September 04, 2006
Guatemala City Airport customs at six in the morning consisted of a small woman in the middle of baggage claim covering an exit path fifty yards side, darting from one bewildered luggaged zombie to the next, snatching pieces of paper from their conscious hands in a foreign version of wack-a-mole.
I wasn’t expecting magic upon landing; like any third world major city, you land and plan to escape to a smaller town as quickly as you can, a place where you can ground yourself and prepare for your ‘chosen journey.’
Antigua was an odd first stop, mainly because of the fact that it did not match any pre-conceived idea of how I visualized Guatemala……..nor was it reflective of anything else I’d see in the coming days.
While many European and American travelers love its western trimmings, it was as if Antigua had been drained of its natural culture and replaced with a fabricated and fastidious layer of tacky dress poorly sewn together. Misplaced, the delis, cafes and global cuisine were incongruent somehow, that left untouched might resemble an old east European town, one which thrived on housing the largest and most fruitful market.
Antigua’s heritage dates back to a 1524 Spanish settlement and its architecture and ruins are evidence of its antiquity. The sweet memory I walked away with was its beautiful ancient buildings, and charming central town square, where local men gathered in the morning to share a smoke and young children played – there was something incredibly intoxicating about the giggling sounds of children as they ran past……..language-less and a blessing in any part of the world.
The highly active Pacaya volcano is but a short ride or hike from Antigua, and at 2,250 meters, you can climb to the cone with a view of the sulphurous fumes in the near distance. Not unlike most active volcanoes, the best time to watch the eruptions were at night, when you can often see spouts of brilliant orange lava oozing out.
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