Guatemala for Gringos

Trip Start Nov 05, 2007
Trip End Nov 29, 2007

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

          I sit on the rooftop balcony of the Posada Dona Clara in Antigua, Guatemala, recording my thoughts. I confess it is this balcony that has kept me here, despite the promise of more company and fewer expenditures with a family. It's just so nice to have this place to work - peaceful, beautiful, and right near my room.

          Antigua is a gem of a city. Lonely Planet calls it "Fantasyland," and perhaps it is. Surrounded by three volcanoes and blessed with perfect weather, the city is full of hidden surprises. If you looked straight ahead, all you would see might be the multicolored walls of the houses, the stone-paved streets, and the friendly people. Turn your head to the side, though, and other worlds open up with every doorway. The hotels, restaurants, and stores which make up the majority of the central part of the city stretch way back; almost all are open inside (remember the perfect weather), many with garden patios, flowers, and even fountains. The cathedrals are even more impressive - not so much the chapels (which are nice enough), but rather the ruins, hundreds of years old, which lie among the grass. The city is extremely walkable, with most sights stretching just six or seven blocks in any direction from the Parque Central. Add to all this Antigua's safety, and you can see why so many foreigners flock here!

          I got my first taste of "foreigner culture" this evening, when I joined a Guatemalan family for dinner. It's quite easy to arrange this - language schools provide families for students for around $10 a day, with all meals included. (After two hours of class Sunday morning, I guess I qualified as a student.) Nelson had left to go back to work less than 24 hours before, but already I was tired of eating alone. Not quite ready to give up my rooftop balcony, I nonetheless was given the name and address of a family who could feed me.

          Maritza was a wonderfully friendly woman who welcomed me with open arms. It turns out she was also welcoming ten other foreigners at the same time! (Not content with working for one language school, she had signed up with three.) Dinner conversation quickly drifted into English, for many of the students were beginners. Among the dinner guests were three Americans taking a break from missionary work in Honduras, an older woman who loved the fact that I talked to her in Spanish and corrected her mistakes (simple ones), a couple of young girls, and a guy from Connecticut who seemed intent on telling me all the parts of Ecuador he knew. 

           There are plenty of other services geared especially for gringos, too. This afternoon, for instance, I toured an organic macadamia farm with a guide and another student from the school. By the looks of things, nearly all the other visitors on the tour probably came from others of the 70-odd language schools in the area! In slow, easy Spanish, we learned that macadamia trees are especially good at absorbing carbon dioxide, that they convert this into their wood and their exceptionally hard shell, that there's a machine to take off the shell that can be powered by bicycle, and that this is important because the farm donates trees to local indigenous villages who can't afford an electric machine. We also learned that macadamia nuts are very good for you - not only when you eat them (among other things, they help lower cholesterol), but also when you put the oil on your skin. Great marketers that they are, they gave anyone who wanted a free macadamia nut facial, and I have to admit, my skin does feel silky soft!

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John on

I stayed at Posada Dona Clara and found that the staff went through my bags and took some small bills while I was at breakfast. When I asked around this appears to be a common occurrence at Posada Dona Clara. The owner just shrugged his shoulders when I told him what happened. I also saw another couple's room ransacked while they were out, supposedly a break-in but it sure looked like an inside job. Do not leave anything behind if you stay here and bring your own padlock.

sherwoodk on

Thanks, John, for this information! The last time I was at Dona Clara's, I heard a similar story from another guest. I've personally never had any problems - both Dona Clara and her husband have treated me well - but bringing a padlock would be a wise idea just in case.

Tony on

hi,i stayed there the other week and locked my bundle of notes etc in a drawer but stupidly put the key in a zip in my rucksack and didnt lock it.I found $120 went missing.I didnt confront at first before I checked the internet only to find there are problems.I have just come back from 2 weeks in san pedro and just confronted alex (grandson) in the street,i said i never found the money and i heard of someone who had $200 taken from their locked bag.The more I think about it I dont think it was the maid,I think its him as he is a bit of a wide boy and porbaly the type to flash the cash to women.Dont even risk staying here

pat10463 on

antigua is a nice town, lots of restaurants and stores, markets etc. the thing that u must be aware of is there are lots and lots of thieves there. stay alert, try not to use any ATMs while there and don't leave anything of value in ur hotel room ever!I i am a NYer and this type of thing is not foreign to me but this is really a bit much, u need eyes behind ur head lol.
I like the country and plan on returning with a different perspective is all.

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