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Conociendo El Pilar

The hardest part about getting to know Guatemala is the lack of signage and good directions. Going north is “para arriba” (you want me to drive towards the sky?), “recto” cannot be confused with “derecho” (as they say in Mexico) – a direction indicating you need to go straight, “para aya” could mean right or left, and “no esta muy lejos” could mean it’s 1 km or 10 km away. It’s also true, as our friend Rudy Giron informs us, that when all else fails, “just follow the hand” because words don’t often capture the complexity of gestured directions. Very few of the towns have names so you never really know when you’re there. The best signage I’ve seen so far besides Antigua is Jocotenango which has  a wall painted with its name on the narrow left side of the street as your trying to swerve incoming traffic. Otherwise, it’s rare to see a city sign making it clear where you’ve just arrived. In speaking to a colleague at Namaste who lives near Santiago, I am informed,  that it’s a larger problem with infrastructure and municipalities getting funds for things such as city and road signage. Some towns started hand painting their signs on cardboard, but when the rains came, well, it poured.

Knowing this we embark on our first “excursion” into nature since we got to Guatemala about three weeks ago (yes we’ve been working hard). We play it safe and head for Finca El Pilar for some hiking, bird watching and swimming. The hardest part, of course, is finding decent directions to get there. So we do our research in several guides, give the bird sanctuary a call (no one answers), the Antigua tourist directory, Inguat, read Revue mag’s article on Pilar (a map would have worked better than the vague directions at the end), but to no avail. So we take to the streets to pool the collective knowledge about how to get there. “Hay seño es para aya! Recto recto y despues sube!” For how many kilometers? “Hay, esta cerca.”

We do a few roundabouts near our house and we  find out that it’s about a twenty minute walk through a cobblestoned road with greenhouses lining part of the path, wildflowers and finally, the finca itself which looks like the pedrería that it is. “They sell rocks here? Huh? I thought we were going hiking?” Brad says. That’s what the hand painted sign on the tall wall in front of us says, I tell him, and then we see the pools on the left and the tall looming mountain which I am well aware we’re going to climb. Brad doesn’t know yet, but he’s about to find out what 5 km uphill through fincas and a canopy of banana leaves feels like.

3 thoughts on “Conociendo El Pilar

  1. Jack Houston says:

    You’re right about the vague directions at the end of the Revue article re El Pilar. In fact, they are downright misleading. Even the use of the word “path” instead of road gives the reader the sense that if followed, they will be in the boonies. The boonies don’t occur until you pass the church and little town of San Cristobal El Bajo. Here’s how to get to El Pilar from Antigua’s cathedral and central plaza:

    –Head south toward Agua volcano along 4th avenue to 7th street.
    –Turn left and head east until you pass the San Francisco church.
    –Turn right(south) behind the SF church on Hermano Pedro street, continuing past the Belen church and park, over the bridge andtoward Agua volcano.
    –Continue south past the street on your left to Santa Ana, over the sped bump at the little roadside pila and the second bump at the Calvario church and park on your right.
    –Continue south, merging with traffic on your right, and turn left (east) at Inval, a school with a huge athletic field in front.
    –Continue east along Inval, past San Cristobal El Bajo, with its church and plaza, and past farms and fincas until you think you may be lost.
    –Bear to the right at the ugly rock quarry and continue east until you reach the finca El Pilar.

    You can actually walk the entire route in about 45 minutes or take one of the chicken buses marked “El Calvario” or “San Pedro Huertas” or “San Juan Del Obispo” and get off at Inval and continue from there. The bus, which run east along 7th street from 3d avenue, costs Q1.5.

  2. Norman says:

    So Kara, you see why I told you, not all is in Google Maps and Specially in Guatemala,


  3. Because of the lack of signage… I didn’t really know how to explain the directions either. Shrug.

    The article does say don’t let the rock crushing operation deceive you… venture on to find the natural sanctuary.

    Thanks for the additional directions Jack. But even “Continue south past the street on your left to Santa Ana, over the sped bump at the little roadside pila and the second bump” can be very confusing and vague for tourists. Kara is right… Guate needs more signs!

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