In regions throughout Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Belize and part of El Salvador, the Mayan Culture is one of the largest in the Americas. Of those five countries, Guatemala is the heart of the Mayan world. Although it is certainly modernized, you can still find traces of Mayan culture in Guatemala, including Antigua.

However, present day Antigua is quite touristy, but still amazing. There are several Spanish schools, hostels and it is close to several sites to explore and other cool things to do. Add that to the fact that it’s a quaint, small town and is quite safe and boom: gringos! Everywhere you turn, there are people selling things. Fruit, bracelets, bags, hand-made scarves, etc. One lady is on the same corner every day with her basket of fruit including watermelon, platinos, cauntelope, pineapple and more.   335 The closer to the center you get (even though Antigua is not very big), the more people you will see. The women carry huge baskets on their heads, babies in a sling around their backs and things to sell in their hands. It’s crazy. 334 You can also sit and get your shoes shined if you desire. 336 Many Latin American countries have many similarities, and Antigua is no different. But it’s such a nice little place and it’s definitely a good place to start if you’ve never ventured into Central or South America. Besides the fact that it’s easy to get to, the people are nice and will try to help you if you ask (at least attempt Spanish, but hand motions do wonders as well). Even though they’re nice, boy will they try to sell you something. And they’ll say anything to get you to come look. A couple of different times, a lady would say “One dollar, one dollar!” One dollar is quite cheap, so naturally you want to check out what she’s selling. Once you start looking, the she says the price again… but this time it’s $21. Trent, Audrey and I were walking around and there were some bags hanging outside of a small shop.
Trent had said previously he needed a bag, so we stopped outside to look. Within twenty seconds, a lady had us iniside and in the back of the shop, pulling down bag after bag after bag. The rest of her family proceeded to swarm us, asking which one we liked. I can’t even explain how insane it is, seven or eight women surrounding you, bags coming down and the newspaper that stuffed the bags flying everywhere. Then the magic words: “Quanto cuesto?” Twenty dollars was the answer. Twenty dollars? For a bag? No, thanks. Of course when you start to walk away the price comes down. 15. 14. 10. Trent setlled at 50 Quetzales (about $6.50). I had six bucks USD and asked if she would take that. Nope, she only wanted Quetzales and she wouldn’t take less than 50. I got three feet from the door and she changed her mind. With that said, you can get some great deals, but you can also get ripped a new one. They know how to negiotiate. Plus, there’s always seems to be a different price for the locals than for the Gringos.   324 And then there is the market. Hundreds of little tent spaces filled with everything you could imagine. Jerseys, souvenirs, meat, fruit, clothes, shoes, everything. Just like with the street vendors and the small shops, there is always room for negotiation at the market.   322 There’s also amazing food. If you’re brave enough to try it, you can get some delicious food for next to nothing.   323 325 And lichas! You can get lichas at the market. A spiky looking strawberry, you break them open and inside it’s similar to a grape with a seed. I’ve never seen them in the US, but they’re all over the place here!   328331    333Behind the market, there’s the chaos of the chicken bus station. There are dozens and dozens of them. And while you’re waiting for the bus, you can always grab something to munch on at the street stand. 330 Antigua has been great. Definitely a great place to start my Central American journey. And the next stop? Honduras. Audrey, Trent, Evelyn and I are taking a bus (not a chicken bus, a coach bus) to Copan Ruinas, Honduras. Check back soon to “hear” about the border crossing, the town and the Mayan ruins!

For a full set of pikchas, click here!

I like to think I’ve traveled a fair amount. Certainly not as much or to as many places as some, but I’ve seen a good number of places. In all that time, I have never stayed in a hostel. I have Couchsurfed, hitch-hiked, moved across the Atlantic alone, traveled Europe by myself and many other things – but I have never stayed in a hostel. At least, not until Central America. And I must say, it’s actually quite nice. The rooms are inexpensive, the locations are superb and you meet a crapload of fellow travelers. It was in Holistico that Audrey and I met Brittany and Evelyne. Brittany is from the US and Evelyne is from the Netherlands. Along with Trent, the five of us roamed around Antigua. Brittany had loaded a travel guide offline that mapped out a walking trail to Cerro de la Cruz. We all knew that the walk can be a bit dangerous in the mornings and at night because of thieves. Even though we were in a group during the day, we decided to take two tuk-tuks up the mountain, just to be safe, for 20 Quetzales per person (about $2.50).

I’m going to stop right there and attempt to explain what a tuk-tuk is. A tuk-tuk is a three-wheeled contraption that resembles something between a motorcycle and a lawnmower. They are cheap and a great way to get around a smaller city. Tuk-tuks are covered and have a passenger seat in the back. They can fit three smaller people comfortably (as comfortable as you can be bumping along cobblestone streets on the back of a lawnmower thing, that is); in a pinch, I’ve used a tuk-tuk with two other people including all our travel gear and we survived. Although this was taken in Honduras, a picture is worth a thousand words. Feast your eyes on a plethora of tuk-tuks!

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Anyhow, taking the tuk-tuk was an experience. Our tuk-tuk drivers raced each other, up the mountain, but the second tuk-tuk barely had enough umph to get to the top. However, once we reached the summit, it was unquestionably worth it. The view was absolutely incredible.

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Unfortunately pictures don’t do it justice, but you can see the entire city stretched out below. It was an interesting feat trying to get a local lady to take a picture with my camera, but she succeeded and the following is of the five of us are standing at the edge of the overlook. (Brittany, Audrey, me, Trent and Evelyne.)

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Of course Audrey and I had to snap a selfie at the top.

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We decided to attempt to walk back down the trail. There were guards posted along the way to deter thieves and mischief-makers, and we had a fantastic walk down the mountain and through the city.

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The above picture is of the Arco de Santa Catalina. Originally it created a passageway from the Saint Catalina convent to a school, which kept the nuns from having to walk on the street. Today it pretty much leads to the center of town and is a focal point for getting around the city. Antigua is essentially a big square with even blocks throughout. You’d think it would be easy to get around, right? Wrong. It gets so confusing with every block being the same and every corner looking similar. But if you can get to the arch, chances are likely you can get to where you want to go.

Antigua is quaint and picturesque. Full of cobblestone streets, brightly painted homes and businesses, the mountains as the backdrop and motorbikes parked along the side. Now imagine a chicken bus driving around with tuk-tuks flying by and you’re picturing Antigua.

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What is a chicken bus? That, above, my friend, is a chicken bus. It’s a revamped old American school bus with crazy colors and an interesting paint job. They come in a variety of different colors and names. They are the mode of public transportation here, and they were dubbed the name “chicken bus” because locals will bring – you guessed it – chickens aboard to go to and from. They are cheap and insane. Made to fit two school children per seat, chicken buses stuff as many people in them as they can hold – be it shoved under the seat, standing in the aisles, on top of the bus or hanging on to the back, chicken buses are an experience. A guy hangs out the side door shouting where the bus is going. It stops for a matter of seconds; the guy throws your bag on top of the bus and starts going before you’ve had time to figure out where you can fit. Then you hold on for dear life. I have yet to ride a chicken bus; I admit, it’s intriguing as well as terrifying. I’ll let you know what happens when I experience one. ;)

 

I finally made it to Antigua. After making it to the airport shortly after 2 am, I scrunched up on a bench and tried to sleep since the Spirit ticket counter didn’t open until 4. Go figure, half an hour later, a girl in her twenties thought it would be fun to sit across from me and blast her music – even though every other seat in the airport was empty. Sleep was clearly not an option, so I got up and sat in the dark line lane in front of the ticket counter. At 4, employees started turning on computers and lights; at 4:11 I was the first customer called up. Exhausted, I gave the lady my passport and the print-out of my journey. Spirit is a budget airline. That means you pay through the nose for anything “extra.” Need something other than a personal item? No problem, but there’s a charge. Get thirsty on the plane? No problem, but you’ll have to pay. Forget to print out your boarding pass? No problem, but there’s a charge for that, too. Since it was my first international flight with Spirit, I had to go to the ticket counter to verify my details (or so I was told when I called the previous day). Since I had the paper Spirit had sent me, no charge, but one heck of a wait. Guatemala is one of those countries that wants to see proof of exit… meaning before you fly you have to prove that you’re not going to stay forever. However, depending on the airport agent and who you ask, this is incorrect and no proof is actually needed. According to the lady behind the counter at Spirit, I indeed needed to provide proof of onward travel. Since I had purchased only a one-way ticket, this was quite a problem. So there I was, at 4:20 in the morning, trying to show this lady (literally, show the printed ticket) that I had purchased a bus ticket to Honduras. She kept trying to make me buy an actual flight out of Guatemala. This simply would not do, since I planned to travel around Central America, not just Guatemala. Finally, she called a supervisor and agreed that my Honduran ticket would suffice. Phew. I made it through security and to the gate just in time to watch the sun rise over LaGuardia.

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An hour later I boarded the plane bound for Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Generally with a domestic flight followed by an international flight, you have to change terminals. You can imagine this is a big problem when you only have an hour and a half layover and your domestic flight takes off late. But in Fort Lauderdale, Spirit flies into the same terminal. I got off the plane in Florida at gate G, right next to gate H headed to Guatemala City. I waited fifteen minutes in line for the bathroom (you’d think they would have more than six stalls for women!) and headed to gate H. Except gate H was now headed to Bogota, Colombia. Last minute -terminal- change. Awesome. So I run to the exit and run to the next terminal. Thank goodness it wasn’t like Heathrow or JFK where you can’t walk (or run, in my case). I had twenty minutes to get inside the terminal, through security and to the gate. I was immediately taken to the front of the security line, but my backpack had been painstakingly packed and was already about to pop. I had to pull out my laptop and all my liquids, take of my tennis shoes, and do the normal security procedure. I got through with no problems and start to put on my shoes when I looked at the time. Five minutes. Shit. With no time to repack my bag, I’m sprinting through the airport with my bag half-open behind me, Ziploc bags full of bottles in my hands, laptop shoved under my arm, passport clamped between my teeth, and one shoe on and one shoe off. I made it to the gate with just about ten people in front of me – just enough time to put on my other shoe and shove my stuff in my bag. After a long, long day of traveling, I finally touched down in Guatemala City just after 11 am local time (1 pm EST). I overheard someone talking about how they didn’t know any Spanish, but were going to be traveling around Guatemala. Interesting. While waiting to get off the plane, I struck up a conversation. That’s how I met Trent, the eighteen-year-old from North Carolina who was on his first trip abroad and was headed to the same destination as me: Antigua. We got through immigration and customs without any issues, although I did get some interesting looks when I was trying to speak Portuguese to explain what I was doing instead of Spanish. Oops. Since Trent and I both flew Spirit, neither one of us had any checked luggage, so we went directly to the exit. We got on the shuttle (more like an old mini-van, but comfortable enough) to Antigua for ten bucks a person (and yes, they actually take USD). We waited about ten minutes for any other travelers looking for a ride to Antigua; after one more girl got on, we were on our way to Antigua, which was 45 or so minutes away. We arrived just before 1 (local time). The view stepping out of the shuttle was beautiful.

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After meeting up with Audrey, the three of us headed to Hostel Holistico, where Trent had made a reservation for the duration of his trip in Antigua. It looked quaint and for 90 Quetzales per night (around $11.50) that included breakfast, Audrey and I decided to crash there as well. And so begins the journey of my Central American trip.

I’ve been back in the United States for six days. Yet at the current moment, I’m sitting on a bus from Pittsburgh headed to New York. And in about ten hours, I’ll be on a plane to Guatemala (country number twenty)! I’m meeting Audrey there, my first Couchsurfer who stayed with me in Ireland and fellow adventuring friend. I bought a one-way ticket and all I really know is we’ll be making our way from Guatemala down to Costa Rica through Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. It’s been an interesting week, that’s for sure. I arrived in JFK from Shannon, Ireland, Wednesday afternoon and took various trains to get to New Jersey. A friend picked me up and took me to my car, which was in Pennsylvania. I then drove the five or so hour drive to Pittsburgh, the city I “moved” to but had never actually been. Of course it was during one of the worst storms I have ever had the pleasure of driving through; by the time I arrived, I had been up nearly twenty-eight hours. The next few days were a whirlwind, consisting of unpacking everything from the move, unpacking everything from Ireland (to be fair though, it was only a backpack), repacking for Central America and making sure I had everything I would need while there.

With some help from Adam, late last night I had everything that I would be needing together.

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The pile includes from far left clockwise:

- an umbrella
- make-up/toiletries bag
- poncho
- five pairs of shorts
- two t-shirts
- sleeping mat
- two microfiber towels
- pair of sunglasses
- sleeping eye mask
- padlock and key
- Lifestraw (don’t drink the water!)
- ear buds
- “cracked” phone (essentially, an international phone)
- flashlight
- money belt (I used to make so much fun of people who used these, but I definitely want to keep my passport safe, so I’m jumping on board that train)
- Spanish pocket guide
- passport
- Dell Inspiron laptop
- light jacket
- long-sleeved thermal tee
- six pairs of socks (non-cotton)
- swimsuit
- five tank tops
- pair of leggings
- scarf/skirt/light towel/purse (I’ve used this in particular for a multitude of different things)
- travel book and pen
- toiletries (two mouthwashes, two hair mousse containers, two shampoos, one conditioner, sunscreen, face wash, lotion, toothpaste and Neosporin)
- toothbrush (and cover)
- cotton pads (these are great because they’re lightweight, disposable and can be used in the place of a washcloth)
- Advil
- three sink-stoppers (necessity for Hostels)

The things not pictured are chargers (laptop, phone and camera), undergarments, a brush, two flips flops, one pair of sneakers, a small blanket (thanks, Delta!), the tiny brown backpack that goes on every trip abroad I take (it has double zippers, meaning it locks – invaluable!) and obviously the camera that took this photo. ;)

Audrey has a converter and plenty of bug spray that I can use when I arrive.

With the exception of the electronics, the travel book and my passport, I could care less if I come back home with any of this. Well, and perhaps the sleeping mat. Audrey might not appreciate me ditching that. :) That’s one amazing and also one depressing thing about traveling. Whatever you bring, you’re going to be carrying it on your back. So the more stuff that’s loaded in means more weight and less room for cool things you might randomly pick up along the way.

Believe it or not, everything fit in the backpack. Since I’m flying Spirit, I can bring one “personal item” on board for free. However, that personal item must be no more than 16 x 14 x 12, and my backpack it slightly more than that. If it doesn’t fit in the baggage slot, the fee is a whopping $100 at the gate (it’s less if you purchase online or at the check-in counter, but who wants to pay for a carry-on backpack at all?). With that said, I may end up looking like a crazy person boarding the plane. Leaving Spain with Ryanair, I wore multiple shirts, jackets and stuffed my pockets full – and it was nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But, it worked. :) So I may be doing the same thing this time. Either way, I’m sure it will be an interesting flight to Guatemala.

Anyhow, I’ve rambled long enough. I should probably attempt to sleep. Of course, in the midst of the craziness, I walked out without my laptop charger. The bus arrives in New York shortly after midnight, then I’m making my way to the 24-hour Best Buy in Manhattan to buy another charger, then catching a series of buses and such to get to LaGuardia hopefully somewhere around 2. Since this is my first international flight with Spirit, I have to check-in with the desk, which of course doesn’t open until 4. Then my flight leaves just before 7 am. I’m sure all of this will definitely make for a great story later, but it makes for a long night tonight.

Since my trip to Europe and Central America are back-to-back, Ireland adventures will be posted in between. :) See ya’ll on the other side, in Guatemala!

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Confucius

One of the nice things about Ireland is that you can get on a bus to practically anywhere in the country. It may be a bit pricey at times, but you can usually get where you’re wanting to go. One of the nice things about previously living, working and traveling around Ireland is I know how to get around (not that it’s difficult) and I know what touristy places to avoid. Been there, done that.

My mom loves castles. Obviously we don’t have too many of those back in the States. So we decided to check out Barryscourt Castle, a castle located just eighteen kilometers (about eleven miles) outside of Cork. We boarded the bus towards Middleton and got off two stops later. The small village of Carrigtwohill greeted us.

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The bus stop was in the middle of nowhere, so after asking which direction the castle was, we were on our way. After about twenty minutes or so, we saw signs and the castle in the distance.

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We were both pretty excited to see the castle in the distance (even though when we took the picture, the castle was in front of us).

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The castle has been restored and, unlike many Irish castles, is in pretty decent shape. We talked with some of the castle guides and roamed around the grounds.

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The castle itself was closed for renovations, but the grounds gave us plenty to explore. We were the only visitors there, so we had it all to ourselves. :)

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The town, just like the castle, was practically deserted.

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It was amazing getting to explore this small town and see this amazing castle, and it was even better seeing it without hundreds of tourists and people waiting in line to even step foot onto the grounds. Sometimes going off the beaten path is the best route to take… more often than not, I’ve found that it’s usually with it.

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As usual, I took tons of photos.  You can view the rest of them here.

 

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