Not just an island

Trip Start Mar 06, 2006
Trip End Jul 19, 2006

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Saturday, April 29, 2006

Lots of people, upon hearing I'm in Antigua, think of that Caribbean island. Ok, yes, Antigua is an island. But it's also this colonial town just outside of Guatemala City. And that's where I am now.

I arrived in Guatemala wanting to spend a day or two in Antigua before heading off to some cities in the highlands, and this huge lake west of here. I had actually hoped to climb some volcanoes and scuba dive in the lake (my first freshwater dive). But I had acquired a bad cold (possibly from the equipment on my last dive--they don't seem to sanitize it to my standards), and, aside from being unable to dive (because of problems equalizing while sick), I just didn't have the energy to go anywhere. So I decided just to stay in Antigua for about five days, taking things easy.

Antigua used to be the capital of Central America, and then just the capital of Guatemala, until this series of earthquakes (including an especially bad one on your birthday in 1776, Float) left much of the city in ruins, and the government moved its base to Guatemala City. So the town is much as it was then, with many old buildings (particularly religious ones) in ruins. The town has an extremely colonial feel to it, with cobblestone streets and old, brightly colored stucco buildings. It's surrounded by hills and three big volcanoes, so the views are impressive both within the city and around it. What I especially love is that every little doorway seems to lead into this big open courtyard filled with flowers and fountains. Lots of people say that Antigua is "too cute" and not at all a good representation of Guatemala. This is surely true--the rest of Guatemala is undoubtedly very different from this town. But I am still enjoying it and am glad that I'm in this particular place for my wind-down time.

There are several ruins which I went and poked around in, including a bunch of churches and old convents or monasteries. Again, lots of fountains. The architecture of some of them is very interesting, as well. At las Capuchinas, this old church/convent founded by some nuns from Madrid, there's this circular patio with 18 tiny "cells" around it, each serving as a nun's bedroom. The views from the bedrooms are great--either garden or volcano or both. There was one room, though, that must have been reserved for an especially naughty nun, because it had no window at all and would've had a really killer view of both the back garden and the biggest volcano.

Besides the ruins, there were lots of great little shops for me to check out. My favorite, though, was the big market. It's this HUGE outdoor market area that sells pretty much everything imaginable, with stalls arranged according to product. So they had an area with a bunch of people selling fresh flowers, then one with gorgeous arrangements of dried flowers, one with large dead animals (butcher stalls), one with toiletries and household products, one with toys (including pinatas!), etc. My favorite was the huge area for produce. Just incredible-looking fruits and vegetables, many of which I'd never seen before. If I'd had clean water with which to wash it, I would've bought so much food there. So many great colors and smells. And all the salespeople were women in the traditional brightly-colored dress. Just a bustling, exciting market. I really wanted to take pictures, but I would've felt very rude, particularly since I did not encounter a single other tourist the whole time I was at the market--everyone was there shopping for real.

When I wasn't at old churches or markets, I was pretty much just lounging around. Have done a lot of reading and people-watching, including at the Parque Central, which has this nice view of a fountain and some of the town's major attractions. Also spent a lot of time reading on the cute little terrace of my hotel (which I often had to myself, since there were rarely other guests there). It was so wonderful to be able to sit and relax and just enjoy that time without guilt. Usually sitting and reading a book for fun involves this feeling of "I should be doing work or something else," but that's not the case here, since there's absolutely nothing else I need to or should do. Oh, and I've been eating a lot of good food. Antiguenos are often referred to as "green-bellied" because there's so much avocado here, so you can imagine how much I've loving that. I also went to this store yesterday that sells "dulces tipicos." I didn't really know what anything was, so I just started pointing (ok, I asked for a few suggestions first) and the woman filled up a little box with all these sweets for me. Many of them looked like hard cookies, but they were all soft, super rich treats. I can't even describe them. So delicious.

I think that about covers my time in Antigua. I leave this afternoon to head to Guatemala City, which I fly out of early tomorrow. I'll be back in California for about a week, re-packing, recovering, and resting before I head off to Japan on May 8. I will probably not have my cell phone service restored while I'm there, since I'll be home so briefly, but you can definitely reach me on my mom's landline. (E-mail if you need the number.) I also might be able to convince my mom to loan me her cell phone for use during the times when she has free minutes. We'll see. If you get calls from 916 numbers you don't recognize, that's why.

Also, just so you know, I went back and posted some pictures from previous entries. More to come when I get the ones from Jenn's camera. Adios for now.
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