Sat 31 Jan - Mon2 February in Antigua
31 Jan 2015
Saw some of the group off to their various destinations and sat in the hotel's lovely gardens in the sun till midday reading up on the history before I finally put my Guatemalan guide book in the case.
Then went off into the centre to check out travel agents and successfully booked a cheap and effective way to get me to Puerto Barrios for Tuesday. They were so helpful, they also phoned ahead to my hotel to see if they could change the booking and also booked me a taxi pickup.
With that now settled, I found a recommended bagel cafe and had one with avocado salad on top. I set off for the ruins of El Carmen - all the churches and monasteries are ruins after the 1976 earthquake wiped out most of them leaving only facades. and broken bits. This is the charm of Antigua and they are attractive in their own way - some very Baroque and others a mix of architecture. On the side of El Carmen was in interesting indoor and outdoor traditional market so I picked up a couple of souvenirs, browsed the chocolate museum and Dona Luisa's house, now a nice looking restaurant noticing they serve vegetable soup and baked potatoes, before returning to the hotel at 4pm. Quick chat with a few people I bumped into and now time for a shower while it's still early and warm.
Feeling much better I decided to do two sights well. Santo Domino was a monastery but now a luxury hotel which you can visit. The grounds are beautifully laid out around the ruins and some hotel rooms are off the cloisters and in the monk's cell - I suppose more luxurious than the one I offer my guests at home. Visitors pay to see the museum so wandered out to Dona Luisa's to see how the baked potato was - very large and wonderful.
Strengthened for my next visit I went to the ruins of the Capuchin Convent which is the largest of the ruined complexes and enough is left for you to see more or less how they lived - a dark secret because they never emerged once inside. Being Sunday there were lots of locals around, some picnicking in the gardens and relaxed in the hot sun.
I did miss a photo opportunity which rather proved the point of how the Mayan's still live today, according to Marvin, our tour leader. In single file (but can blame them on narrow pavements) was a family comprising: Father in the lead, three children, wife with child on her back, another child - all seemed to be within a year of each other. Education, literacy and access to health care is still not available to all.
Yes, the weather has warmed up nicely - hot sun and the evenings are getting warmer too.
I went to eat with Di and Richard, two ex geography teachers from the group, and we had a very nice meal sitting in a patio courtyard. It was rather a nursery tea as we had gone at 5pm and back for bed at 7:15pm.
More of the group departed and tomorrow there will be nobody left - I am the first to leave at 7:30 so am having a final dinner with Di and Richard; Mark and Angie will still be up their volcano which they are visiting this afternoon.
Breakfast over and more goodbyes, I started to sort out things in my room and the set off for the travel agents to ensure that 7:30 was UK understanding of time and not Guatemalan. That done I revisited some of the jade stores as I was searching for something special for two upcoming birthday presents. In the end I got what I wanted specially make so was very happy with the solution and deserved food. I took myself to a falafel place and enjoyed two with rice and salad. Here the portions are incredibly large (lots of US visitors, perhaps) but this portion was just right and cost only £2. I was then able to return for juice and cake at the garden centre before returning to the hotel and, considering this was an empty day, was surprised to see it was already 4pm - only another two hours and I have to go to dinner again.
In summary and considering I have not been at my best during my stay here I have to say Antigua lives up to its reputation - charming, cobbled streets and therefore slow moving traffic, lots of restaurants and cafes and quite an enjoyable hangout. I could have been ill in far worse places! Now off to the Caribbean!