Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Inland to Guatemala City and La Antigua

With friends John and Lisa on s/v Morning Star and Allan and Marsha on s/v Free Spirit Too, we caught the 8am Litigua bus from the Rio Dulce to Guatemala City. It was Saturday, September 20th. We’d heard awful stories about Guatemala City and the various zones: don’t go to certain zones because they’re rough neighborhoods and stories were told that jewelry will be yanked right off the ladies, don’t ride the red bus because they are often hi-jacked, don’t go out at night or you may be robbed, be cautious of the taxi drivers because they’ll charge gringos double or even triple the going rates. There may be some truth to all these things and it’s certainly wise to always be cautious, however, Jimi and I refer to the people with the stories as alarmists.

We were out at night, but close to our hotel and we did ride the red bus. We felt totally safe doing so. Some precautions we did take were I wore no jewelry, even my wedding ring came off; although, Jimi wore his. We were out at night only to walk back to our hotel from dinner and we had a highly recommended, English speaking, fare agreed to in advance taxi driver to take us from the bus station to the hotel.

Our hotel was an average place close to many American restaurants like Hard Rock CafĂ© and Starbucks.  Dozens of other American businesses reside in Guatemala City like Radio Shack, Office Max, Wal-Mart and McDonalds just to name a few.

On the five hour bus ride there, Jimi realized he’d left his camera battery on the charger. So after dropping our bags at the hotel we set out on foot to locate a camera store.  The desk clerk told us of a Radio Shack and how to get there. Somewhere we took a wrong turn, walking around aimlessly until a little old man came up to us. He asked us, in English, where we were from and seemed genuinely happy to have the opportunity to speak in English. His name is Mario. Mario said he lived in the U.S. for a while as a child and is now an elementary school teacher in a surrounding town. He walked with us, as we all made small talk. He took us to a store called Max, but no batteries. Then we went to Radio Shack, again no batteries. We went to a few other stores, all within walking distance and no luck on the battery. We had a really nice time talking to him. Finally he said lets go have a coffee and we were delighted. He took us to a nearby mall, Jimi and I ordered our coffees and Mario spoke with the waiter in Spanish, so we’d assumed he also ordered a coffee. But when the order came back the man hadn’t ordered coffee at all. It was about that time that we realized he’d been hacking and coughing up a storm. Then Mario began his spiel. He wanted money from us. Jimi told him we would buy him a coffee, but would give him no money. Mario tried for about fifteen minutes before he abruptly got up and left without saying another word. Mario shared one thing with us though – his flu bug. About three dayd later Jimi became sick and about three days after Jimi I became sick. It’s been miserable on both of us. That was, essentially, our first experience in Guatemala City.

The following day the six of us walked a ways. John and Lisa turned around when they realized we’d planned to walk a couple of miles. It was great taking in the big city sites and architecture.  We were headed for Parque Central (Central park) where natives dress in their best clothes hoping for a suitor. And nearby is an underground market not to be missed. The further we walked we began seeing people in orange t-shirts. Everyone, except us, had on an orange t-shirt and the sidewalks were becoming quite crowded. Turns out there were no natives on this day, but instead there was a political rally of some sort. Flyers filled the streets, flags flew all around the building tops and Parque Central was packed with people in orange t-shirts. The streets were so crowded we had to wiggle our way through the crowds. A man on a loud speaker yelled his political messages to the crowd and the people cheered. Vendors lined the streets each selling their own trade. If nothing else, it was an experience.
The six of us beginning our walk in Guatemala city.

U.S. Embassy Building in Guatemala City

Ministry of Defense building in Guatemala City.

An ornate church.

Some of the buses that brought people from surrounding areas to the political rally.

     Jimi stood out like a sore thumb: he's much taller than everyone
else and wearing a white t-shirt.

The crowd of orange. All four of us wished we could have an orange t-shirt.

Even the birds gathered for the rally.

Flags were hung everywhere.

We then went in search for the underground market, which we found only a few blocks away. This visual sensory overload  was lined with booths and people selling handmade potteries, purses, blankets, baskets, wood carvings, spices, fresh meats and just about anything you can think of. Half a flight up we found the food court. After doing a three-sixty we decided on a place and sat down to eat. A full true Guatemalan meal . We ate the Pollo Frito, which is a chicken plate. Perfectly baked with seasonings, corn tortilla shells, some type of vegetable salad and rice.
My lunch.

One eating place in the underground market.

Some of the fresh meats for sale in the underground market.

Instead of heading back to the hotel, we decided to continue on to the large 3D map we’d heard about. After all it was only another mile. When we got there we were told there was a price for admission and we opted not to pay, mostly because the rivers on the map were out of order.  Now, we had a four mile walk back and we weren’t looking forward to it. Just in front of us were a line of red busses waiting for passengers. All four of us had the same thought; we chose the bus going in our direction and got on. The cost of a red bus was 25 cents per person.
Ewww - the red bus - scary.

It dropped us off near the connection point to get on the green bus. There were long lines for this bus. The cost was 12 cents per person. Actually getting on the bus was a challenge though; we were crammed in like sardines. Five stops later we got off and walked back to our hotel.
Monday morning John, Lisa, Allan and Marsha shared a taxi to La Antigua while Jimi and I took a shuttle and  we were off again. The ride was just about an hour.

La Antigua means Old Guatemala. At one time it was the capitol for Guatemala. The capitol was moved because of the unstable grounds caused by earth quakes and volcanoes. There are still a few active volcanoes around the city, they spit and sputter smoke daily but nothing has erupted for a few years.  We’ve been told that in higher grounds lava still flows underground. The streets and sidewalks are made of cobblestone and nothing is flat. Earthquakes over the years have changed the shape of the streets and played havoc on the plumbing. To watch the tut-tuts and scooters drive on the streets was comical; it’s quite a bumpy ride.
One street in Antigua.

Tut-tut bouncing on the cobblestone road.

We stayed seven nights in the home of a family who listed four rooms for rent on the AirBnB website. The house was remodeled only a few years ago with an aged antique feel. The entire front of the house opens to allow for parking their car in a portion of the livingroom. John and Lisa occupied room #1 and Jimi and I had room #4. Marsha and Allan stayed at a hostal just down the street from us. Two single men, one from Switzerland and one from Nederland, occupied room numbers 2 and 3. They’re staying for a month and going to Spanish school. The rooms were upstairs. Just outside our rooms was a garden area with a table and chairs and a beautiful view of the volcano.
The view of the volcano from our terrace.

The terrace. All four rooms exit to this patio area, which is also the roof of the living room.

Our bathroom and bedroom (room #4).

The city is twelve blocks by twelve blocks and very easy to get around, especially if you like walking. We walked everywhere. We visited all the churches and ruins we could. Some were free and some we had to pay. One admission price was 65 cents and another was 12 cents. The food was expensive unless you could fine the locals joints, which we did for lunch. We ate lunch every  day on the roof of a family owned restaurant.  They made a wonderful burrito for $2.58 or you could opt for the daily special, which, different every day, was a three course meal, drink included also for $2.58.
Mayans are bused in everyday and would wander the streets trying to sell their homemade goods to the tourists. We bought a few. Just about everywhere we went there was either a market with goods for sale or someone walking the street imploring we buy something. It’s their only bread and butter and I don’t blame them.

One of our lunches with John and Lisa.

Enjoying our time in Antigua.

She's really trying hard to get me to buy something.

Two way and one way road signs.

Looking out our room.

At the oldest church in Antigua. It was rebuild several times after damage from earthquakes and volcano eruptions. Now it is a ruin.

Jimi found this yummy food stand set up on the church grounds on Sunday. 
We ate a wonderful meal for $1.25 each.

Largely known as a chicken bus. This is the locals long distance way of traveling. 
They are actually old school buses from the United States.

Jimi and John in Antigua.

The outskirts of Parque Central.

A fountain in the middle off pargue central.

Legend has it there were three daughters of a Spaniard that refused to breastfeed their babies.
They were immortalized in this fountain.

John and Lisa are surrounded with Mayans trying to get them to buy something.

Another church ruins.

Pushing through his cold, Jimi still set out with the camera (he used mine), and as you can see here got some amazing shots. We did just about everything we could do without spending too much money.
Jimi captured this photo of  a man sleeping in a doorway.

Sick, Jimi went our at 6am to get this photo before the streets became populated with people and cars.

The volcano is quite close. 

This boy was selling hand painted balls.

Most of the women carry things on their heads.

Here's the gathering spot for the chicken buses and the volcano in the background.

A a shoe shine is 65 cents.

John and Lisa in front of the arch.

It must be break time.

Traditional ware.

Cobblestone streets.

Monday the 29th of September we took the bus back to our beloved Sanibel. By this time  Jimi was mostly recovered from his cold and I was on my third day. It was a long trip. The weather in Antigua was cool, almost cold. A beautiful 70 degrees during the day and 50 degrees at night, but when it rained, which it did often, it felt much cooler. When we stepped off the bus in the Rio, we were slapped in the face with the hot heavy air we’d left behind ten days prior. Even though it was dark, within thirty minutes our clothes were drenched. Still we were happy to be home.

I’ve struggled with my coughing fits, aches and pains and pounding headaches the entire past week. Jimi has struggled with not having his wife at 100%. I’m on the upswing and hope to be back to normal in a few days.

In two weeks we’ll travel by bus to San Pedro, Honduras where we will catch an airplane to the U.S. We’ll be home for seven weeks and we can hardly wait to see our family and friends.