Scenes from Antigua, Guatemala

Agua Volcano looms over Antigua Guatemala to the south, as seen from Cerro de la Cruz to the north.
Agua Volcano looms over Antigua Guatemala to the south, as seen from Cerro de la Cruz to the north.

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:

An elephant on a chain that supports a bench swing.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.

The ruins of the church in the Candelaria section of Antigua, Guatemala.
The ruins of the church in the Candelaria section of Antigua, Guatemala.

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.

Cathedral in Antigua Guatemala
Cathedral of San José in Antigua Guatemala

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.

centralparkfountain
The Central Park Fountain.

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.

The entrance to La Merced Church. Note the spiral design on the columns.
The entrance to La Merced Church. Note the spiral design on the columns.

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.

mercedfountain1


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.

ruinssanfranscisco-fountain1


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.

A Mayan tortoise.
A Mayan tortoise.
sd-archanglemiguel
The Archangel Michael

streetmarket1
A street market before the ruins of El Carmen Church

Beyond churches and museums and parks, the city also offers shopping and great food.

angrybirds1
Knit items for sale in a tourist shop.
market-fruits1
Fruits for sale in the market near the central bus station.
market-chickensinabasket1
Chickens in a basket near the central bus station.
Shopping for tea
Shopping for tea
A bakery
A bakery
A huipil
A huipil
Tilipia over asparagus and polenta at Epicure
Tilipia over asparagus and polenta at Epicure
Moza Gold, a Guatemalan beer, at Frida's
Moza Gold, a Guatemalan beer, at Frida’s
Getting ready for dinner at Epicure
Getting ready for dinner at Epicure
A mojito at Caffe Bourbon
A mojito at Caffe Bourbon

Coming soon, photos and more from trips to Chichicastenango, Lake Atitlan and Montericco.

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