Antigua Guatemala was Guatemala’s second capital city (after Ciudad Vieja, before the current Guatemala City). Capital status was passed to Antigua after the devastating earthquake/mudslide in nearby Ciudad Vieja in 1541. Antigua remained the Spanish capital for 233 years, from 1543 to 1776. The desertion of Antigua in favor of Guatemala City was inspired by the earthquakes of 1773, which were the most destructive in an era of bad quakes.
The sudden withdrawal of economic influence and resources in the late 1700′s virtually froze Antigua in time. The original colonial architecture predominates, including abandoned earthquake ruins. The city was declared a World Heritage Site in 1979 and the government has invested wisely in its protection and maintenance.
The city lives under the constant watch of three volcanoes; Agua to the south (pictured), Fuego and Acatenango to the west. It’s not unusual to see a gnarly plume of smoke reaching up from Volcán Fuego in the morning or glowing red at night.
Antigua is a popular destination for tourists and expatriates. When the streets and central plaza are filled with the day’s traffic, you can catch the international milieu in the mingling Spanish, French, German, English, and Mayan conversations.
Antigua is also an important R&R destination for Peace Corps volunteers.

On the third, we returned from the field for an all-volunteer conference at headquarters. Our modest but widespread community converged on the city’s affordable hostels; small rooms and small beds to rest strange but generous foreign heads.
We had workshops on food security, immigration, and municipal government. This serious exercise in continuing education was not only good for work, it was sufficient justification for Independence Day’s serious exercise in conviviality.

For me, this marks six months complete in-country and three months in-site. This was also my first real trip out of site since my arrival.
I travel back and forth between my site and Cobán weekly for food, water, and mail, but it’s a short trip. The road to the city is so bad that the shuttle never gets above 15 miles per hour. For three months this was the norm for me.
So I boarded the bus to Antigua without suspecting anything was different. But as the bus left Cobán’s one-way streets behind and turned south toward Tactic, I noticed a dangerous acceleration. Suddenly the bus was hurtling down the highway at a blistering speed. I saw or imagined the faint red glow of atmospheric friction across the outside of the van as we streaked down the paved meteor trail. So I turned to Tex and asked in my most unpanicked voice if we were going a little bit fast.
“Fast? I don’t think so… I think this is a normal highway speed.”
Clearly Mr. Yeager here did not understand the unnatural danger of fifty-mile-per-hour travel.

I went to visit a friend in the city. When he stepped out to speak with someone, I started looking for the restroom. I couldn’t find it. I searched every logical place and even a few illogical ones. When he came back I asked where the bathroom was. When he told me it was indoors, I realized that it hadn’t occurred to me that the bathroom might be inside the house.

We spent half the week in Antigua. We had a Fourth party for volunteers and staff in San Lucas with hamburgers and hot dogs. We had soccer balls, frisbees and potato salad. We were under the tent for the talent show when the rain started. But the rain couldn’t diminish our dance party in defiance of George III at the end. It was an event that would have impressed Washington (paternal bureaucracy and founding father alike). And the ride back seemed even faster.

2 Responses to “Antigua”

  1. Juliette Says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Haven’t forgotten about you way down there in Guate, nor have I forgotten about my promise to expound upon my uninformed theories of cultural dissonance to you. As you probably know from talking to Taylor, it’s been crazy busy getting ready for the move and tying up loose ends here in Richmond. Will write more soon!

    Hope you’re well. Don’t stop posting!


  2. jose valencia Says:

    this is in a lot of points of views one of the best reviews i’ve ever read. Im from Guatemala living in the U.S. at the moment. The way the author of this little story expresses about “guate” its pretty good. Theres a lot of good things in Guatemala to see, to learn and appreciate.. unfortunatly theres a lot of bad things too, but hey! what country does not have bad things going on?
    Any way, I’d like to, if its possible, to get in contact with the author of this story.
    I’ll be checking this web site to see if he already replied to this comment.
    Thank you for writting about Guate!!