Welcome to Antigua

We began our journey towards Latin America with an unexpected extra day detour in Los Angeles.  We departed Tokyo on April 3rd and arrived at 8am on April 3rd in LA.  That’s when we realized our flight to Guatemala City wasn’t until April 4th! We completely forgot that we went back in time!  Thankfully, James’ college friend, Scott, and his family hosted us for a brief layover in their beautiful Manhattan Beach home.  For 24 hours we enjoyed all the U.S. things, from fast food to a Target run.  The kids got to catch up on some of their sleep as well, so it wasn’t all bad! Plus, James got to reconnect with a dear friend!

Breakfast after a long flight from Japan

We left LA the evening of the 4th and arrived in Guatemala City at 2am. We quickly headed to our hotel for a brief sleep. Around 10am, we met our driver, Israel, and made our way to Antigua.  We arrived at our month long rental just outside of the city center.  It’s a small neighborhood complete with several armed guards and tall cement walls topped with barbed wire. Antiqua is a very tranquil and safe area but this is all part of the deal for neighborhoods in Latin America. 

Upon passing through the gates, a bunch of other neighborhood kids greeting our kids and they ran off to play! Our home away from home for a month is perhaps one of the nicest and largest places from this year.  We have three bedrooms, plus a bonus space, our own laundry and kitchen—it’s a dream! The kids are also loving all the children to play with as well as the pool and neighborhood playground.  It’s going to be a great place for a month and I’m really excited to get to know Antigua and learn a ton of Spanish!

When we were looking at places in LatAm, we found a worldschool hub through a worldschooling Facebook group. It had great reviews and we’ve learned to plan our itinerary around these when possible. The hub is a half day program at a local farm, where the kids are learning about traditional Mayan culture, making crafts, and participating in many more outdoor activities.  Each of the kids is also attending Spanish school for an hour each day. The school is only a fifteen-minute drive from our rental home in Antigua and Israel takes us to and from the school each day.  He not only drops off the kids, but also takes James and me to our Spanish school in downtown Antigua.

James is almost fluent in Spanish (a fact he likes to deny) and I am very much a novice despite having about 15 years of schooling.  We’ve both signed up for 3-hours a day of one-on-one Spanish classes at Don Pedro Language School.  The first week has been TOUGH!!! My brain hasn’t been this stretched in a long time! James and I both feel like wet noodles after conversing in only Spanish for three hours!

It gives me a lot more empathy for how our kids must feel at the end of a school day.  James’ teacher, Vicky, is a tough one and is constantly quizzing James.  My teacher, Dulce, is as sweet as her name implies.  She’s been very patient with me as I say to her in Spanish, “I go bathroom now” or “How day been?” It also makes me so much more empathetic for how difficult it must be for those immigrating to America and trying to learn English! 

Kids’ first day at the Eco Farm in Antigua

The school does offer some pretty fun breaks by way of salsa lessons and tours around town.  The kids were even able to join for a trip to a Macadamia nut farm called Valhalla.  We rode from downtown to the farm via chicken buses, a staple form of transportation around Guatemala.  If you look closely, you can see remnants of their previous lives as US school buses. But now, they’re so much more interesting with their incredibly vivid colors.  They also blast Latin music on the way to each destination! It was a fun experience for all of us and a cheap form of transportation.  Goose loves macadamia nuts, so the farm tour and tasting were the perfect end to an already busy school day.  Apparently, macadamia nuts make great skincare product as well, who knew?!

We’ve been so busy this week in Antigua so we asked Monica, our housekeeper, if she’d cook for us and our friends, the Gregorys, one night.  The Gregorys, who we met in Bali, are living one house down from us and we’ve had a blast seeing the sights around Antigua and visiting in the neighborhood while the kids play.  Monica spent over two hours preparing hilachas for dinner, a traditional Guatemalan soup with shredded meat, potatoes and rice.  Everything was homemade, from the fresco to the salsa and we had a spectacular time with our friends. 

Another highlight of our first week in Antigua was hiking Volcano Pacaya.  On Saturday afternoon, we met at Old Town Outfitters with our friends and rode by van to the base of the volcano.  It was a windy drive and we were immediately greeted by twenty or so children selling hiking sticks.  In addition to our guide from Old Town Outfitters, Josias, we were also required to hire a local guide, Alan. This setup helps ensure safe passage on the trails and also provides jobs in the local community.  Both guides were very knowledgeable about the volcanoes in the surrounding areas and led us patiently up the volcano for an hour and a half. 

Upon arriving at our campsite, several locals greeted us as they were unloading our evening camping supplies from their horses. The group set up our site as we went with Alan into the valley below the Pacaya to check out the thermal activity.  Alan found a small hole for us to toast some marshmallows, called angelitos in Guatemala, by the volcanic heat.  We also had several friendly dogs gathered in hopes of a bite.  Thankfully, all the wild dogs in the area have (so far) been very tame.  One even became so attached to the kids that Manji decided to name him Barnacus!

After our munchies, we continued up the hill to a sunset point in an attempt see volcanoes Acetenango and Fuego.  Fuego is a very active volcano which erupts every 15 minutes.  Sadly, the clouds squashed the views and gusts of wind which made it a difficult experience with the kids.  After 30 minutes of waiting for the clouds to clear, we headed back to camp and were welcomed by a fire.  The kids enjoyed stoking and playing with the flames as we waited for our guide to prepare our dinner.  We then had a feast of chili con carne and hot chocolate to warm us up.  Everything tastes better next to a campfire!  The kids were exhausted so we crashed early, hoping for better views of the volcanoes at sunrise. 

The kids fell asleep immediately after a challenging day of hiking. However, each of the adults woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of voices. We all independently realized it was a group of people walking very close to our camp. When we discussed the next morning, we realized we each thought we were going to be robbed.  Each of us had a game plan for that scenario but thankfully it was just a group of locals partying on the volcano. 

To return the favor, we encouraged the kids to collect firewood in the wee hours of the morning all around their tents! At an all too early time of 5am our guide shouted, “buenos dias!” We shuffled out of tents as quickly as possible and began a 1km hike to a gorgeous area overlooking the city below.  Sadly, the clouds were still sitting on top of the volcanoes, but it was still a beautiful view!

A windy hike up Volcano Pacaya

We made our way back to camp as the guides prepared our breakfast and we warmed ourselves by the fire.  We indulged in hot coffee, hot chocolate, banana bread and fruit before starting our descent.  Thankfully as we began our descent, the clouds parted and the skies were clear and blue! We had amazing views of Fuego and were able to see it continually erupt in the distance. 

Pals enjoying a quick rest

We walked by the base of Pacaya and saw Acatenango in the distance. It couldn’t have been a more perfect hike down! The scenery was stunning and the views felt like a reward for all our efforts! Halfway down the kids said good bye to Barnacus, who turned and started following another family to the summit.  We safely made it down and traveled back to Antigua for a quick shower before a celebration feast. 

Enjoying the views of Volcano Pacaya

The Gregorys were raving about a restaurant in town called The Londoner.  Since they’re from the UK, we considered it a, “when in Rome” moment and took their recommendation. They said it was a proper British pub and invited us for a Sunday roast at the restaurant.  Weary from the lack of sleep, we were excited to fill our tummies and have a good rest after.  The food was amazing and we had plates filled with carved meat, Yorkshire pudding, veggies and grave.  A delicious end to a fantastic weekend!

A well-earned Sunday roast at the Londoner!

I think we’re going to like it here in Antigua!

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