Antigua is… well it’s just like it sounds: antique, quaint, lovely. I’ve heard it described as one of the most beautiful spots in Central America. I don’t know if I’d go that far (I’ve seen too much beauty in interior Mexico to go that far) but it is a pretty little city. If there’s anything about Antigua that you could call ugly, it’s probably that there are more English speaking foreigners in the center of town than there are locals.
You can certainly see why Antigua is the sweetheart of tourists and students everywhere. It’s got beautiful clean cobbled streets, very well-kept, colorful colonial style homes lining almost every avenue, a safe atmosphere, interesting attractions outside the city and many Spanish schools for college students and visitors. There are hundreds of good restaurants to while away the afternoon hours in, or enjoy a long leisurely dinner. Many of them are the kinds of restaurants where you somehow lose track of the time, and some are so small and intimate that only 6 couples can fit inside – it’s hopelessly romantic. Not to mention it’s the kind of place where you can still park your goat outside the restaurant in this day and age without worry…
In lieu of climbing volcano Pacaya (which was busy erupting and showering black sand on Guatemala at the time), we took a little trip out to a nearby organic Macadamia cooperative. It’s a young grove, and almost everything about the plantation is good for the environment and for the locals who run it. Did you know, for example, that Macadamia trees mature very quickly and that you can harvest them year-round, creating a sustainable source of income for the locals? Macadamia trees are also rock stars at processing carbon-dioxide, and the nuts introduce healthy oils into the local diet. It was a very interesting tour, followed by a facial with Macadamia oil, and samples of macadamia chocolates. Mmmm. Needless to say I might have bought a few things to take back home. ☺
We also took a tour of some of the smaller villages around Antigua with our hired tour guide Diego. In between off-color jokes, dark predictions about the end of the world, angering sweet old nuns, and giving exhaustingly long-winded historical explanations, Diego gave us an overview of the area. (Seriously, at one point I thought one of the nuns in a church we were visiting was going to order us out… Diego called her “mamasita” and said that the Pope was a joke in Spanish during the tour. She really didn’t think it was funny.)
One of the coolest things we saw on the tour was a working washing center in the main square of one of the villages we visited. This is where the women of the tow congregated on a daily or weekly basis to do their washing (by hand, people) while talking and gossiping. It was like a page out of history. But here, it’s not history… it’s life.
We also visited a cooperative where some of the best tapestry weavers in the area (and maybe all of Guatemala) sold their work. We learned how to tell the difference between a hand-woven, foot-pedal woven and loom tapestry.
My one regret in Antigua was the rain. Tropical Storm Agatha was starting to do her worst and it was a fairly wet and sloshy experience. I’d like to go back someday during the dry season to really see the place in all its colorful glory.