We had a most enjoyable day last Sunday. After a late breakfast, we walked about a mile to attend mass at la Merced church. The church was opened in 1767 and has walls fifteen feet thick to withstand earthquakes. We went primarily for the cultural experience and left during the Spanish sermon which we couldn’t understand. However, I am wondering if Susan is thinking of converting, since she suggested going to mass at San Francisco church this week???
After church we toured the ruins of the adjacent monastery said to contain the largest fountain in Hispanic America.
We enjoyed lunch on the rooftop terrace of a crepe restaurant. Most of the restaurants in Antigua have beautiful terraces or courtyards. The lunch was so good and the atmosphere so relaxing, we returned here for lunch this week. Following lunch we went to Parque Central to enjoy the music and people watch.
There were also Mayan dancers in the street adjacent to the park.
We then explored some of the area near our house before finally returning home to practice our Spanish like good students should.
Some of you with lots of snow and ice have said you don’t want to hear it, but the weather here is absolutely delightful. We are already talking about coming back. Many of the students in the school have returned multiple times.
Antigua is surrounded by three volcanoes. We can see the top of the dormant Volcan Agua (water) from our veranda.
There are many classic views of this volcano around town.
Volcan Fuego (fire) is an active volcano that has been relatively quiet during our stay. We can get a good view of it from our Spanish school; and during today’s break, it let off a nice plume of steam.
The third volcano is Volcan Acatenango, which has been dormant since 1972. It is joined to Volcan Fuego by a ridge which you can see to the right in the above picture.
Our picture is on the Facebook page of our Spanish language school. Our friends Ron and Jean can be found there too. I guess we must be better students than we thought!
The historic area of Antigua (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is an area about ten blocks by ten blocks. We live just outside the historic area in a residential area that appears to be occupied primarily by expats. All the roads in the historic area and the one in our residential area are cobblestone. This means that the roads are rounded rocks embedded in sand. It makes an extremely uneven surface that is unpleasant to walk on and very bumpy to ride on. It is very common to see stones that have become loose and are sitting on top of the street. Every morning, they are repairing a small section of one of the streets. It is a total mystery how they pick a section to repair, as the whole street could use repair.
Walking in the city requires your full attention. The sidewalks are very narrow with the walls of the buildings immediately next to the sidewalk. While the sidewalks are more even than the streets; they have many slopes, holes, cracks, and uneven spots that require your full attention. To make it more exciting, most of the windows have ledges at shoulder to head height that protrude up to 18 inches into the narrow sidewalk. This can be particularly unpleasant if you turn your head toward the street and keep walking. The occasional dog also adds to the need for care. Crossing the street is normally not too bad, since the cobblestones force most drivers to go slowly.
We saw a funny incident on the way home today. A chicken bus had driven down the wrong street and was trying to back up and turn down the side street. Four random bystanders were all yelling directions at the driver and waving their arms wildly to clear the other traffic to make room for the bus. The policeman seemed to contribute little to helping the situation.
To bring you up to date, we watched the Super Bowl at a restaurant in town. All restaurants and bars were showing the game, but it didn’t draw many people. After 18 days of almost all sun, we had a mostly cloudy day today. There was no rain and it did clear late this afternoon. No, we don’t expect any sympathy from all of you suffering through the snow and cold at home.
On Saturday we woke up to our fourteenth consecutive blue sky morning. If you could specify what weather you wanted each day, you might well specify the weather here in Antigua! Like all students, we were excited to have a day off from school. We decided to walk to the five star Santo Domingo hotel on the other side of town.
We live in one of four walled and gated communities off a side street which is accessible only by passing through another gate with a guard who usually has a rifle slung over his shoulder. We said our normal “buenos dias” to the two guards and headed down the cobblestone streets and narrow sidewalks into town. Our first stop was a street craft market where the women shopped and the men looked at the ruin next to the market.
We then went to the hotel and its six small museums. The hotel is built on the grounds of the ruins of a convent. My favorite museum is the pre-Columbian where each display case contains some Olmec or Mayan artifacts together with contemporary art on a similar theme. The hotel was setting up the former sanctuary of the convent for an elegant wedding. We decided if we were ever to renew our vows, this was the place to do it!
The hotel also has a restaurant/convention center on a hill overlooking Antigua. We took a hotel shuttle up to the restaurant where the Rotary was having a banquet in the convention center. There were models posing as statues along the route to the banquet. We had a wonderful lunch outside with views of the volcanoes. On the way home, we encountered a religious street performance.
We agreed it was another wonderful day in Antigua! Pictures below.
Saturday we took a public van from Lake Atitlan to the beautiful town and UNESCO world heritage site, Antigua Guatemala. The city is known for its many colonial churches (some of which are ruins from earlier earthquakes) and for its fine restaurants. We are living in a house just outside the historic area.
Spanish schools are a major industry in Antigua. We feel like kids again since beginning our lessons Monday. We wake up early to make our mile long walk to school carrying our notes and homework. Our teacher is Jorge. Most teaching is done with one teacher per student, but we elected to have the same teacher. Jorge is very nice and very patient with us. He speaks almost entirely Spanish during the lessons – using gestures and drawings when he gets the blank stares from us. Our lessons last three hours and are held in a restaurant. So far, we get homework every night. In addition, there are afternoon activities such as tours in the area, cooking classes, and volunteer activities in the afternoon to practice our Spanish.
We had a chance to use our Spanish in the supermarket when purchasing salad dressing for our evening meal. We ended up putting spaghetti sauce on our lettuce. Yes there were some clues like pictures of tomatoes on the package, but we were taken by the words “Italian” and “ranch”. Any way, spaghetti sauce can make a reasonably good salad dressing.
We are reading about all the winter weather advisories at home. Does any one want to hear that we are enjoying blue skies and 70 F days???? We are having a great time and hope you have better weather soon.
We left early in the morning on a tranquil lake in a boat for 4 people to Pana. The lake was beautiful as usual and we were excited to be going to Chichicastenango ,otherwise known as ChiChi .it took 2 hours on a mountain road to get there by private shuttle. The Chicken Buses come roaring down the wrong side ot the road which scared us but was nothing compared to the Pana boat home..
I will describe the boat but it won’t do it justice to the experience .its a fiberglass large row boat with a wooden roof. The boat is meant to hold 14 people..Due to no safety regulations in Guatamala we sit at the dock until at least 28 people are on board.. The whole time we are loading the boat sinks lower in the water..life jackets are sparse,I doubt there are even 14 that are accessible.The problem is to make the decision where to sit..if you sit in the front two rows you get wet.The only protection from the splash is a piece of plastic to hold over you .If you move back,and the boat goes over ,you probably drown.we chose to drown. Who are the passengers with us on this adventure? We have the native women in their traditional dress, the teenage students ,some obnoxious American ,kids who commute every day on this boat, and the hippies headed for San Pedro and the 4 old retires ,us. The 15 minute ride to Jaibalito took 45 minutes due to the load and the rougher water.the last challenge is to get out of the boat while it is rocking and the dock is high above you, no ladder .we finally all make it out and walk the planked path to our house.
We no sooner got in the door ,that we looked at each other and said where is the wine. We Happy Houred our nerves and all agreed what a fun day it was.
But this makes it all worthwhile!
We are presently living in a two bedroom house in Jaibalito on the shores of Lake Atitlan. It is the dry season where the mornings are warm, sunny, and low humidity. In the afternoon, it gets breezy with a few clouds so it tends to be a little cooler. The evenings are still again and cool – what is known here as perpetual spring.
Our house fronts the lake and has a pier in front. Our morning starts with coffee on the pier watching the fishing boats and volcanoes (no activity – they’re just pretty). After breakfast on the porch, we set out for the day. One day we went to the “big city” of Panajachel for supplies and hiking in the nature reserve. Another day we hiked to our neighboring town of Santa Cruz. Despite our isolated location, the food has been very good and we meet people at virtually every meal.
A hurricane hit the area several years ago and raised the lake level seventeen feet. Consequently, our sidewalk into town is wooden planks built above the water. This is OK when there is no wind in the morning and evening, but in the afternoon the water splashes up through the boards making it difficult to stay dry.
This is the largest store in town. You see almost all of it here.
Every morning a load of construction supplies shows up on the public dock. As the day progresses, the supplies get moved by women and children up the hill into the town. This woman is lifting a 92 pound bag of cement to carry on her back.
We are thoroughly enjoying life in our town.
Lake Atitlan has been called the most beautiful lake in the world. It is certainly a strong contender. Other lakes that I consider in the running are Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies and Lake Como in Italy. What is your most beautiful lake?
It was a beautiful day to fly out of Charlotte. Thanks to TSA pre check, we breezed through security with our shoes on and our liquids in our luggage. Our plane arrived at the gate right on time at 1 PM, but when it came time to board they announced a slight problem. It turns out there was a crack in the pilot’s windshield and they were going to call the manufacturer to see if it was safe to fly. I thought why would any engineer take the risk of saying it is safe instead of making them fix the windshield. Sure enough, an hour and a half later we got the word the plane wouldn’t leave until 7 PM so they could replace the windshield. We spent the afternoon trying to make alternate arrangements that would get us to Guatemala City that night. We ultimately had to settle for a flight to Dallas that night and to Guatemala City the next morning. After standing by for one flight and not getting on it, we finally got to Dallas about 9 PM. After some more trials, we finally got to a motel courtesy of American Airlines.
We were supposed to leave for Lake Atitilan with our friends Jean and Ron the next morning at 9:30 AM but now we weren’t going to get to Guatemala City until 1PM. We exchanged numerous e-mails about the situation and left it in Jean’s good hands to make alternate arrangements. We arrived in Guatemala early, zipped through customs and stepped outside the airport to find at least a thousand Guatemalans waiting for passengers. We ultimately found Jean and Ron, made the three hour car ride to Lake Atitilan, and took a 15 minute boat ride to our house in Jaibalito only to find the power out. Fortunately, it was still daylight so we were able to settle in and headed off for the restaurant while it was still light.
Jaibalito has a population of about 600 and is accessible only by boat. There are no motorized vehicles in town, there are four restaurants in town, and one sidewalk from the dock and one cross sidewalk. In walking around last night and today, we have met most of the people in the town. Last night we had goulash, spaetzle, fresh vegetables and a bottle of wine and water for $12 per couple…and it was good and we didn’t get sick!
And look how beautiful our view is!