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The After-graduation series: Hiking around Antigua, Guatemala

When I think about hiking around Antigua, Guatemala, a few things come to mind: theft, mudslides, lava, farmers with machetes, police escorts, and ultimately, safety. This (besides the lava) is what has prevented me from hiking around the beautiful, agricultural patchwork mountainsides of Antigua for far too long. This weekend, Emily-Kate, our good friend Julia, and I had had enough of the fifteen consecutive days of rain and also of doing the same well-charted hike up a paved road for the umpteenth time.

We called a friend who has lived in the area for the past eight or so years, and asked for hiking recommendations around our house. We’re not sure if we reached the trails that he was speaking of, but decided it wasn’t the point. We were out of our safe, gated house and in the wild, wild mountainsides of Antigua. Of course, I say this in jest. We walked alongside a very fast-moving highway for about half an hour, crossed the road into a community called San Lorenzo, and then walked up paved roads until we reached a trail head that looked like it might take us up the mountain. Why did we need someone to recommend a trail, when all we needed was the impetus to get out and explore without being paralyzed by fear for our safety?

Another obstacle to hiking is that there really are no nicely labeled trail heads around the area like in the United States. That’s because farmers, who have crops all the way up the mountainsides, unofficially serve as the National Park Service and have already made them—it’d be pretty silly if they had signs leading to their crops. On the trail we decided to take up the mountainside, we came across about twenty different farmers along with their harvests, mules, and dogs. When we asked for their permission to hike up the trails, along with our two dogs, they said of course, smiled, and walked along. Absolutely nothing to be worried about. This doesn’t mean we didn’t take some precautions—we didn’t hike with much money (only Q30 or $3.75 USD for snacks and/or bribes), cameras (why I don’t have photos of this), or really anything of value except our two dogs.

When we reached a plateau after nearly an hour of hiking on a steady gradient upwards, there were still more trails to go. To the northeast, there was a beautiful strip of cypress trees; in all other directions were various crops (mostly coffee, bananas, beans, avocados, and other shade trees). Although it was a bit cloudy, the view was incredible. I’m looking forward to our next weekend hiking adventure around Antigua, and still pondering how farmers reach their crops on a regular basis if they are an hour plus journey up a mountain.

Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.

Posted on: January 5, 2012, 6:00 am Category: The "After" Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: ,

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