The most beautiful city in Central America

Trip Start May 23, 2010
Trip End Aug 31, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hostal 5

Flag of Guatemala  , Western Highlands,
Friday, June 4, 2010

There was a storm and heavy rains overnight, but we still slept soundly in our cosy tree shack.  Due to our pretty tight schedule, we decided to make our way back down into the town proper after a hearty breakfast with more of their fantastic bacon.  It was tough leaving the Earth Lodge behind, and we vowed to return one day in the not-too-distant future.  Maybe we'll even bring Em's dad along as a bag carrier for the steep hill...he keeps offering!  As it was, Emma's ribs are still a bit sore from her swan dive at Tikal, so I carried both backpacks up the slope to the pickup point.  Almost needed CPR at the top!

Emma and I can't get enough of Antigua.  As a place, it's simply spellbinding.  Even with some dense cloud cover obscuring the volcanic panorama, the city remains thoroughly beautiful.  Its cobbled streets are home to pastel-painted, plaster fronted buildings and more ruined churches than you can count (the result of numerous earthquakes down the years).  We visited the artisan markets, which were a riot of a brightly-coloured fabrics and all kinds of carved items.  Emma was offered countless different blankets and pashminas.  I was offered a switchblade, a machete and later, by the one particularly dodgy-looking character we encountered, cocaine.  I don't know what it says about the different impressions we gave to people, but I think it may have something to do with my newly-cultivated beard, which was initially developed in response to my face-swelling bite and then continued to sprout due to laziness and a lack of hot water.  Anyway, the people were otherwise very friendly and in no way pushy.  Though I imagine the guards with pump-action shotguns that are found at every major shop and bank encourages a certain demeanour!  We had dinner with a really nice American couple (Thomas and Jonelle) that we'd met at the Earth Lodge the previous night - Argentinian steak followed by drinks watching the NBA finals (Lakers vs Celtics) in a bar.  A lovely evening.

More storms overnight and an overactive cockerel nearby meant I slept lightly, but we made the most of our last day in town.  During the course of the day, we visited Las Capuchinas, a ruined convent from the 1700s that used to be home to an order of Nuns would virtually imprisoned themselves in its walls and communicated with the outside world solely through a hole in the wall (NB I don't mean a cash machine).  It's a very atmospheric place and is now home to a museum of religious artefacts that were found both there and in other ruined sites throughout the city.  We also visited the Catedral de San Jose's ruins, which sit behind the current Catedral.  These were pretty eerie, especially the small crypt that is found beneath the old nave, accessed via a low staircase.  Here, a soot-blackened carving of Christ on the cross is found in front of a table where offerings are burnt by the local Mayan community.  Much as with the absorption of Celtic traditions into the Christian calendar, the Mayan religion has had many of its facets incorporated into its the Guatemalan church.

At around 5pm, when another downpour started, we headed back drenched but happy to our hostel and waited for our ride to Guatemala City, where we were staying overnight ahead of our flight to Costa Rica.  The rumours of another impending tropical storm to follow-up Hurricane Agatha seemed unfounded.  More grim was Guatemala City itself, a seedy, grimy and chaotic den of iniquity, where every scene looks like a mugging about to happen.  Happily we stayed outside of downtown and kept our fingers crossed that no natural disasters would disrupt our flight the next morning (though secretly, we'd have loved an excuse for a few more days down in Antigua!).


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