the eruption of Momotombo) and where I camped overnight. Volcano boarding was fun and not as daunting as it initially appeared – that is, provided you are sensible and do not plunge down the volcano (El Cerro Negro) without thought to the power of gravity. One girl in my group was hurled off her board at around 78kmp/h and proceeded to roll six times, leaving her face with a thousand cuts.
The trek up El Hoyo was the highlight of my trip: the trek itself was enjoyable, taking around five hours to reach the peak. However, the views from the top were breath-taking, overlooking Lake Managua, Volcano Momotombo, Lake Asososca and the Pacific Ocean. Just look and gawp:
After El Hoyo I visited Ometepe – an island situated on Lake Nicaragua which grew out of two volcanoes which are situated on each pole of the land. I rented a scooter and darted around the island, visiting a waterfall and natural spring (whilst also finding time to fall off and damage the vehicle as the back tyre became stuck in some sand).
My last destination was the city of Granada. To quote Wikipedia again, ‘For some years the capital shifted back and forth between León and Granada, with Liberal regimes preferring León and Conservative ones Granada, until as a compromise Managua was agreed upon to be the permanent capital in 1858.’ Compared to León, Granada’s buildings were generally more refined: they were either more grandiose or more alluringly spritely coloured. See exhibits:
And then there was home. Alas.
The rest of the photo album can be found here.