It’s Saturday and it seems everyone visits Antigua on the weekend. The streets teem with cars and motorbikes. Weekenders from Guatemala City mix with foreign tourists while local hawkers peddle their wares. Navigating the uneven sidewalks and cobblestone streets take skill but paying too much attention to one’s feet can result in a head injury from the wrought iron balconies that extend at a perilously low angle for gringos – or what my husband refers to as “the revenge of the Maya”.
Our guide takes us to numerous churches, convents, monasteries and Spanish colonial government buildings all in various stages of ruin or repair. The ruined ones are the most impressive with mist-shrouded volcanoes in the background and colorful hawkers in the foreground. As always, our guide walks a fine line on political correctness. He speaks of the Spanish conquest in terms of a melding of the best of the Old World with that of the New. “We gave them tomatoes, chocolate, corn...” The only spark was ignited at San Francisco Church when he mentioned that the notorious conquistador, Alvorado, was buried there, and my husband remarked, “Why would they let him in here?” Our guide gleefully whispered that long ago, according to popular rumor, his body was exhumed and burned.
While Antigua is well worth the visit, the highlights of our trip were experienced in the countryside – at the weekly Chichicastenago market followed by a few days near Santiago Atitlan where we went on a horseback ride up through coffee plantations to an impressive view of Lake Atitlan. Our hosts were two American expats who came to Guatemala over 25 years ago and eked out a life in the midst of civil war. Their ranch is made from rock with a safe house on the lower floor built to withstand mortars. Now, that the troubles have ended, they make a living leading horseback and hiking trips.
If one word could describe Guatemala, it would be color. It’s not just the flowers and rolling hills and violet blue lakes. It’s also the amazing array of textiles and masks in the local markets. Color is everywhere, even in the Mayan cemeteries. Each region has its own textile designs and color palette. Color, culture, and stunning natural beauty all come together in Guatemala.