Guatemala is bathed in bright colors – from the tropical greens to the blue sky to the traditional clothing which covers the full spectrum of the rainbow. We are now in Antigua, which as its name implies, is an ancient town under the protection or menace of a nearby volcano.
We are being hosted by Tara Tours, a Florida-based travel agency specializing in Central and South America, and we meet our two group coordinators, our well-spoken guide and 7 other travelers from across the U.S. First event this morning was a walk around the historical section of Guatemala City, Spanish-style plazas with a series of classic majestic government buildings around a square, many built by Jorge Ubico. As a powerful dictator during the 1930’s and 40’s, Jorge invested in some beautiful structures requiring all of them to have 5 windows in the center to match the 5 letters in his first and last name. Some people have larger egos than others.
We walked through a Sunday market selling local food and a main street crowded with young people, including a barber college where people can come for free haircuts while the students stand around to learn the craft.
The clothing is incredibly diverse – from the newest style clothes for Gen Z to women wearing sarong-type skirts in finely woven traditional textiles in bright color with blaring embroidered tops. Nuts of many kinds are on sale from carts as are other snacks. Facing the main cathedral is a moving memorial to 42 young girls killed in an orphanage fire.
But more interesting than the large churches, is a unique private church built in the beginning of the 20th century as a response to prayers which saved the wealthy Yurrita family during a volcanic eruption near its coffee plantation holdings.
As it is Sunday, there is very bad traffic on our way to Antigua and when we arrive we are amazed to find a large festival going on in the main square: For the November 1 Day of the Dead, local towns build elaborate circular paper sculptures which they can only translate into English as “kites” although they don’t fly in the sky but are securely moored by bamboo scaffolding. Afterwards, these Kites are brought together for a continued festival in this larger town square. We have beautiful weather and that is very fortunate as we can see any rain would destroy the artwork and any strong wind could topple the balanced structure.
Vendors flood all spaces, selling hats, jewelry, bags, and many carts selling Helados, or ice cream. Everything can be negotiated in Quetzels, the local currency, or U.S. dollars, accepted everywhere but only if without a single tear. Babes in arms abound as well as youngsters with bright orange ice cream cones with a red topping. These are mainly Guatemalan visitors. But the tourist souvenirs are not cheap.
After lunch and checking into the beautiful Hotel Camino Real, Marge and I walk around town and enjoy the ambience. Antigua is in fact similar to other latin american classic towns and reminds me of San Pedro de Atacama in Chile which I understand is similar to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. Straight streets with mud-brick one story buildings often with balconies protruding out and almost all street level windows have ironwork grates for security, and in this town almost every open door leads to a small restaurant or store. All the streets have large uneven cobblestones making it an uneven surface for walking and the slightly raised sidewalks which are slightly more level are broken up by grates and drains. But everywhere it is clean and unlittered except from the visitors for this festive day.
As dusk appoaches, the huge paper constructions are taken down. with teams of young men dismantling the complex bamboo bracing structures. We saw one dismantled circular “kite”, folded up and ready for another place or another year.
We walk down one street which has, subtly titled outside to not counteract the town character, a Burger King, Taco Bell, MacDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts. Our American exports are everywhere.
It is now almost dark and large crowds of people are at the open air eating stalls at the end of town and long lines of cars wait to exit for home. Marge and I walk to a vegetarian restaurant (with many vegan options) and have an excellent meal. We are tired and ready to sleep in our large luxurious beds.