Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Antigua -- A Day of Rest

Today, we took the day off. Or at least, managed to stay in one town for a full day. Antigua, the historical capital of Guatemala, is the very definition of Spanish colonial. Like Atitlan, it is surrounded by volcanoes. The street scene consists of stucco structures with red clay roofs, and all one sees is walls and wooden doors. But inside each door is a beautiful courtyard, with a fountain in the center and businesses lining the gardens. Jewelry stores, cafes, art galleries, handcraft shops ... it's all here.

We started the day, as we always do, wandering the local market. Here, while the food and produce was mostly sold in the typical crowded maze with tarps overhead, the rest was along much wider paths, open to the sky. Here, the market backs up to the chicken bus station, and the array of brightly colored buses was as much a treat as the bright fruits and vegetables.

After the market, we did the historic church/monastery/convent tour, stopping at the Church in the Parque Central, Las Capuchinas Convent, La Merced (which houses a fabulous museum of ecclesiastic art), and the Church of San Francisco. All of these buildings, whose origins are deep in the 16th and 17th centuries, have been partially destroyed as a result of several large earthquakes and yet, the fact that they are mostly in ruins simply adds to the atmosphere.

Two items of note: first, in one of the markets, an American began talking to Ellery -- the type of American I will never become. A bit of dialogue revealed the following: he's a former marine, he moved to Guatemala because he didn't want to pay "those ridiculous taxes" (HELLO ... who paid your salary when you were in the service?), Obama is going to decide who my doctor will be, and .... the man speaks barely a word of Spanish after being here for over a year. How is that possible? I wouldn't have believed him had he not gotten into a car bearing license plates from ... Pennsylvania. I am shamed.

The other item is more humorous. After our church-in-ruins tour, Ellery and I stopped at a cafe in the Parque Central. We oohed and aahed at the pastries in the case but, having just eaten lunch, resisted them. Good thing too, because as I was sipping my cappuccino, I saw one of the barristas remove a packaged frozen cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory and slide it into the pastry case!

Tonight will be an early one for Els and I because tomorrow is a long one; at 4 a.m. we leave for Copan in Honduras, and from there to Puerto Barrios and on to Livingston for the night, before returning to Puerto Barrios for the boat back into Belize.

Oh, and finally, this hotel rocks. An incredible building, incredible rooms, incredible service, all very understated and comfortable. The perfect twin to our hotel in Atitlan.