Tuesday, May 31, 2016

First Week in Antigua Guatemala

31 May 2016

We're currently in Panajachel (pronounced pan-na-ha-CHEL) which is on Lake Atitlan - and I'm not sure how to pronounce that.

We're here because it's not far from Antigua, just a 2 or 3 hour drive.  So it was easy to make arrangements with a taxi driver from Antigua, and not have to ride cramped up in a bus or van.  (Once one gets to a certain age, comfort takes precedence.)

Plus we actually know someone from St. Thomas who is now living here!  (And who we just happened to run into on the main street as we were heading out for lunch!)

And, even better, this is a gorgeous alpine lake surrounded by volcanoes and mountains.  With amazing vistas, and interesting villages to visit.  By boat, across the lake, with gorgeous views along the way.  How charming is that???

So we're here.

But these photos are all of Antigua Guatemala, and I wanted to do a post before we left.  However, the wifi at our hotel there doesn't like Apple computers, or something like that.  Our hotel lady told me, in Spanish, that people with Apple computers seem to have problems with the connection.  And then she explained more stuff than I could understand, which often happens with my limited vocabulary.

So, the photos.  There are several photos of three different churches in Antigua.  The Spanish, over the several centuries they lived there, built something like 28 to 50-something churches, monasteries, and convents in Antigua Guatemala.  (The number depends on who you talk to.)  This was part of their big push to convert the indigenous people of the New World.  Remember, this city was founded in 1543, just fifty years or so after the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition.

Well, there was a huge earthquake in 1775 or so, and all those beautiful large churches were damaged.  Most of them had the roofs cave in.  The front façades seem to be standing, and many have all the exterior walls.  But the roofs were gone.  And never were repaired.  So the ruins stand to this day, and are considered part of the heritage of this historic city.

I asked our driver about this, why the churches were never repaired.  He said part of it was the expense of the repairs.  Then he continued in more Spanish than I understood.  I suspect the technology for removing the debris and building a new scaffolding on a completed church might have been part of the problem.  The other thought is that maybe the remaining structures weren't considered strong enough for any scaffolding to hold workers as they repaired the buildings.  However, I'm looking at it from 225+ years in the future, when I can see that the exterior walls are still standing.  That tells me that the structures were still pretty strong.  I imagine that living through a strong enough quake to topple all the buildings more than one storey tall would make the people very hesitant about working inside one of those toppled buildings.

One of the interesting features of the Guatemalan churches are the statues on the exterior of the buildings.  We saw this at the cathedral by the central park of Antigua (photos in the previous blog).  But the old historic churches had the statues as well.  Although it looks as if Oliver Cromwell or some of his friends came through, as many of the statues are decapitated. 

There's a huge arch on one of the side streets in Antigua, which I guess was built after the earthquake.  It's sort of the entrance to the large church down the street.  But this arch and clocktower are featured in paintings all around town, it seems to be one of the landmarks in Antigua.  So I visited it as well.  (I saw a black cat using it as a bridge to cross the road and avoid people!)

There were all kinds of people selling fabrics, jewelry, carved wooden objects.  And men carrying a giant xylophone sort of instrument down the street!  So there are a lot of people in here, you just need to try to spot them among the buildings.  (I'm always hesitant to just walk up and ask if I may take someone's photo.  I just catch them in with the landmark, and then highlight them.)

I also visited the Iglesia de la Merced, which I think translates to the Church of Mercy.  Interesting church, all in yellow with intricate white embellishments all over.  And I do mean ALL over!  This was one of the most ornate churches I've ever seen, with an exterior that looks like butter yellow Wedgewood china gone wild, or on steroids, or in hyperdrive.  It was beautiful in its own way, but also pretty overwhelming.  Absolutely overdone.  Like wearing every piece of jewelry that you own, all at the same time.  But somehow, it works.  This church is insane or beautiful at the same time!

I really liked the little kids outside "fishing" in the fountain.  They were dragging buckets in the fountain, and I asked if there were fish.  Turns out they were trying to get the money that tourists throw into the fountain for good luck!
There were a few empty lots full of statues, and it was just the weirdest looking collection of religious statues I've ever seen!  Try to picture religious statues for a parade, that's kind of what they were like!  A young man and his little son peeked in, and the man told me the statues were for the Easter procession every year.  So a parade wasn't too far off.  It was odd, because I had just read an article in a local magazine about how Guatemalan Catholic statues are considered to be some of the most emotional religious statues in the world.  The Spanish sculptors taught the local people how to carve statues, but in Guatemala the local sculptors took the carving to a whole new level.  So seeing these statues was interesting, and pretty amazing.  And yes, you can see the various emotions and anguish on the faces.

Okay, last item - I went to a great little café and bakery for lunch (named Ganache, how could I resist!) - and the waiter was quite friendly.  He didn't speak English, but we had a pretty interesting conversation in Spanish.  And he understood that he had to speak slowly and use simple words for me.  One of my questions was if the volcanoes around Antigua had Maya names.  Because one is Volcan de Agua (Water Volcano) and the other is Volcan de Fuego (Fire Volcano).  He said that Volcan de Fuego has several names, and he told them to me.  But that Volcan de Agua had a huge crater full of water, making a really big lake at the top of the volcano.  (I guess this means it was either dormant for a really long time, or totally extinct.)  Well, one side of the caldera broke off, and all the water went rushing down the mountain and flooded the city of Antigua, absolutely inundating the town.  Like a tsunami coming down the volcano!  So that's how it got the name Volcan de Agua.

Okay, that's all for now.  I'll add a map at the end so you can see where Antigua Guatemala is, and where Panajachel is located.  We only flew into Guatemala City, didn't stay there.  And while we drove along the PanAmerican Highway today, I'm not sure of our route so I'm not marking it on the map.  I'm just highlighting our towns with yellow stars, so you can see where we are.  And of course just a few more photos.

More soon!

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