Monday, April 16, 2012

Antigua, Guatemala

We visited 15 cities during our three-month backpacking trip, and still Antigua was my favourite. Colonial, cobbled streets, fresh and vibrant colourful buildings and incredible cathedrals; if there had to be a Central American city Antigua would be it.

Landslide in the mountains of Guatemala.
We arrived here after moving around for days between Mexico, Tikal and Semuc Champey in the middle of October. On our way here we encountered a landslide, which haulted our trip for more than three hours along a crowded highway, where indigenous and Guatemalan people alike stood in amazement at the chunks of earth that had fallen over the road. After switching buses and walking through property, where we were charged a toll of $1Q (about 25 cents), we gladly settled into a hostel for two nights before moving in with a local Guatemalan family. Anna Maria, a short and stout Guatemalan woman who has lived in Antigua her entire life, was our homestay mother for a week while we studied Spanish at a local school.

Our homestay mother, Anna Maria.
Day after day we would get up to a nice warm-milk breakfast, with scrambled eggs and toast that Anna Maria had prepared for us before heading off to our morning classes. We studied and then returned for lunch before continuing on in the afternoon. Not only was this a great way to learn Spanish, but it was also a great way to get to know the people of Guatemala. Proud and enduring, the women of this country showed me more tolerance and acceptance than I've ever known women to face. With no option to leave the country, single mothers who's husbands have abandoned them raise children with such vigour, it makes our North American opportunities seem petty. Rosario, my Spanish teacher, told me of her struggle to raise two boys in Antigua, and she befriended me quickly. Anna Maria's family was so welcoming that at the end of our week-long stay, I didn't want to say goodbye.

The archway, classic Antigua crafts and a little girl with her bunny rabbit.
The women, and the people in Guatemala, are proud and strong. They endure a corrupt government and police force and still find time for family dinners, laughter. They welcome two Canadian strangers into their home without the least bit of hesitation.

Learning at our Spanish school,
with our teachers.
We toured the city and visited tiny shops, markets filled with Guatemalan quilts and toys, and indulged in banana splits night after night at a local ice cream shop. It was such a fun time to relax and see the city, which is surrounded by volcanoes. Thought to be the 'protectors' of Antigua, the volcanoes save the city and its inhabitants from peril and natural disaster while other cities often struggle from floods during the rainy season. That, and it's such an incredible sight that it's nearly impossible not to summit one of the surrounding volcanoes. Which we did, and of which the story is soon to come.

As I sat on the rooftop of my school one day, I looked out to the volcanoes that surround the city and noticed one was erupting smoke. The sun was shining, the teal-green walls of the school shone bright in the daylight, and it dawned on me that I absolutely love Guatemala.

The cobbled streets of Antigua, with the Antigua Cathedral and
the Patrimonio Archway in the centre of the city, with Volcan Agua
in the background.

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