When thinking about going abroad, I always have these equations in mind:
Tourist = Seeing others as others
Traveler = Discovering self as other
My take is that most people are a little of both: you can’t help but feel strange being in a new place, as long as you are open to learning about that place; you can’t truly let go of who you are — the sense of identity that allows you to feel at home in your skin no matter where you are.
With that in mind, my wife and I headed to Guatemala, where a friend was house-sitting in the former colonial capital, Antigua Guatemala.
Here’s a video of the yard of the house we stayed in:
The owners of the home, Americans who worked in international aid and development, had brought a few touches from past postings to their home, including lots of furniture from India. That includes this elephant, which was part of a chain that supported a bench swing just outside the bedrooms and facing the back yard. The yard was verdant with a green lawn and flowering bushes, including rose bushes. The city itself is referred to as the “land of eternal spring,” with low temperatures in the mid 50s and highs in the 70s year-round.
The house is in the Candelaria section of the town, named for the ruins of a Spanish church adjacent to the property. Antigua had been the colonial capital until an earthquake in the 1770s destroyed nearly all the buildings, including this church.
Some of the major tourist attractions of Antigua are the ruins of churches that have been converted into museums, but the one at Candelaria just sits there, protected by some rusty and sad-looking barbed wire. I took the photo standing on a basketball court, which must’ve once been the courtyard of the ruined church. Teens played there every day, and a fruit vendor and a tortilla vendor set up in the space between the street and the basketball court, so the area has maintained its use as a public gathering spot.
One of the most dominant features of the city are the volcanoes that loom above it to the south. The largest is called Agua, and it pokes up over the city’s skyline as in these photos:
You can also see the volcano in this short video of the Arch of Santa Catalina
Another can’t miss feature are the colorful city walls:
As for the churches, the cathedral sits in the center of the city across from a square known as Central Park.
Of course, the focal point of the park is the fountain in the center of it, which has a more earthly tenor to it than the cathedral.
One of the more interesting churches turned into museums was La Merced Church, which is a wonderful example of the baroque style that dominates Spanish colonial architecture.
A feature in the center of most courtyards (and in the center of most town squares) is a fountain. La Merced is no different. And, like the fountain in the center of Central Park, the fountain in the center of the courtyard of La Merced Church features bare-breasted water creatures.
Across town, in the ruins of another church, San Francisco, is an empty space where the fountain once stood. What I like about this image is the layers of history that you can see: the nature that, even though it is landscaped, seems to be taking over from the human-constructed forms; the once-carved but now worn stone; the plaster peeling away from the walls to reveal bricks and mortar beneath.
And the Santo Domingo Monastery has been converted into a hotel, destination wedding center and museum. It features both Mayan art and art from the Spanish colonial period.
Beyond churches and museums and parks, the city also offers shopping and great food.
Coming soon, photos and more from trips to Chichicastenango, Lake Atitlan and Montericco.