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Skipping along the Skirt of Agua

The early morning looked like we were in for rain, but actually it warmed up as soon as the sun broke from the clouds and we had our first real t-shirt only day. After breakfast, Vinicio and Antonio picked us up and took us for a tour of the villages at the base of Volcan Agua. This is where the Spaniards erected their first capital (Ciudad Vieja) which was destroyed by a flood (Agua was filled with water back then). There are other little towns on the skirts of the volcano:

In the first town, the cathedral was under restoration, so we stopped a moment in the fountain square in front of the church. From there, we had a beautiful view of Antigua way down the valley on front of us.

The second town was San Pedro del Obispo. Today, by the way, is the Feast of the Ascension so there are masses in the cathedrals. In the first town we visited there were fireworks set up in the plaza…and the recently reopened and restored cathedral was full of worshippers. The interior of the church was lovely – decorated with lots of hanging cloth, and the light inside was a muted orange.

The fireworks were something to see. LOUD! There were these concussion things that just made noise – once when shot out of the tube on the ground and again, even louder, when they were up in the air. Then there was also a curious round, frame structure on a pole. The fireworks were attached all around it, and inside there were rockets with long sticks. When the thing was lit, it spun around as the firecrackers on the sides went off and then the rockets shot up into the air. Lots of smoke! I have pictures which show it only slightly better that I can describe it. The other highlight in this town was the public washing area, which we saw in use. There were probably a dozen women around the huge tank doing laundry and chatting. It really looked like hard work, no matter how romantically you describe it as a social occasion for the women of the town to gossip…

The third town we visited was Ciudad Viejo. There was also a mass in progress, and the fireworks set up in the plaza, but we didn’t get to stay and see it again (prepared to take pictures this time) because it was too early in the mass. The cathedral was not as lovely inside as the first one we saw, but the exterior was white and yellow which, against the blue sky, was very pretty. It was the only building that remained standing after the flood. Apparently the governor’s wife had every building in the town painted black, in mourning for her husband who had died two months earlier, except the cathedral. When the flood came it was the only building that was untouched. Coincidence? Local people think not.

We also saw a portion of the chapel from the governor’s residence where his wife and court all died in the flood. The grounds of the chapel ruin are surrounded by a municipal school and the municipal buildings. We saw lots of school kids, of all ages, at play. It was a happy and lively scene around that gloomy ruin.

Our forth stop was at an organic macadamia nut farm (Valhalla). It is an interesting (if not odd) American fellow who runs it. He is pretty passionate about organic farming and is working to establish a sustainable crop for the natives who currently rely on slash and burn farming. In other places, we have seen efforts to prevent the chopping down of trees for both heating and cooking.

At the farm, we got to see the processing of the nuts – all done in such a way that a farmer could duplicate the process without a lot of chemicals or electricity. We got to taste the nuts, which were delicious, and true to the hype, quite a bit different from the regular old nuts we taste all the time. Macadamia nuts are grown in Guatemala on large farms for mass consumption, with non-organic methods, too, but they are not a native crop of the country.

We were treated (for a tip) to a facial with macadamia nut oil and cream and we, naturally, could buy at the gift shop.

Our last stop was another village, San Antonio Aguas Calientes,with a crafts market and a pretty town square. I got some essential shopping done – gifts for the kids and the “girls” in the office.

Then it was back to the hotel (today was a half day tour) where we met Sara, a friend from San Juan who now lives in Guatemala City. We all went to lunch at Meson Panza Verde, her favorite restaurant and hotel in Antigua. You can see why when you walk in. Although the building is not old, it was built in the old style and looks as if it were. We had a delicious lunch in the restaurant – very intimate and romantic with various types of settings to choose from. The food was wonderful.

By the way, Marshall is better today and was able to join us on our excursions to the villages during the morning. He was also able to walk from the hotel to the restaurant, which isn’t an insignificant distance over those cobblestones. But after lunch, he and Juanita took Sara up on her offer to have her drivers drop them off at the hotel so they wouldn’t have to walk back. It was pretty toasty under that sun, too.
Their point of departure was a café and "vivero" – a plant store – just about a block further from the restaurant. Gerry and I were interested in going there to find out if we could get seeds for the Thumbergia (we couldn’t). The place was beautiful with flowers and we did enjoy looking at all the plants – many of the same ones we have in Puerto Rico.

Fran, Joanne, John, Gerry and I walked slowly back to the hotel, with a brief stop in the shops around the Parque Central to buy a little gift for Anita and Mike, to whose house we will go for cocktails tomorrow night in Guatemala City. We purchased a box made of hand-made paper – something we hope they will enjoy since it is quite different from everything else we are tempted to buy here.

John, Gerry and Fran then headed to the hotel and Joanne and I wandered in and out of shops along our street. I was looking for a blouse for Maria de los Angeles, the daughter of a friend, who had requested I try to find something for her to give her daughter since they could not come on the trip. Maria was adopted from Guatemala and her mother encourages her ties to her native country.

After a short stop at the hotel, Gerry and I went next door (where the awful restaurant is) to call our kids. We spent about 40 minutes on the phone catching up with them on the cat and their trip to Wisconsin (they leave tomorrow). I didn’t realize how much I missed them until I heard their voices.

When we got back to the hotel again, Joanne and I went to her room to do some emailing about our social plans. Juanita came over too and we were working out the tips, when the ground began to shake! At first it didn’t feel like much more than a truck rumbling by, but when it didn’t stop (and there was no sound of a truck) we started to laugh at the rocking. Joanne was face down on her bed an didn’t feel it so she thought Juanita and I were crazy. Then, a major shake! We all ran outside as did everyone else in the hotel. Outside is really into the courtyard, not out onto the street. We were all pretty amazed and laughing but wary of another tremor…which didn’t come. (5.2 magnitude)

Then, another dinner close to the hotel, as it is raining tonight too…this time in the bakery a couple of doors down – the one with the torturous smell of freshly baked bread! It was a light dinner – since we had had such a big lunch with Sara.

Then, as usual, early to bed. Tomorrow we head to Guatemala City for the day, and Saturday we’re up really early (hasn’t been a problem for me) to fly to Peten.

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