Exploring Antigua, Guatemala
Every trip begins with a sense of excitement no matter how long or short the adventure might be. Anticipation courses through my veins and I am wide awake most of the night before. Such was the case with my recent border crossing into Guatemala where I would spend a few days in the original capital, the Mayan city of Antigua. I have written before about many of my arduous border crossings, by bus to and from Panama, trips to S.Korea while living in Japan. This time, I decided to forego the often unpredictable eight hour bus ride to Panama in favor of an hour-and-a-half flight into Guatemala. I also had a friend and former neighbor from Costa Rica who was a Chapina (Guatemalan woman) now living back in Guatemala.
My day began with an Uber ride to the airport with Eduardo. We practiced Espańol and discussed his love for classical music on the hot and dusty ride to Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose. I arrived at the curb with only my backpack on my shoulder, already pre-checked in, and walked through security with a handful of people and proceeded to my gate. Although I had not paid the extra fee to select my seat, a friendly smile and pleasant exchange with the Tica agent at the gate got me a window seat all to myself.
Flying out over the mountains of Costa Rica was breathtaking, but nothing could have prepared me for the sunset descent into Guatemala City with the volcanos casting their silhouettes in the distance. I could feel a very different kind energy and sense why perhaps the Mayans had chosen this place. I have long been fascinated with the Mayans and their highly advanced culture and was looking forward to experiencing some of what I might discover in just a few days here.
Guatemala City is densely populated with 4 million people which is why I had chosen Antigua as my destination. My one hour ride with my new amigo Cesár through the busy late night traffic was its own adventure. His inability to speak a word of English combined with my beginner level Spanish helped move my speaking ability forward by another level as we did our best to exchange our stories while cars careened in and out of the lane in front of us.
I settled into my Airbnb just outside of Antigua and woke early the next morning to crisp temperatures of 55 degrees, the sounds of new and unfamiliar birds and a delicious warm cup of Antigua coffee that had been harvested in the area. My first day was spent navigating the cobblestone streets of Antigua surrounding the Central Parque, where everyone gathers and various artisans and indigenous locals peddled their goods, from every bright color of fabric to wooden flutes, to coins and jewelry. Others sold fruits and vegetables and candies. Tiny children either worked alongside or lay on the street beside their parents. The narrow streets of Antigua were lined with shops from cacao and coffee to Guatemalan clothing and jewelry. Freshly made tortillas for just a couple of coins were always available within a few steps. I met the same man three times who offered me old Mayan coins. Another Mayan woman, Ruth, begged me to buy her scarves for my spouse or Mother.
Antigua has a distinctively Spanish atmosphere and architecture as it was established by the Spanish colonials in the 16th Century who conquered the area. Antigua means “Old Guatemala” and there are more than 24 indigenous Mayan languages spoken which are not to be even understood by the local Spanish speaking people of Guatemala.
I wandered the cobblestone streets for three days, logging 15 miles on foot in addition to the challenging hike up to Cerro de la Cruz which overlooks the entire city. In the distant background smoke could be seen rising off the top of Vocán de Agua, the largest volcano which towers over the city. In 1541, the city was demolished by the volcano’s eruption and the people rebuilt again. Two hundred years later it was once destroyed by earthquakes and the people who remained rebuilt the city again.
Antigua attracts people from all over the world and has a very international flavor with many types of restaurants and flavors to choose from. I usually favor the food of the locals of the area and was fortunate to meet up with my Guatemalan friend and her cousin on the final day where I was taken off the beaten path to enjoy an authentic Guatemalan restaurant called La Cuevita de Los Urquizú with all of the dishes generously spread out to sample from. I was happy to find myself as the only Gringo in the restaurant with a packed house full of Guatemalans
Guatemala is very easily accessible from Costa Rica. I look forward to visiting such a beautiful country again. Next time I hope to visit Lake Atitlan and Tikal, where the most famous Mayan city ruins are found.
To give is to love, To give prodigiously: For every drop of water To return a torrent. We were made that way, Made to scatter Seeds in the furrow And stars in the ocean. Woe to him, Lord, who doesn't exhaust his supply, And, on returning, tells you: "Like an empty satchel Is my heart." -Miguel Angel Asturias
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Zen and Ink Journals represents hundreds of hours of writing over the past decade, sometimes from a train in remote China or a coffee shop in Kyoto, a hammock in Costa Rica or a simple cabin on a mountaintop in Boquete, Panama.