Guatemala. Not a whole lot of thought or planning went into this trip. As in we decided that Guatemala and Belize were where we were going a grand total of 5 days before we were set to take off. Basically we wanted to go somewhere tropical and quiet and decided on Belize. And then because one place/country is never enough we decided to squeeze Guatemala in too…in 10 days. After the decision was made, hasty research ensued…and I won’t lie, I was a little (lot) worried. From what I was able to glean Guatemala is not safe. Theft, rape, unsanitary conditions, disease…you name it. The lack of time also meant that we couldn’t get some recommend vaccines, or use anti-malaria drugs because there wasn’t enough time to produce an immunity. I contemplated calling it off…in the end we decided that if we hated it we’d just make a run for the border and stay in Belize longer. I am so happy I went!! Guatemala is amazing!
To me it was a completely different world. The ride from the airport to Antigua (our first stop) brought back some of the joy and awe I had the first time I traveled. That sense-that you are somewhere completely and totally different. Watching out the window I started to really understand how different Guatemala was going to be from what I’m used to. People piled into trucks and cars, children sitting on laps, and hanging out windows. small pickups were loaded with 10 people in the bed, and eight in the cab…not counting small children. Guatemala doesn’t (yet) really cater to tourists. I wouldn’t even say there are set “tourist” areas which is different from most other places…there are definitely places that cater to “gringos” (like many of the restaurant’s) but two steps down it’s all local. (Street vendors are everywhere.)
Antigua, our first stop, is a town that is a Unesco heritage site. And the architecture here is amazing, it reminds me a little of Italy.
We came in on Saturday, and it just happened to be Dia de Todos los Santos, or all saint day, a national holiday, and market day! The town was packed with locals and gringos alike.
The church decorated for the holiday
I had booked our hostel online ahead of time, but for whatever reason they were closed. (From the street it looked as if there was a giant hole in the roof) but wandering around with nowhere to stay was not a great way to start our adventure! Thankfully it’s the low season, so we were able to find another hostel with openings, by just walking around. And it has an amazing rooftop view of the volcanos!
the view from our hostel terrace:
Antigua is a small town and we are able to walk most of it. There really aren’t shops catering to tourists, although some of the market vendors definitely do.(Good rule of thumb-pay half to 2/3 of the originally quoted price.) We stop for tacos, and my boyfriends first drink is a margarita…I worry about the ice, but when my food comes out with fresh veggies it doesn’t stop me from digging in. (According to the Internet you have to avoid ice and fresh vegetables like plague…something that I challenge with impunity on this trip.)
The main square:
A fountain in the park:
We then go to the main square, which is crowded with people. There are children playing, and vendors hawking their wares. EVERYTHING is up for barter, and prices vary wildly. The cruise ships were in, and I heard someone quote a older couple four times what they had just quoted me!!! In the main square policemen stand watch with with assault rifles. A little girl runs up and throws a rock at the policemen. They (and I) tense up, then they lob the rock into the park and l took away. That makes me feel a little better about the rifles. (I’m not exactly sure what our cops in America would do if someone threw a rock at them.) Here in the mountains, the women are almost exclusively dressed in traditional dress, while the men are in jeans and t-shirts.
As it starts to get dark, we head back to the hostel. We’ve heard that it isn’t safe outside after dark and we don’t feel like taking chances on our first day. The streets are full of cars and trucks all leaving the city. I hadn’t realized how many of the people were here for the holiday, and I picture how sleepy Antigua must be on a “normal” day. We go to the rooftop, watch the sunset, and plan for the next day: we are going to try public transportation (chicken busses) and go to Chichicastenangoto which is said to be the biggest market in Central America! I’m so excited it’s hard to sleep!!