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Antiques in Antigua
Guatemala

(Betsy Parker)
(The antiques of this title are the members of our group...)

This morning, finally, I slept until a decent hour! All the way until 6:20! Gerry was awake and working on the computer as I opened my eyes. Boy did I feel rested. I got up and showered, waiting to use the computer to download my pictures and check my email.
Breakfast, for some reason, found us all cheerful and laughing. Poor Marshall is still not well and he couldn’t believe we could laugh so much so early in the morning.

By 9:00, Vinicio was here to pick us up for our walking tour. We got off to a pretty slow start, in the Parque Central, where we got a brief look at the buildings surrounding the plaza. John and Fran needed to change money and apparently the line in the bank was pretty long. But finally we’re off and running, and we started with a visit to the cathedral. The cathedral is odd because it was basically destroyed by The Big Earthquake of 1773 – the one that destroyed most of Antigua and caused the city to be evacuated and abandoned. Only the first chapel on the right of the main doorway remained standing and it is the present day church.

We wound our way through the church and exited into a "placita" at the side entrance of the original building. This is the entrance to the ruins. I visited these ruins on my own the first time I came to Antigua and found them so beautiful. My memory was accurate – it is still very evocative. There is less construction going on now than then, so some things were easier to see. I had brilliant blue skies for both visits, so I took many of the same pictures – the recreated arches soaring roofless to reveal that sky.

We visited the catacombs which are empty, and the chapel just under where the original altar was – which to this day is still a place that Mayans leave lit colored candles.

After the cathedral we headed out toward the St Francis the Great church (The church is “great” as in big. It is the same St. Francis.) Not a lot remains of the church, and the ruins are vast and interesting. On my previous trip I explored the ruins alone – seeing lots of interesting birds and plants. This time we concentrated more on the Hermano Pedro parts of the church. There is a hallway of miracles filled with plaques and thank you gifts from people who have been cured or helped by Hermano Pedro; a display of artifacts from his life; and in another location, the new tomb (he’s been moved around a lot.) He was declared a saint in 2002. In the area of the new tomb there are many places to pray, and prayers in many languages.

From San Francisco we walked toward the church and convent of Santa Clara. We didn’t go in. Just outside though is a lovely plaza with the “Union” or the public washing place at one end. Apparently it is still used today, though we did not see any evidence of recent use. It has a large fountain and then across the rear, under the cover of a roof, there are various washing stations (think laundry). All around the edges of the plaza were people selling food for "meriendas". Customers were few – either it was not yet the merienda moment or it had already passed. (A merienda is a mid-morning snack.)

We walked in the direction of Meson Panza Verde, because Gerry and I want to try to get some thumbergia seeds before we go home and we were told they could be purchased there. By now we were wandering back close to the main square and so went to the Café de la Condessa for lunch. I realized when we were leaving that that was the first place we took the Wayland kids for dinner two years ago.

After lunch, which was mercifully light, we headed up to the arch of Santa Catalina, the connection between the church and cloister for these cloistered nuns. It is the symbol of Antigua and very often photographed, with good reason. Our weather hasn’t been perfect for views of the volcanoes from Antigua, but if you’re lucky you can get some stunning photos of the arch and the volcano or the arch and the La Merced church – which was our next stop.

We did not visit the interior of La Merced – the façade is definitely the highlight. Vinicio pointed out the Mayan symbols all over the front of the church – and again, we are amazed that Christianity allowed such syncretism.

We did visit the ruins of the convent next door. The fountain is magnificent, and from the upper level I could show Gerry the school I attended 2 years ago as its grounds are right in the shadow of the ruins.

Now we’re off to visit the jade factory – an excuse to buy jade, but nevertheless an interesting and informative tour of the factory to learn how jade is mined and worked. I had plan to purchase a piece and I found something I really liked. The jeweler adjusted the neck piece for me as it was a little too big for my bird (complete with wattles) neck.

By now it was thundering and raining lightly – fortunately we were close to our hotel (one block away) and we just headed back to rest and recharge.

When I was here two years ago, I was struck by how friendly everyone is – not just the Guatemalans. Friendliness seems to be infectious – or Guatemala just attracts a certain type of person, because both times, I have met really interesting people in my hotels. This trip is no exception. Besides our investigator friend from NY who checks out people in order to assign a security clearance, there are two couples, friends, who met sailing. One couple lives on a sailboat in Panama and the other seems to dock their sail boat in Rio Dulce (?). I wasn’t quite sure but from the description that would be plausible. There is another couple here from New Mexico. In the evenings, we all seem to gravitate out of our rooms onto the veranda that surrounds the courtyard, and there we get into all kinds of interesting conversations. It is really an active scene on an evening when it is raining, as it is tonight.

Also because of the rain, we didn’t go far tonight for dinner- just basically to the establishment next door. It is a large house like the hotel is, but there are different businesses inside including a restaurant (which was awful). We were really hungry though because our lunch was so light – so we ate – but all vowed to never return and to tell 9 others, too.

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