Well, finally, I am putting up my travel report of my trip to Guatemala. I decided to go since many of my pro bono clients (immigrant children) speak only Spanish. so, I attended two weeks of Spanish school. While I am nowhere near fluent in Spanish, it has improved in leaps and bounds. Not only can I now say that my name is Aaron, but can also ask from which country is Juan. Pretty impressive, huh?
Anyhoo, my Spanish school was in Antigua, Guatemala. With over 75 schools in the little town to choose from, it seemed like a good place to go. I didn't know what to expect when I signed up for the program. I had been to Nicaragua before and did a little work at an orphanage. Needless to say, since Antigua is an international tourist destination, it was worlds apart from Granada, Nicaragua.
I can't express how beautiful the city was. It was the original capital of Guatemala, but after several earthquakes in the 1500's, the capital was moved to another location. What made the Spaniards place the capital in the middle of three volcanoes in the first place is still a mystery to me.
The town center was beautiful and quite relaxing on any of the picture perfect weather days that persisted throughout the two weeks
Just in case you can't quite make out what is on the fountain, here is a close up for you.
At one end of the central park was the cathedral.
Lit up at night, it was even better.
On the first weekend, I traveled to Lake Atitlan, where you can take small ferry boats to the other towns that ring the lake (which is ringed with more volcanoes)
The next day, I ascended the volcano Agua. After a 5 hour hike up the side, we arrived at the top which greeted us with breath taking views of the county for hundreds of miles as we rested our weary legs above cloud level
This is a camp about half way up. Locals haul up water and snacks to sell to the tourists climbing the volcano.
Most of our travel was done on the world famous (or infamous) chicken buses. All the school buses from the 70's and 80's now make their home in Central and South America. While these buses are perfect for Guatemalans who tend to be rather short in stature, then were a little more difficult to fit my long legs in any comfortable position.
During the week, I used these buses to visit some near by towns. In San Andreas, we viewed the locals praying to the patron saint of the town, St. Simon. The cult of St. Simon tended to be more on the Santeria side, where they would make offerings of alcohol and money, and burn candles of different colors in return for prosperity, health and happiness. Apparently at this shrine, a woman once gave birth to a very large frog.
I also visited San Antonio where I was treated to a light dinner made by the locals. The chicken soup was amazing.
I am not sure how it happened, but I think I somehow got married a little prior to dinner.
Due to the earthquakes in the 6th and 18th centuries, the city of Antigua is littered with the ruins of the ancient churches erected when Antigua was the social and spiritual capital of Central America
And while the outside of the houses in Antigua may be not always be the best in the world to look at, behind lays some of the most beautiful courtyards I have ever seen.
For the final weekend, I flew to Tikal, which is the ancient center of the Mayan empire. Much of the former capital is still covered by rainforest, but the parts they have uncovered give a glimpse into what the ancient city would have looked like.
For my final day, I climbed another volcano. This time it was Pacaya, which is still active.
So, to say that I enjoyed myself would be an understatement. For anyone looking for a vacation that will give you something more than just a week on the beach, I recommend visiting Guatemala. Not only is it extremely beautiful, it will also make you appreciate what you do have even more. Once you make your way out of Antigua, you see the abject poverty of most of the rural population. The locals do everything they can to make you feel welcome and at home because without tourism, they know that their economy would collapse. I would have no hesitation in returning to Antigua again.