Antigua was cobble stone and columns, steeples, church bells and raw weathered history. Juwels was going -Click-Click- crazy. We literally couldn't walk ten squares in the sidewalk, before I'd realize I lost her mid-sentence, like, "Where do you wanna to eat .. I read about this one place that-" And I'd turn around to find her frozen in front of a patch of exposed red brick or some giant set of wood doors.
Keep in mind that this was also our first few steps on Guatemalan soil aside from stepping into the ragged airport shuttle and then up the stairs to our room in Guatemala City, so I was still a little jumpy and overcautious. (none of which was necessary, btw) On more than a few occasions, I was sure we were being followed. "Are those the guys we saw back at the market?" I'd ask, noticing that they were coincidentally on the same foot path as us.
Juwels would pretend not to know what I was talking about. "What guys?"
I'd stop to "tie my shoes", and they'd pass by. Then I'd eye them for any physical signs of uncertainty or calculation. "Let's go into this shop," I'd say, quickly ducking into a random leathersmith's store or something.
In fact, this same method landed me into the overly perfumed waiting room of a tiny salon while Juwels got her legs waxed. We'd just gone to the bank of all places, and when we walked back out onto the street, I felt like I was on a hidden camera show.
As luck or irony would have it, the bank was in the town square, kitty-corner with the central park where hoards of people congregated. The shoe shine boys, the old blind man, the albino Guatemalan peddler with a baby tied to her back - all could be informants and coconspirators ... (Friendly Note: Don't worry, I didn't spend the whole trip in a primal Fight/Flight complex. And I think in some strange and theatrical way, my subconscious loves these twisted amplifications on ordinary life.)
"Let's go down this way." I said as we came off the bank steps.
"But," Juwles tugged away, "I wanted to take some pictures of the fountain in the park."
"Mmmmmm... too crowded." I said. "I want to see the city, let's go explore down this way," I pointed down an empty street which trailed off to nowhere in particular.
Juwles took my arm and we strolled along at a more than leisurely pace. I'd turn and twist this way and that, discretely peeking over my shoulder until we were completely lost.
"Oh, there's a salon," Juwels said. "Maybe I'll check them out after dinner and see what they offer..."
"Might as well take a look now," I said, wanting to escape down the rabbit hole for a few.
"This place is so cheap - look at the price on waxing." She said.
It was marked in Guatemalan Quetzals, and my brain balked at the idea of doing the conversion. "Let's go in and see if they have an opening," I said.
"Yeah - we're here, right? Might as well before we go down to the lake."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'll just hang out and read the Lonely Planet .. I think I could use a refresher on the dangers and annoyances section for Antigua." I smiled.
She looked down her nose at me.
"I'm just kidding .." I lied.
And before I knew it, there I was, on the other side of a colorful hand woven curtain, chatting with Juwels in between intervals of tearing sounds like Velcro, laughter, and hissed phrases in spanish that sounded strangely erotic to my untrained gringo ear. It took me the better part of a half hour to muster up the courage to ask if they had a bathroom, and when they referred me to some back-alley location between the buildings that I'd need a key to enter, I quickly settled back into my telescoping salon chair and buried my nose back in the book.
We caught a chariot-style motorcycle taxi back to the hotel where I offloaded the rest of the 2000 Q (about $200) we'd withdrawn from the bank. I stuffed it into the box spring through a slit in the fabric which no doubt had been opened by another savvy traveler. Afterwards, I negotiated the community showers down the hall .. which turned out like a game of musical chairs as I'd grab my Doctor Bronners soap and slink over to the next stall when mine went cold, or the shower head broke off onto the ground or my eye would spy a giant spider circling the drain. Luckily I was the only one in there, and like Goldilocks, I finally found the one that was "just right" ... well, for a while.
After a couple Papaya smoothies in the courtyard of our place .. and a wee cat nap, we were all charged up to take in the show : )
The front yard was never invented in Antigua. It's interesting because I was just having a discussion with my brother saying that front yards (at least in his neighborhood) seemed like a waste of space, and if that same land was added to the backyard, you could do so much more with it. Well, Antigua is a prime example of what happens if the walls and gates are built out to the sidewalk. It can feel a bit claustrophobic and cold with all the bared up windows and latched doors with heavy iron knockers, but there's also an element of mystery, knowing that many of those doors open up to tropical courtyards, fountains, and hanging fruit.
Here are a few little buddies we found in the courtyard of our hotel. This guy with his nose in the air, was not very fond of having his picture taken, and if the openings in the metal mesh were any larger, he would have eaten our zoom lens for breakfast. Oh he tried.
This was a circus squirrel. He loved to do back flips for the camera ... but as you can see in the last photo, I think he expected some kind of gratuity .. whoops, sorry buddy.
Love this new little camera we picked up (the Nikon Coolpix S9100).
This tiny car was actually moving through the shot, and it came out nice and clear!
The clay roof tiles on these buildings were little gardens in and of themselves .. after years of dust and dirt packed into the ridges where rain water flows, undigested seeds dropped by birds begat sprouting weeds, flowers and vines : )
They call these 'chicken buses' .. they're retired US school buses that somehow find their way down here and undergo super-bling makeovers with chrome and grills and shnazy paint jobs. They may look fun, and we even talked to a few travelers who'd taken them at length (they're cheaper than small shuttles, and many travelers find themselves obsessed with doing everything the cheapest way possible..) but we were warned to steer clear of these party wagons - for one, they get insanely crowed to the point where one might have to stand for six hours through the winding hillsides. They're also prone to breakdowns and frequently held up by roadside banditos with big guns .. so we chose the private shuttles for the extra 5 bucks ; ) Money well spent.
Pure Norman Rockwell right here -
everyone's eating ice cream in the warmth of the day.
Women carried these baskets on their heads all over the place, up and down stairs, through traffic, it was amazing to see the balance and strength they had.
When we came back through Antigua on our way out to the airpot, the right side of the waterworks was clogged up, and Juwels said, "Glad I got my picture last time !!" This fountain was the centerpiece of the Central Park. Blackbirds bathed and drank in the top tier of this splash pad ; )
The exposed red brick in this facade was beautiful .. we'll have to start a Flicker page, so we can post these bigger to show all the fine details.
Looking at these last two buildings, it almost seems like they're before and after shots. This city has roots all the way back to the mid 1500's, and destructive uprising after earthquake after uprising, it's a wonder there's still anything left of the old world for us to look at.
Overall, it was a walk through a living museum. A bit of a sensory overload, like a visual all-you-can-eat buffet of color and texture and taste. Our next destination was tucked away in the verdant hills - a giant volcanic crater full of blue water and lined with tropical villages. We'd set our sights for San Marcos, the little meditation, yoga, raw food community where we'd kick off our shoes and let down our guard. Just wait ; )
Thanks for reading, love,