In In Part 4 I shared our amazing experiences at the coastal town of Las Lisas. But before we knew it, it was time for us to leave Casas Viejas. We got ready and packed up early Monday morning and began our drive to Antigua, the old capital city with lots of shopping, dining, and activities. On the one hand, it was hard to believe we had already spent 5 nights with Nathan & Jessica. On the other hand, we had gotten to do so much in our short time with them that it seemed like we were there longer.
Jess and I had two nights planned in Antigua before flying home. So Nathan & Jessica drove us up, and brought along some of our new friends too. A couple of the young people from Casas Viejas had never been to Antigua, so they were thrilled to be able to come along. Magnus also hitched a ride to Antigua, where he would catch a bus to meet up with his wife and continue his Central American tour.
The drive to Antigua was enjoyable. We got to see a lot more of the natural beauty, including a huge volcanic lake and a number of impressive "poofs" from Volcan Fuego. We were also stopped at one point at a police checkpoint in the road. The officer looked at us with more than a little suspicion, since there were 6 Americans in the cab and half a dozen other people in the back - one of which was from Sweden and two others who were from El Salvador. Nathan explained that we were Jehovah's Witnesses and were on our way to Antigua. After a brief check of papers, we were back on our way.
Arriving in Antigua was exciting. The beautiful colonial architecture suddenly surrounded us, as if out of nowhere, and it felt like we were transported to another time. The rough cobblestone street made for a bumpy but fun ride. The ancient walls lining the long, narrow streets alternated color with every shop we passed. Ornate stonework decorated the roofs and doorways, and people filled the sidewalks.
We went straight to our hotel so Jess and I could check in and drop off our bags. After a quick review of our incredible room, we headed back out to hit the town with Shaws & Co. After a not-so-quick detour to drop Magnus at (well, near) a bus stop, we exchanged some money at a central bank, and finally headed to a lunch spot. We were all famished and not in the mood to look for something new, so we went to an old standby of Nathan's called Kafka. We were led up to the roof terrace where we had our first real view of Antigua, nestled in the shadow of enormous volcanoes and mountains. The food was good but the view was better!
After stuffing ourselves thoroughly, we headed back out to the street where Jess and I parted ways from the rest of the group. We said our goodbyes and then ventured out on our own, walking back to our hotel to rest before our first planned activity - a chocolate making workshop at Choco Museo. We stayed at Hotel Sor Juana, an apparently lesser known but high quality option. Our room was the nicest suite in the place, but still cost less than an average hotel in a typical US city. It was absolutely huge -- I'm positive the total square footage was greater than our entire house. Warm lighting bathed the rough stone walls, a huge hand-woven rug stretched across the tile floor, and natural light streamed through from the quaint private terrace. A second floor loft revealed two more twin beds and a tiny little door that led to a second private terrace with a skyline view.
After recovering from our huge lunch, we made our way to our chocolate making workshop. Choco Museo ended up being a fantastic experience: We learned so much about the history and production of chocolate in Central America, and got to do a lot of hands-on chocolate making ourselves. We had to roast, shell, and grind raw cacao beans, and we got to enjoy the fruits of our labor in some delicious chocolate tea and hot chocolates. We also got to mix, mold and pour our own chocolate candies with all kinds of fillings -- ginger, chili, sea salt, orange, sprinkles, you name it!! To be honest, the process of making it was better than the end result in some cases, but it was a blast either way.
After our Choco Museo experience we were stuffed with sugary chocolate so we went back to crash at the hotel and let our stomachs recuperate. By the time we had worked up an appetite it was well past dark, and we weren't comfortable walking far from our hotel. We ventured out and walked a couple blocks to a little Italian restaurant and had a lovely little meal on their courtyard patio. Finally, we walked back and hit the hay, looking forward to a busy Tuesday.
In Part 6, I wrap up our time in Antigua and say goodbye to Guatemala!