Sunday, March 16, 2014

Exploring Antigua, Guatemala

Sometimes it is nice when you have friends. 
And sometimes it is amazing when you have a best friend. 
The kind of friend that will get their passport, buy a plane ticket to Guatemala and come visit you for ten days. Yeah - we are pretty lucky to have that kind of friend. 

Rick Lee Roper came to visit us in Guatemala this past week, and it was seriously one of the greatest weeks we have spent in Latin America so far. Caitlin has been around Guatemala on the MesoAmerica tour that BYU-Idaho does, but I had never been anywhere besides Lake Atitlan, so we decided it would be a great adventure to go exploring with Rick. 

Our first stop was Antigua, Guatemala. The city is actually the old capital city of Guatemala, but after a series of disastrous earthquakes, the capital was moved, and Antigua became a super center for tourists (especially granola, bohemian-type of tourists). 
We started off our day with some ATM troubles, a quick and unintentional tour of the city while we looked for breakfast, and finally a delicious breakfast on the rooftop of a building with a great view. In Western Guatemala there are numerous volcanoes. I don't want to sound dramatic or anything, but there are like millions of them. So from the rooftop, of course you could see some volcanoes... although I don't think we took any pictures of the view while we were up there. Oops! 

Because Antigua is located in Latin America, we of course spent a large part of our time in the city exploring the churches. I know I've spoken about my obsession with Catholic churches before, but I find them so fascinating. The ones in Mexico were super ornate, but the ones in Guatemala are actually pretty plain. At least in Antigua they are. We learned that after the earthquakes and move of the capital, the churches were scaled down quite a bit. There was not enough population to maintain super ornate churches, and since there were several churches that were destroyed in the earthquakes, the church did not feel it important to continue to build buildings that could eventually be demolished again. 

One cool thing about Antigua is that they've kept the ruins of the churches in tact (or somewhat in tact) so you are able to go in and explore the demolished buildings. They all wanted to charge an entrance fee, so we decided only to go to one, but it was great! 

There were huge columns that had collapsed and great archways and cool plants growing all around the ruins. These are definitely just as cool as some of the Mayan ruins I have seen. It was so interesting to see how the church was built and be able to explore all around it. 

Now here is where I show my ignorance about the church... we went down into the basements of the church. I'm pretty sure one was a mausoleum or something, and I'm not sure what the other basements were, but they were pretty big, musty, and dark.   Steep stairs led to the entrances, and although they were pretty big, they didn't connect and we could only see one entrance to each one. One of them even contained a saint with candles burning, all sorts of dead flowers and quetzales (local currency) tossed around the burning altar. I am still not sure who it was, but it was especially creepy because we were underground in a dark pit. 

We had a great time exploring the ruins and after an hour or two exploring the numerous caverns, rooms, and sanctuaries, we decided it was time to move on and explore more of the city.

We spent a long time walking around the city. Like I said, there were several church ruins to explore, and eventually we made it down to the artisan market to do a little bit of shopping. 
Guatemala is great because they have super bright colors for all of their textiles and artisan products. We spent A LOT of time shopping while Rick was here, but it is always so much fun to haggle with the salespeople and to check out the intricate embroidery work on the textiles and clothing. 
Toward the end of the day we hiked up a little hill that overlooks the city. It was great to get a birds eye view, but unfortunately it was cloudy so you can't see the volcano behind us. Just imagine a really big mountain covered in trees. That should be the view from the top. 

One of our favorite people we met in Antigua was a man who owned a coffee shop a few blocks away from our hostel. Every time we would walk by he would yell in a thick accent, "Come to my coffee shop!" I explained to him the first time that he approached us that we didn't drink coffee. The second time, he was just as enthusiastic as he yelled, "Come to my coffee shop!" I couldn't help but smile as I reminded him that we don't drink coffee. But I didn't blame him, since all gringos look alike. :) Then, the third time it happened, he yelled his catchphrase at us from behind and as we turned around he recognized us and started laughing and running off to solicit some other potential customers. It was so hilarious. I wish you could've heard him. He was so great. 

We spent some time in the center after it started to get dark and we had some great conversations with women trying to sell us souvenirs. People in Antigua were really nice, but a lot more pushy than they are in Santiago or Mexico. They also knew a lot more English. Spanish speakers always call us "friend" and it cracks me up. You would never go into a department store, grocery store, or farmers market and be called friend by someone trying to sell to you. Would you like to buy some tomatoes, friend? No... that would be creepy. But in Latin America we are always someone's friend. I love it.

At the end of the day we went to our hostel, which was so perfect for us. Our room had two sets of bunk beds (all 4 of the beds for Rick), and a double bed. It was newly renovated, so it had the smell of paint... and some other stuff, but it was great. It felt like our little home in Antigua. 
Well, I think I'm running out of juice to write more tonight - but I will be writing about our excursion to Pacaya real soon, so stay tuned for more adventures of Devin & Caitlin... and Rick. :)

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