Amidst Piles of Freshness: Antigua Central Market, Guatemala

Antigua fresh market, a taste of local life.

As we take off for Central America (this time to Costa Rica), we think back to our first visit to the region a couple of years ago: Antigua, Guatemala.

Although Antigua has a reputation for being touristy, we found that it wasn't too difficult to get lost and find a slice of authentic Guatemalan life. One of our favorite places to do this: Antigua's central market.

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Visiting the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, Guatemala

Great Mayan ruins at Tikal, Guatemala.

Stand in the middle of the Grand Plaza between Temple I and Temple II at Tikal, Guatemala and imagine what life must have been like in this Mayan city over 1,200 years ago when Tikal was at its peak. The size of the temples and surrounding acropolis indicate that this must have been a rich and sophisticated city-state. Yet the ruins are only partially exposed and understood, as thick rain forest still covers most of the park.

And the grand mystery remains: Why was Tikal abandoned in 900 AD?

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Livingston: The Other Side of Guatemala

Descendants of shipwrecked slaves from Nigeria; Jerry Garcia's rumored Caribbean seaside bungalow hideout; warrior dances (see video below) and turtle shell drums; echoes of an accented pigeon pidgin English that smacks of Jamaica; and a remarkable coconut seafood soup called tapado.

This is Livingston, home of the Garifuna. This is the other side of Guatemala.

Garifuna Music and Dancing - Livingston, Guatemala
A family affair at Rasta Mesa.

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A Road Trip, Some Banditos, and a Dose of Fear

There we were at the dock in San Pedro bargaining for a boat to Santiago. The price seemed prohibitively high for a whimsical afternoon side trip on Lake Atitlan. Natasha, another traveler hoping to take the same boat, also questioned the price.

You know, I have a car here. We could drive. You can just give me some gas money.

Tuk Tuk Struggling Up the Hill - Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Struggling up the hills near Lake Atitlan.

Sounded like a reasonable alternative.

Just as we turned to leave, the boat ticket salesman's voice rose, “Carretera. Banditos. Peligroso.” (Highway. Bandits. Dangerous.)

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Life Happened on the Way to the Piñata Factory

The other day we broke down in Guatemala City — in front of a piñata factory no less.

I helped push the stalled PT Cruiser whose motor had knocked, pinged and spoken of better days. Back then forward, we rolled the car out of traffic and into a parking lot.

Guatemala City is notorious for guns, violence, drugs, blighted neighborhoods and danger lurking around every corner. And there we were in a sketchy little parking lot in the middle of the city at dusk.

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Holy Guacamole, It’s Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala!

Sawdust carpets adorned with brightly-colored designs and cut fruit line the streets, giant carved floats sway on the backs of local men and women, and depressing dirges creep out of battered horns. Ceremony is high with marching Roman soldiers and elaborate crucifixion ceremonies as Guatemalan communities come together to mourn Jesus' crucifixion and celebrate his resurrection and the close of Lent.

Alfombra in Fisheye, Semana Santa - Antigua, Guatemala
Admiring the alfombra. Semana Santa in Antigua, Guatemala.

This is Semana Santa (Holy Week). And in Guatemala, no place takes to the occasion like the town of Antigua. We've never experienced a lead-up to Easter quite like it. The slideshow and video below show why.

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Guatemalan Pepian: Please Try This at Home

Learning a new language is great, but doing so through the lens of food and markets strikes us as ideal. So when the topic of Guatemalan cuisine came up during our Spanish lessons (day two, as we steered each of our instructors there fairly quickly), we seized the opportunity and asked if one of our sessions could double as a cooking class. You'll see the results in the video and recipe below.

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