Mandy and Jon's Journey 2005 travel blog

One gets lost easily amongst the beauty and enormity of the Antigua...

A stroll down the streets of Antigua, with the beautiful mix of...

Some of the beautiful architecture, and the looming volcano in the background

A weaver in the artisans market allowed us this photo. Utterly amazing...

El parque central, and the cathedral, whose insides were destroyed in an...

JQ.. with a little scruff.

MJ and our amigo, Oscar, the largest producer of chiles in Central...

Tight security for Coke in this city.

We busted out of San Jose, Costa Rica in the predawn on a Monday morning and by mid-afternoon we were lost in the labrynth they call a market in Antigua, Guatemala. Not too shabby for a couple of suburban escapees who lived down the road from eachother for ten years before having the good sense to get together for a date one night.

The details that have been skipped over so far include a very nice reunion with fellow Caper, Annie Ornatek, on the eve of our departure. This chance meet was made all the more wonderful by an even more unlikely rendezvous with our old friends Quinn and Max (from San Francisco), who spotted us walking down Avenida Central in San Jose the very same day. All parties enjoyed a festive reunion-slash-mixer at a chinese bar where we watched from, the corner of our eyes, the New England Patriots win a second super bowl.

Also skipped was the unmanned horse we witnessed trotting up the street ramp to the International Departures entrance at the San Jose airport. Jon tried to snap a photo, but the horse was quick, and must have had his papers in order, to pass so quickly through curbside checkin. This was reminiscent of those wandering moose who end up in the Old Port from time to time. Also skipped was the over-priced egg sanwiches for sale in the international terminal, the strength it took to disregard the dutyfree shops, the nice couple we met, the powerful views of black volcanoes rising from the Guatemalan landscape as we approached Guatemala City by air, the rough landing, the pleasant calm of the Guatemalan airport, the very helpful tourist information officer, the decision to brave the inner city bus system in the most notoriously insane city in all of Central America (no offence Mexico City), the fact that much of this city is really only a series of bridal wedding shops positioned one after the other, the ease with which we caught our first chicken bus (it honked, we skipped, it slowed, we hopped on), and finally, our dusty arrival in Antigua.

... After finding our way out of the market on that first day we did our best to learn our way around. Like Granada, Nicaragua some weeks ago, Antigua is one of those colonial cities that people (especially tourists) love to hate. Or hate to love - depending. It is more beautiful than other cities in the country, (of course, we had only Guat to compare it at this point), and like any pretty and popular girl in high school this elicits strong reactions. You hate it because you know its receiving special attention that for whatever reason the other towns don't get. (They drain and scrub the fountain in the town square every friday, for instance.) You love it, however, because the fountain is wonderfully clean and the water that comes out of the statue's boobs is clean and clear. You love it because down every street is a cozy surprise cafe, or an English bookshop, or a dog sitting in an open window, or a church whose bell tower window frames a volcano, and all the streets are cobbled with stone and even the McDonalds (like in Freeport, Maine) has been forced to align itself with the asthetic zoning laws. Of course, you hate it much for the same reasons, which makes your enjoyment of it a little precarious, but only a little. The food is good, the place is safe, and although the tourists seem to outnumber the locals 2 to 1, you remember how fun it was to bad mouth tourists in Maine when you were waiting tables and you think of the fun these locals must have at the multitudes expense.

We plan to return to Antigua several times during our time in Guatemala, and it seems the proper place to make home base. We decide to leave a bag here so as to travel light. We meet good people in Antigua and although it is the most expensive place in Guatemala we are getting by on less than we were in the south. Many people come to Guatemala to study Spanish and Antigua often feels like a big campus were white people from around the world come to learn how to roll their R's and bargain for handicrafts, but we decide to like this place not for its overwhelming charm, or in protest against those who hate her for her beauty alone, but because some places are how you wished all places would be, and even if Antigua's homogeny and gringofication is offensive to many, it seems offensive to be always so easily offended by a town that sits in the shadow of a huge volcano.

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