Antigua is one of the most famous and in the past also one of the most important cities in Central America, as it was the capital and main trading center of the Spanish colonies in Central America for more than 2 centuries. Today, the historic center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dominates the cityscape. Beautiful to look at but especially the terrible roads motivated me not to touch my bike during my stay.
Once I arrived in Antigua, a two-week language course was waiting for me the very next day. After all the cycling, this was a welcome change and I was looking forward to it. In addition, it was also bitterly necessary to raise my “street Spanish”, with which I at least did not starve and could ask for a place to sleep, to a higher level. In addition, I am by nature a communicative person, so it was a great pity for me to hardly be able to talk to the locals to learn more about them. But now that was about to change!
In short: The Spanish course was great and I had a lot of fun. I made many new acquaintances and met interesting people. Unfortunately, the two weeks of Spanish were just too little to bring my vocabulary to a much higher level. However, since I will be traveling in Spanish-speaking countries for many months to come, the course was still helpful and gave me more confidence in conversations with people. In the long run, I can definitely improve my Spanish.
Antigua is not only a beautiful city, but also a destination for international tourists. Especially the countless high-quality (at least that’s how they advertise, since they teach a particularly pure and dialect-free Spanish) language schools, which are relatively inexpensive, attract all kinds of people interested in Spanish. So I also met many other bike travelers who took a break here to improve their Spanish. Willi, with whom I already traveled through Mexico, had also come to Antigua and invited me several times to eat at his Warmshowers host or we visited a local soccer game with other friends from the language school.
Mikkel and Gustav from Denmark were also in Antigua and were just as eager as I was to see the famous volcano “Fuego” near the city. Together with Jose the Warmshowers host from Lago Attitlan, the four of us went to the 3976m high “Acatenango”, which forms a double volcano together with the volcano “Fuego”. Since the “Acatenango” is about 200 meters higher than the “Fuego” and has been inactive for years, you have a fantastic view of the “Fuego” from the summit, which erupts reliably like a Swiss clockwork (every 15 minutes).
At the summit we pitched our tents and watched the fantastic natural spectacle in the darkness. Very impressive were the sounds and the vibrations that we could clearly perceive throughout the night. During the night, I started to feel the first signs of the altitude and got a headache and slight nausea, but as soon as we took down the tents and looked at the breathtaking sunrise, they were completely forgotten. This was probably one of my most extraordinary nature experiences so far. The cohesion of our group also played a big part in making this hike an unforgettable adventure for me.
In the second week of the language school, I was able to visit an elementary school in a neighboring village to give a very child-friendly motivational talk to the young students. When I asked them what their dreams were, they not only said they wanted to “ride on a unicorn one day”, but also gave very touching answers such as: “To help other people to lead a healthy and happy life! Some of the kids completely digressed from the topic and only talked about soccer and Lionel Messi when I explained that I was going to Argentina by bike. Despite this, I think the kids understood the message of encouraging people and believing in themselves. At the end of my visit, each of the children wanted my autograph in their homework book and they all hugged me in a crowd.
This visit to the elementary school was another highlight for me and something very special for the heart.
In addition to visiting the elementary school, my Spanish teacher Dulce allowed me to interview her grandmother, who has had an incurable cancer for 15 years and, according to the doctors, would not even survive the first year. Meeting her showed me how much a positive mindset and the quality of being grateful for small things can make. She told me how well she was doing when she was cheerful and how on bad days she was clearly aware of the cancer. In addition, Dulce’s grandmother regularly speaks to children and adults in a church group to share her situation and experiences. She is passionate about reaching as many people as possible with her positive mindset.
Actually, my plan was to leave Antigua after the two-week language school and continue traveling. But as I have experienced so often, it usually comes differently than planned. After I had probably eaten contaminated fruit from the market, I got severe stomach problems in the following days. Fortunately I was able to stay with Thomas the Warmshowers host, whom I had already met from Willi. Thomas was super cordial and helped me organize doctor’s appointments and provided me with his guest room for as long as my recovery would take. Thomas has been traveling worldwide with his bike for many years and has been living in Antigua with his young daughter for the past two years. There he regularly hosts bicycle travelers. During my time in Antigua, I met different travelers and totally interesting people with Thomas. With his warm nature he created a great place to meet. In the last days of my recovery, Jelle and his girlfriend Marie stayed with us for a few days.
Jelle wants to climb all 7 Summits (the 7 highest mountains of all continents) and only gets there with his own muscle power. He walks, rides his bike or crosses the water by sail or rowing boat. Having already climbed 4 of the Seven Summits, including Mount Everest, he is currently on his way to “Denali” in Alaska, the highest mountain in North America, which, if everything works out, he will climb in the summer of 2024. On his way to South America, he would then also like to cross the stretch of sea from Panama to Columbia along the “Darien Gap” in a rowboat. Since he owns a two-seater rowing boat and needs support, I asked him to include me, as a former enthusiastic competitive rower, in the shortlist to tackle this section with him. I got along great with Jelle. He also has a touching story that drives him to do his project. Our conversations were bubbling over with enthusiasm and joie de vivre. Funny thing is that Jelle’s bike was also sponsored by “VSF Fahrradmanufaktur” and is the same color as mine.
After now a total of 3 eventful, touching and connecting weeks in Antigua, I left to continue my journey towards Panama and through the now dangerous countries of Central America.