Woman carrying firewood on her head on the cobblestone street

Guatemalan Diary – Part 1 – Antigua

My first adventure out of the country – February/March 2007.

Passport Woes

I applied for my passport the first week of December in plenty of time for my trip the last week of February. But my birth certificate got lost somewhere in the process. I eventually got a replacement about the same time the old one was found. By early February, three weeks before my trip, I knew I would need to spend a long day at the passport office in San Francisco to be certified to leave the country.

After all this trouble you would think I would hold on to it. But no. The second week of my trip I left it in a bank in Xela where I was trying in vain to change a travelers check into quetzales. I blithely left the bank without it and did not discover the error until three days later when I tried to get out of Guatemala and into El Salvador.

My stay in Guatemala lasted an extra three days while I got a replacement. The process might have been faster but the airport and the U. S. Embassy were closed because of the arrival of President Bush. I thoroughly enjoyed my extra “found” vacation time.

Week 1 – Antigua

Man carrying a cross in Lenten paradeI did not arrive on Saturday as I had planned. My flight was canceled because the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport was closed because of high winds.

I missed the first Sunday of Lent which in Antigua is celebrated with an elaborate parade through the streets. Brian was there though and you can get a taste of it from his picture.


Language School

Brian studying Spanish with his instructor at La UnionWe attended language school at La Union for four days. My marginal Spanish definitely improved and Brian, shown here with his teacher, brushed up on his competency.

We both feel the school was excellent and would recommend it highly.

 


Coffee Plantation

Coffee plants growing in the shade of tall treesWhile we were in Antigua we visited the local coffee plantation. The shade grown coffee is raised organically under a canopy of trees. The coffee plants are around five feet tall and each year each plant yields a five pound hand-picked harvest which, after several steps of drying, hull removal, and roasting, yields about one pound of coffee. And you wondered why it is so expensive!

Young coffee plants growing in containersYoung coffee plants are ready to plant out after a year of initial growth

A red coffeeberry ready to be pickedEach coffee flower becomes a coffee berry… which is handpicked when it turns red.

 

Large areas of coffee spread out in the sun to dry Men turning the coffee beans in large bins to insure the dry evenly The coffee is dried in a huge yard behind the company and is frequently turned by hand in bins as it continues to dry.


The City

Antiqua has a number of now picturesque ruins that are the result of an earlier disaster. (Guatemala is plagued with disasters. More on that later.)

Ruins of a church destroyed in an early earthquake

In 1773, a series of earthquakes destroyed much of the town. The Spanish Crown ordered (1776) the removal of the capital to a safer location, where Guatemala City, the modern capital of Guatemala, now stands. The badly damaged city was ordered abandoned, although not everyone left.

Woman carrying firewood on her head on the cobblestone streetA large semi turns into the street in contrast with the woman carrying firewood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “new” city is still reminiscent of an earlier time with cobblestone streets and people retrieving firewood from the surrounding mountains to cook their food. But the old ways are often overshadowed by the new. It is not only the smoke from thousands of stoves that dims the view of the nearby volcanoes and makes one long for a breath of clean air, it is the diesel belching from thousands old cars and buses.

Brian and I with our hosts Carlos and DeliaWhile we were in Antigua we stayed at the home of Delia Ramirez de Parada and Carlos Enrique Parada. They provided us with good food, fine company, and comfortable accommodations. We could not have asked for anything better.

The open courtyard in the middle of the house we stayed inThe entrance to their house is directly on the street (to the left in the photo of the courtyard). A covered tiled walkway runs along the side and back of an open courtyard. The bedrooms are off this side hall. This is a view from my room.

The back hall of the house we stayed inAt the end of the back hall there is a sink that serves for both the kitchen and the laundry. The door to the right is the bathroom. The next door is the kitchen and to the right (out of the photo) is the dining room.

The house has a tin roof. It is spacious, elegant and simple. It is the house Delia was born in. We would like to have stayed longer.