A long bus drive makes us wake up early, at 4am to be precise, to be in the back of a pick-up at 5am ready for an off-road, ‘camel trophy like track to the village of Lanquin. The both of us, together with Sara and João, are enjoying the first time in our lives a night-day turnover in the Guatemalan Alta Verapaz District in the back of a truck. What first is all dark and black starts to turn into shades and while we occasionally drive through a low hanging mountain cloud, everything starts to gain color. In the village we change over to a minibus for the rest of the trip. Watching the beautiful green landscapes, talking with other travelers, passing by a rolled over truck with trailer or reading a book kills the boredom. Arriving in Antigua Guatemala(45.000 habitants), a city in the Central Highlands of Guatemala, is much better than we expected. Just a couple of tourist catchers (they bring you to the hostel, what usually makes the rooms more expensive as the hostels give them a commission) offering hostels and rates or tours, excursions and bus transports. They would sell you anything! We choose Yumaguma, a normal low-budged hostel offering 50Q beds in sleeping rooms of four beds, so that’s just like a private room for us. The hostel has a roof terrace with kitchen and a beautiful view over the three volcanoes surrounding the city: Volcán de Agua, Volcán de Fuego (constantly steaming), Volcán Pacaya and Volcán Acatenango (3976m high).
For a drink and something to eat we go to Luna y Miel and like this we make our first walk in the city center. It is a big town with a modern air. The small squares embraced by colorful houses let the urban breathe and gives space to the youngsters for hanging around and meeting friends. In between the colonial style houses are ruins spread all over the city ground, standing strong remembering the 2 earthquakes from 1774 known as Santa Marta. The days we were in Antigua, eight all together, we realize something strange and in our eyes unique. Antigua is beautiful and has a lot of history and culture but there doesn’t seem to be anything so special, so mind-blowing, and so unique in the world that a traveler should have seen. It is the totality of this urban style, the general ambient, the feeling itself when walking around on it streets that makes it so unique.
There is the beautiful church and convent of La Merced and the cathedral of San José, the Arco de Santa Catalina suspending over the street, the daily market, the central park with striking beautiful colonial buildings, lots of museum, the views on the volcanoes and with them the many hikes offered but none of them on its own would have made Antigua a ‘must have been’-place. Antigua has culture offered by many initiatives as we can read on the many leaflets on the streets, it has music and rhythm as we can hear at every corner, street artist are preforming and it is the place to be for Americans and Europeans willing to learn Spanish. It has this cosmopolitan look and feeling without changing everything in glass, metal and mirror. Antigua dresses fashion without taking its tradition clothing off. And most of all: Antigua feels safe day and night, although we hear a lot of robbery stories, we don’t feel at any time unsafe.
The first time we meet Antigua it’s just for one night with our Portuguese friends, the next day we head to the Atitlan Lake. (next post) But the second time, we come back alone, as Sara and João have left to go to Mexico and later back to Europe. And it’s during this second visit that we really start to know the city and enjoy its good vibes. So we spend the week walking around, visiting the buildings in ruins and eating good typical food. Our best address for cheap typical food is found by luck. Just in front of La Merced there is a tiny grocery shop, selling some bread, chewing gum and different sweets. We enter to ask for the price of the bread and the old lady told us to pass true the shop, behind the cash desk, and we enter in the dark backhouse. There are some tables with chairs, lots of merchandises for the shop, a stone dishwasher and two fireplaces on which pots are happily steaming. The lady shows us the dishes of the day: a chicken stew-like brew, two different heavy loaded soups, fresh made beans,… more local, impossible. Asking for the possibility to make some sandwiches with the chicken thing and one with cheese and ham is just stupid, here everything is possible! We sit down and consume the order surrounded by countless Jesus and apostolic imagines, crosses and catalogued bible phrases, the stock of chewing gum and bottled drinks and a cheerful parrot shouting out loud once in a while. With two big sandwiches we have each plenty of what we ordered and get a bill of 12Q… total amount!
This time in Antigua we find another hostel to stay, Hotel Dionisio, for 50Q each for a bed in a dorm, a common bathroom, kitchen and fast Wi-Fi connection. We contact Andre, a friend of Sara who is also staying in Antigua. The three of us have a nice time together and a good walk till a viewpoint over the city.
After some days of rain at the lake (next post) I get a fever and spend 2 days in bed… after Giorgia’s bedbugs (next post… what a suspense!!!) which is the reason to return to Antigua, it is my time to get on low battery. It is clear to us that living a dream don’t mean immunity against daily torments. 😉