My latest adventure – a trip to Antigua Guatemala – happened by accident. My husband and I traveled to our home in Belize for a few weeks, and since it was still “rainy season” we wanted to visit somewhere in Central America for a few days, a place that would enable us to practice our evolving Spanish language.
I’d heard a lot about Honduras and that is where we initially thought we would vacation. The weekend before we left Seattle, Wayne was visiting with one of his patients who was adamant that it would not be a good time for us to be in Honduras…particularly the way we planned to see the outskirts of the country — renting a car, and taking off on our own to explore the less visited mountains and ruins. Apparently Americans were being targeted and crime was on the rise. An internet search echoed these sentiments – urging American Nationals to stay in nice hotels or travel with a group…not our style at all.
Now what? Well, Antigua had been on my personal radar for a long time; I’d heard about the Spanish language schools, the historical sites, the friendly people. And this was “low” season so hotel rates and tours were quite affordable.
We booked air flights, found an old hotel that was a former monastery, and I downloaded a guide to the city. After packing a bag with some warmer clothing, off we flew – landing in Guatemala City in the evening.
I adored Antigua! I’d visit again if for no other reason than to practice my Spanish. We saw a lot, I loved the colors and the people…all good. The last day we booked a “tour” to transport us to the volcano for what was supposed to be an easy hike. A van picked us up downtown, and there were 10 others in the seats – all 30-somethings. Uh oh. Like Wayne said, we felt like chaperones.
The ride there took a lot longer than expected as there was a bad accident in the middle of the road. Our driver actually backed up for twelve blocks (YES, twelve) in the middle of honking traffic to find an alternate route. Finally, we arrived at the bottom of the trek. Several folks from the village there came up to us asking if we wanted a “taxi” (aka horse ride) to the top in lieu of hiking. We politely declined.
The march started at around 4pm and it was straight straight up – like a very steep inclined stair master – the path never leveled out and it just kept going and going. It took about 1 1/2 hours – I was sweating like never before. But we did it!
We elected to take a horse back down since the hike off the volcano was IN THE DARK – honest. They did have bad flashlights but even if it were daylight, it was so steep and rocky it would have taken me two or three hours to come down. Never mind Wayne’s recently repaired meniscus…the horse ride alone was hard for me and I hung on for dear life.
My horse was led by a woman, Wendy who appeared to be 50 but was 33 years old. She led the animal and walked so briskly in her plastic no-tread shoes. Unreal. I was just happy to get back in one piece. The rest of the younger folks came down just fine of course.
That night our hotel served a fantastic corn soup – silky smooth and made with fresh corn that was most likely pureed and put through a chinoise. In next week’s post I’ll share my corn soup recipe, nothing like theirs, but still good and easy and warming for winter.
The Central Market in Antigua, as always, provided entertainment for almost an entire day. My favorite section, of course, was not on the tourist path but rather featured vendors hawking native fruits, vegetables, and kitchenware. I bought a couple of “gavachas” or long handmade aprons that I saw native women wearing in each tiny village. And every time I wear my gavacha, I think about returning to Antigua.