We decided to climb one of the active volcanoes outside of Antigua yesterday morning! The tour was to take 7 hours altogether, with a two hour hike up the volcano. We were picked up a little after 6:00 am at our hotel and rode in a van with the rest of our group (all under 30) to the base of the volcano. We were greeted by our guide (this is a national park, and the guides are very professional), along with several dogs, a very friendly young pig, and persistent boy who followed us all the way up the volcano looking for handouts.
We then hiked up a very steep path for the first part (a few people had to have horses provided as the climb was too hard, along with the problems of the high altitude). When we neared the last part of the climb, we were in the clouds and unfortunately the views were hidden....then the wind picked up as we began to climb the loose ash, cinders and rocks that made up the last 30 minutes of the hike! This was like climbing a sand dune, only with sharp rocks scattered around.
It was hard to stay upright in the wind and the cinders were sharp when they blew against your skin....it was not fun...When we finally arrived near the crater where the (usually) small eruptions occur, the clouds were so thick, we couldn't see anything. There were a few steam and sulphurous gas vents right where we sat, and areas of hot rocks and cinders. Then the clouds parted for a few minutes and we could see rocks (some of them red hot) being shot into the air about 100 yards away of us! It was very cool..!
Today is the first Sunday of Lent, and there is a big procession winding through town as I write. We will go see it after finishing here. There have been smaller processions since Friday. The week of Easter (La Semana Santa) is a time of huge celebrations here. We may extend out time here to see this.
A little about the hotels and restaurants here: most are in old homes, it seems, and are built around a central courtyard. This makes them peaceful, even on a busy street. Most have beautiful gardens and fountains. The food here is wonderful, with many places to choose from...everything from bagels to Chinese food!
We start Spanish immersion classes tomorrow and will also move to our home stay...