More from Antigua

Trip Start Dec 13, 2006
Trip End Jan 31, 2011

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Flag of Guatemala  , Western Highlands,
Thursday, November 4, 2010

We wanted to share a few more pictures and tell a little more about our trip before moving on.  We rented a house from Elizabeth Bell who operates a first-rate tour company in Antigua.  Of course, we took her tour of the city one morning as an introduction to the area.  Well worth it.  Elizabeth is a font of knowledge about the history of Antigua as she has lived there since she was 14.

Brooke, our daughter, arrived on the 11th for a very short stay.  Besides sampling the food market and the artisans' markets, we toured a coffee plantation and a jade factory.  Shade-grown coffee, we learned at the Azotea Coffee Plantation, is the kind most sought after.  It is a long process to prepare the land, grow the shade trees, then the coffee. And, although they have fine coffee in Guatemala, it is mostly grown for export.  It's hard to find a really good cup of coffee in Antigua

Oddly enough, also at the coffee plantation was also an exhibition of Mayan musical instruments along with well-done depictions of  Mayan life.  Very interesting.

However, Mike and I thought we had a real find.  One morning in a coffee shop on the square, we found bags of coffee, free.  We couldn't believe it but were reassured in the shop that indeed it was free.  We made this coffee several mornings; it was terrible--looked like weak tea and tasted worse. So back we went to the coffee shop.  While sipping a good cup of coffee, out came more bags of the free "coffee".  In looking harder, we discovered it was the grounds being given away for use on plants!  

The jade factory was particularly interesting.  Elizabeth had taken us on a mini-tour, but when we went back with Brooke, we got the full-blown tour which also gave insights into the history of Guatemala as well as jade.
On our tour with Elizabeth, we met a Scottish woman, Sheila, who had been born and raised in Antigua and had recently moved back to spend her retirement years there.  She regaled us with many stories of growing up in the Antigua countryside where her father was an engineer on a sugar plantation. She also took us to Guatemala City to an art museum and a natural history museum. Both were fabulous.

Ray and Lou, Mike's brother and sister-in-law, joined us for the last two weeks.  One of the highlights of their visit was a trip to Lake Atitlan, a place immortalized by Aldous Huxley. One night we stayed on the lake at La Casa del Mundo, high on a cliff.  Accessible only by boat, it's views of volcanos and Lake Atitlan are spectacular.  Although we had to climb many, many steps to reach our rooms, the stay there was worth the effort.  A candlelight evening meal served family-style with about ten other guests at a long table added to the experience. 

The trip getting to Lake Atitlan was an adventure in itself.  Having rented a car in Antigua, we drove to Chichicastenango,  a K'iche 'Maya town renowned for its huge market selling handicrafts, food, flowers, medicinal plants, tools, jewelry, etc.  To get there, we traveled a dual-lane highway that wound through the mountains dotted alongside with busy town centers.  Other traffic along the roads were the infamous chicken buses, old US yellow schoolbuses painted colorfully, serving as transportation for the Guatemalans.  They drive at high speeds often careening around corners, weaving in and out of traffic.  Dodging these aptly, Ray, who drove, also had to contend with frequent places where both lanes of traffic were diverted into the oncoming lanes because of mudslides.  We had been warned to get where we were going before the afternoon rains as the roads could become treacherous.  Although we tried our best, we still were driving when the rains came.  Fortunately, we made our destination without incident.

Back to the market--it was quite an experience.  The Mayan textiles were beautiful.  It was hard to decide as there were many stalls with similar items and each better prices than the last. Of course, bargaining is the only way to buy something and is very entertaining. 

Finally, while at Lake Atitlan, we hiked a nature trail to Caterata Waterfall.  We especially enjoyed the beautiful, huge flowers and plants as well as the monkeys playing in the trees above us.  Also there was an interesting butterfly preserve.  

Guatemala was a place we will not soon forget!

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