We have doubts and we haven’t even stopped for lunch—the halfway point. Our packs are heavy, with 5 liters of water, clothes, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tents, cooking supplies. The first hour of the hike up Acatenango Volcano was straight up. It isn’t much better now.
We stop for lunch at our halfway point and everyone throws off their backpacks and collapses on the ground. The lunch that is provided for me is the best thing I’ve ever tasted. There was cheese and spinach and bread, and whatever.
I am lured in by a chalkboard in front of a wine shop: Every additional glass of wine is five quetzales cheaper than the last. Tabacos y Vinos does not have an English name, sure, but it is a quintessential gringo hangout in a town full of gringo hangouts. I meet a retired archeologist (now expat), a schoolteacher from New England, a group of law students doing a two-week program, a group of guys from Arkansas in seminary school learning Spanish, and the lady working that night. There is a local on duty in case someone comes in and needs to speak Spanish. It is less a bar than wine shop in setup, with a large square table surrounded by wine bottles shelved on the walls, so it is hard not to talk to people while hanging out there.
Antigua has a ridiculous amount of language schools and lures droves of English speakers to learn Spanish the best way: cultural immersion. The only problem is that finding someone willing to speak Spanish to you is harder to come by than someone willing, or able, to speak English.
At 7:30 am I stand waiting for my van to Antigua, Guatemala. About ten to 8, my driver gives a honk and I scurry over to the van. He is a jovial man with a big belly tucked in with a bright red shirt. You always want your driver to have a cheerful disposition. He has your safety in his hands. We lumber around San Cristobal’s small colonial streets for about an hour to pick up all of our passengers. We leave city limits around 8:30. The gesture of being picked up at one’s accommodations is convenient, luxurious even, but horribly inefficient. Our driver asks each person as they board if they have their passport on them. Confused white faces timidly nod.
Outside of San Cris we traverse the beautiful mountainsides. We all lull into a daze except for the two women in the middle talking about positive energy.