Lunes, 19 de marzo
After flight changes and rerouting through Mexico in the middle of the night, ya llegamos! Antigua Guatemala: the old capital city, five centuries old, a UNESCO World Heritage site, cobblestone streets, colorfully painted walls, ornate wooden doors and windows bars, ancient churches weathered by earthquakes, not-so-distant volcanoes, a bustling plaza, vibrant Mayan textiles and languages…you can imagine that we are already enchanted! It is special to be here as the city prepares for its biggest event of the year- Semana Santa (Holy Week leading up to Easter). Preparations of the massive Andas, or floats, are in full swing, and we got to peek in on a garage that holds the huge solid wood structure to carry Jesus and the crucifix by 50 men! You can see most windows draped in the royal purple while the jacaranda trees serendipitously bloom their lavender flowers just in time. The other benefit is that we WON’T be here next week when it is a madhouse- one of the largest in Latin America.
After strolling the town with our wonderful guide, Mitzy, +and barely recovering from the lack of sleep, we enjoyed a dip in the pool and some delicious pollo in our charming hotel cloaked in greens, tiles and fountains. We are looking forward to a tour of some churches, a coffee farm, and more authentic food tomorrow!
Martes 20 de marzo
¡Qué día tan fabuloso! Rested and refreshed from a crazy yesterday, we embarked on a full day of Aventura chapina (chapín is the nickname for Guatemalan). First we stopped at a supermercado for some snacks- plantain chips, of course! Then we spent some time at a coffee plantation just outside Antigua in Jocotenango where we saw the whole process from berries on plant to a toasty cup of café. A few lucky readers may be receiving some beans when we return! Next was a Mayan music museum where our beloved Mitzy introduced the long history of the Maya in this region, from the languages, dress and housing, to the syncretic religious practices since the arrival of the Spanish.
Perhaps our most precious hour was our lunch with the women´s cooperative of Santiago Zamora, another outskirt of Antigua. This group of seven Mayan Kaqchikel women cooked us an amazing authentic lunch of chiles rellenos, salsa, beans, rice, handmade tortillas, salad, vegetables, avocado, jamaica juice. Some of us bought huipiles—the ornate blouses that represent each native group’s town. The women presented a folkloric dance for us, including the adorable 5-year-old Fátima and the baby Manuel on his mama´s back. At the end, each woman introduced herself and shared her gratitude for us for our participation in their cooperative. It was special to hear how they use the money from this small venture to send their children to school, build their business, give small loans, and even help each other´s families when there is sickness or special need. The students felt honored to be received with such warmth in this intimate experience in a rural concrete home in the Guatemalan highlands!
The rain held off for the rest of the afternoon but left us the dramatic sky for some amazing photos during our walking tour of Antigua. First we popped in the center of Ciudad Vieja, the second capital of Guatemala located at the base of the same volcano that destroyed it with a mudslide just 14 years after its founding! Antigua was technically the third capital (the first was Iximche, thanks to an alliance between the conquistador Pedro Alvarado and one of the Mayan tribes Kaqchikel). But in the 1700’s two earthquakes toppled the city, including its massive churches. Today we visited the ruins and reconstructions of the cathedral, and the monastery La Merced- an elaborately adorned yellow and white church with Guatemala’s largest fountain in a gorgeous courtyard. In between historical lessons, we stopped for Antigua’s best ice cream and at some candy stalls, enjoying the sights of a city preparing for its festivities next week.
Have I mentioned how much we are smiling and laughing? This group is clever and hilarious! Mitzy is impressed and Isern and I (Reid) are delighted by the constant questions about Spanish and their cultural observations. Tonight we told stories over a delicious dinner at Restaurante Las Antorchas (ask Steve, our valiant chaperone about his “ajo en el lado” story jajaja!). We sang and danced on our drives today to Latin pop music on the bus (Zander knows all the words to “Súbele a la Radio” by Enrique Iglesias?!).
It´s impossible to share all the jewels we´ve learned about plants, Spanish expressions, and Guatemalan culture. Hopefully you’ll hear a few more from their own mouths! Tomorrow to the Volcán Pacaya and a cooking class! ¡Que vivan los chapines!