I left Katie’s at six am Sunday morning to get back in time for a bike tour around Antigua. I didn’t expect the five and a half hour trek that ensued, but despite the sun poisoning, dehydration, and paralysis that followed, we had a lot of fun.
Around 8 am, we departed for the hillside pueblos surrounding Antigua. Emphasis on hill side. The first two hours of the bike tour were on a gentle incline, but eventually we came to a massive mountain that took me a half hour to climb.
I could have walked faster than my bike was moving, but I kept peddling. I didn’t want the incredibly attractive English tour guide to think I was a wimp. Minor crushes aside, I made it to a plateau and enjoyed a breezy glide down to Ciudad Vieja, also known as San Salvador.
In Ciudad Vieja, the first capital of Guatemala, we saw the remnants of a civilization. In 1541, Volcán Fuego erupted, causing a landslide that demolished the entire city. Ciudad Vieja was destroyed and eventually rebuilt around this lasting artifact.
While Volcán Fuego is constantly active at low levels, today’s more imminent concern is Volcán Acatenango. Acatenango last erupted in 1972 and has habitually erupted every thirty years, más o menos. It’s well past its due date.
After a trip through Ciudad Vieja, we rode to a famous Macadamia nut farm called Valhalla
. In Norse mythology, Valhalla is known as the “House of the Slain.” After death, the most valiant warriors, heroes, and and kings were led by the valkyries to Valhalla where there was a golden tree —”The most beautiful tree amongst God and man.”
The golden tree in the Guatemalan version of Valhalla is the Macadamia tree. This farm, run by an eccentric and slightly crude comedian named Lorenzo, was the first Macadamia farm in Guatemala and started in the 1940s. Since then, Lorenzo has focused on preserving the environment and fighting poverty with a memorable sense of humor:
Lorenzo: Believe it or not, before I was a macadamia man, I was a fireman.
Me: Oh really? What caused you to change careers?
Lorenzo: I got tired of playing with my hose and wanted to play with my nuts instead. Ha!
Me: Uncomfortable, forced laughter.
Pubescent humor aside, Lorenzo and his nuts are an asset to Guatemalan environment and sustainability. The Macadamia nut, composed of 30% carbon, is one of the leading oxygen producing plants and is a highly sustainable crop. Lorenzo has donated over 200,000 trees to neighboring communities. This investment has improved local standards of living, promoted reforestation, and provided an edible alternative to the unreliable coffee crops that surround Antigua.
In addition to learning a lot about macadamia’s benevolent presence in Guatemala, we also got to try the farm’s famous pancake breakfast: two wheat pancakes with macadamia butter and blackberry jam.
And stacked on top of that were free facials and massages. Life is hard, right? The Macadamia nut also produces a nutrient rich oil that Lancome uses in their anti-aging products. At first I was skeptical, but then we met Lorenzo’s wife; she is 72 and looks 35. Next time I go to Lorenzo’s I am bringing my credit card.
Before heading back, we biked through a famous village called los Dueños. In Dueños, you can find high quality weavings that are as intricate as they are colorful. While we wandered around the maze of tapestries and tunics, an old woman sat on the floor by a body-length beam without once breaking her concentration.
Our last stop before heading back to Antigua, downhill this time, was a lively cemetery. Unlike the cold grey slabs in the United States, the graves here were a range of colors, a celebration of mortality.
From the top of a staircase of stone ruins, we looked over the vibrant tombs, toward miles and miles of Guatemalan countryside. I should have been admiring the vista, but as my eyes followed the winding dirt roads in the distance, all I could think about was how much farther we had to ride under the fierce mid-day sun…and all the nachos I was going to eat, free of guilt, at Monoloco during the Superbowl party that evening. Go Saints!