Central America is the kind of place you sit back and enjoy the slow pace, enjoy having an extra button undone on your shirt, and maybe have another cerveza. If you make that cervesa a morning coffee, add in a few 400 year old buildings, and surround yourself with the most beautiful mountain and volcanic landscape you can think of then you have some understanding of what it’s like to be in Antigua, Guatemala. But it’s more than that.
Gringos on Arrival
I remember touching down in Guatemala. We hustled through customs and upon walking out of the airport we were bombarded with people – people trying to sell their items and services to tourists. People begging to sell you a bracelet, give you a ride, or just help out a little for a modest tip. I didn’t know who to trust, so I just waited for my ride. Finally my “shuttle” pulled up. By shuttle I mean a 1995 Honda Accord.
My wife and I hoped in and it wasn’t long before I realized we weren’t getting on the interstate. We were pulling into a neighborhood. A neighborhood in Guatemala City. The driver didn’t say anything, he just honked the horn. All the things and warnings I had read began to shout themselves in my head. This was it – we were going to be robbed. I acted cool, but started shoving identification and credit cards into my shoe just in case they took everything we had. If I was nervous I could only imagine the terror my wife must have been feeling.
Then it happened. A guy opened the passenger door. “Sorry Guys! I’m Late” A guy from Azerbaijan hoped in the car. He was running late and was sharing the shuttle to Antigua. We later found out that he even knew a mutual friend of ours. What a small world.
Then on the radio, a sports program, Guatemala scored a goal. The driver screamed “GOOOOAAAAALLLLL!” For the first time I saw him smile and I knew Guatemala was going to be alright.
Antigua is another planet situated perfectly at home inside of Guatemala. It is beautiful. Not just visually, but also evoking all other emotions it is possible to feel. There are 40 churches, each of them older than anyone living today. There are traces of tragedy and opportunity on every streets. Columns laying where they fell reminding everyone of the earthquake and volcanoes that rule the landscape – but a city to perfect and valuable to give up to nature.
Antigua is a foody’s dream, an artist haven, an architects museum, and a travelers Oasis. It’s the kind of place you visit for a few days and contemplate life and wonder why you spend so much of it in an office. Every street is lined with cobble-stone, every building reeks of history, and the the faces of the residents and visitors all melt together in some strangely constructed way that somehow makes perfect and wonderful sense.
Lago de Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is about 2.5 hours outside of Antigua. Upon arrival we took a boat to three villages which surround the lake. Each with a particular culture of their own.
The first was a village ran by Mayan women who produce textiles. They were among the most friendly and lovely people I have ever encountered. My wife befriended them immediately – even with broken Spanish and a lot of hand gestures they were able to communicate almost flawlessly. It is encounters like these that make such an experience priceless.
Without ruining Atitlan by an attempt to briefly explain it and its awesome beauty – hopefully sharing it will do more good.
The Guatemala Experience
Trying to explain Guatemala in a few hundred words is impossible. I can’t really explain what is what like to wake up every morning, walk down the streets of Antigua, and sip on coffee in the Parque Central – I can only say that I did it. I am not skilled enough a writer to describe the scene at Lake Atitlan, or the smiles on the Mayan women’s faces, or how every door in Antigua had more character than the most modern suburban home – I can just show you a few pictures and say it is so. I can’t even tell you how being in a Guatemala changed my outlook on things, changed the way I feel to live in this “modern” society, and helped me grow if only a little – I can only say it happened.
Over the next few weeks I plan to continue sharing photos and posts about my experience in Guatemala.