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.
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?
“For safety reasons, we'll need to go in groups of at least four to the cemetery,” our Spanish language teacher informed us.
“Why,” we wondered. “Are the dead coming back to life?”
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.
Some friends have suggested that we attach helmet cameras to our heads to give viewers the unabridged full monty version of our lives.
Trust us, you really don’t want to see all of it.
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.”
Sounded like a reasonable alternative.
Just as we turned to leave, the boat ticket salesman's voice rose, “Carretera. Banditos. Peligroso.” (Highway. Bandits. Dangerous.)
When Guatemala City and the town of Totonicapan both wound up our itinerary, several Guatemalans we spoke to wondered aloud: “Now why exactly are you going there again?“
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.
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.
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.
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.