Antigua – New Year’s nonsense and fireworks

This was actually quite an honour, the square was packed, the whole town was here and behind us the God squad stood waiting for us to light the explosives to kick the whole thing off.

Volcano fart

2012, blimey. Last year will obviously go down as rather special. Everybody back home keeps telling me the past year has flown by, but not for us. Being in London and a daily work schedule seems like a distant memory, we slipped into the nomad life easily. Saying that, we are ready to come home – almost. We are certainly not tired of travelling, there’s a whole lot more to see, but we are keen to get back to London, to friends and family and Sundays down the pub. We are also both quite passionate about our careers and keen to get back to work and whatever new challenges await. Not so much an end to the fun but the start of something different. The job hunting has begun and after writing this, it’s time to update my LinkedIn-profile – on the beach.

We spent New Year’s in Antigua, a small town in Guatemala that sits beneath three rather large and very active volcanoes. Had we visited Central America first as originally planned this post would contain pictures of me standing next to red hot lava flows. Unfortunately a large eruption last year left the volcano in a quiet phase. So we are here, with the Stefs, just to see in the New Year and spend some time in town.

Antigua -central square
Antigua -central square

You could be forgiven, as getting off a bus in the central square, that you were in fact in North America – at Disney’s new attraction – Guatemaland.  Authentic this place is not. For two blocks around the central park every shop and house has been transformed into a spotless, sterile – could easily be in any mall in America – coffee shop or restaurant. Big money has been spent to make a North American tourist feel like they are back home, with just a little ethnic spice sprinkled around the edges. Undeniably it’s a very pretty place, the streets are cobbled, houses are painted in pastel colours and windows boxes are well maintained.

Just a few blocks back however, in any direction, and the real world starts to creep in. The local shops start to take up space, buildings are less maintained and you get back to real Guatemala, warts and all. Where there are fewer shotgun-wielding security guards, things are not so cute. Crime here is very real. Guidebooks mention that muggings, rapes and murders of tourists are not AS common as before and we hear first-hand of an armed mugging on a short walk to the local cemetery.

Antigua - locals
Antigua - locals

We are staying just a few blocks from the centre, firmly in fantasyland and were looking forward to a bit of a party with the Stefs. They had plans to meet up with a friend of a friend, a local chap, for New Year’s Eve and we were coming along for the ride. All the locals seemed to be wearing novelty head gear, so we felt we should blend in.

New Year's Eve nonsense
New Year's Eve nonsense

We started off on the roof terrace of the great yellow hostel that the Stefs were staying at, where we had some drinks whilst the local volcano belched a spectacular puff of sulphur into the sunset.

Volcano fart
Volcano fart

A fantastic New Year’s Eve unravelled. Local rum, cheesy music and some great company ended around 3am –quite respectable. Enough said.

New Year's Eve
New Year's Eve

The next day, the next afternoon to be precise, we wandered around town and learned that a local festival was kicking off around 5pm. I’d heard rumours of fireworks, so there was no option of not attending. We didn’t learn the name of the festival but it went like this. After a church service the alter cross was heaved on the backs of a few clergy and walked out of the church. Here they were met by a local band and they would play for a bit. The local square at this point had been literarily carpeted by Chinese firecrackers and other fireworks. The cross, band and congregation slowly made one lap of the square, fireworks being lit directly in front of them before they headed back into the church.

Just a few of the fireworks
Just a few of the fireworks

I must have been taking far too keen an interest in the fireworks as the chap in charge decided that I needed to join him in lighting the fireworks. This was actually quite an honour, the square was packed, the whole town was here and behind us the God squad stood waiting for us to light the explosives to kick the whole thing off. So, local chap, Stef and I risked an eye or two for a few minutes lighting these, obviously not passed any safety test, fireworks. Great fun, although next time I’ll choose something better to wear than flip flops, shorts and t-shirt. It hurt.

Below is a little video of the event, the filming, which Leah shot, is a little bit crap as she was being bombarded by small explosive missiles. And no, you cannot see me smoking. We were given cigarettes to light the fuses and even though you can see me taking a puff that was only to keep the thing nice and hot; been a happy non-smoker for well over four years now.

The next day we had a bit of a shopping spree, I bought a huge leather overnight bag. For £35 it was a steal but meant I would be carrying the damn thing around for the next six weeks. We also picked up some great local coffee sacks that we plan to frame once we get home…and get a flat…and a job… etc.