Saturday, June 25, 2016

Mellow Life in Antigua Guatemala

25 June 2016

This is our third week in Antigua Guatemala - not our third week in a row, though.  First we were here, then spent a week in Panajachel, near Lake Atitlán.  Then back to Antigua.  Then almost a week up north near Tikal.  And back to Antigua.

No, this town isn't boring.  Seems as if there's always something to see and do.  The weather is mild, not too hot nor too cold.  If it rains, it's usually in the late afternoon or evening.  There are bands that play in the Parque Central, interesting finds in the market, ever more souvenirs to shop for, and of course good food to eat.

I spent one afternoon walking to all the churches I could find in one region of the city, I think to the south of the street we usually walk along to head to town.  First was the church of San Francisco, with the tomb of Santo Hermano Pedro (Saint Brother Peter).  I had no idea who he was or when he lived, but he actually has a pretty interesting history.  He was born on the island of Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, in 1626.  Was indentured to some moneylender to pay off his family's debt.  Was freed in 1649, when he was 23, and sailed to Guatemala - except he ran out of money before he arrived, so he stopped in Cuba and worked for a while.  When he finally made it to Guatemala, he was totally broke, and had to go to the bread line provided by the Franciscan friars.  Pedro eventually met up with his uncle who was in Guatemala, and then enrolled at the Jesuit college to join the priest- hood.  Brother Pedro visited the sick and poor, and eventually helped establish a hospital.  His work drew the attention of various benefactors, so he was able to expand the hospital to provide more services for the poor, indigent, and homeless.  He also worked for prisoners, begging for food and services for them.  When Pedro died in 1667 at the age of 41, he was buried here in Antigua Guatemala.  He was recognized for his devotion to those in need, and was beatified (or canonized?) by Pope John Paul in 2002.  

Anyway, the church dates back to the 1600s or before, and people visit his tomb to pray.  There was a statue of him outside the church, but a coffin or sepulcher inside the building.  This was surrounded by people deep in prayer.  I'm not sure if that's the actual tomb or not.  A little creepy and macabre, but the whole thing with relics tends to seem that way to me.  

But it was a lovely old building.  It also seemed to be almost at the base of Volcan de Agua, which loomed up above.  (It isn't really, the volcano is 20 or 30 miles or km or so away.)  I also had great views of Volcan de Fuego, and it's conjoined twin volcano, off to the west.  A bit further away, so not quite looming overhead.

I walked down another side street and found another old church.  Turns out this is the church of Hermano Pedro, that's the official name.  Not the church where he's interred, though.  This particular church provides care for those in need, including care for children, seniors, and the poor.  In fact, our hotel staff sent me there when I explained that I'd like to donate my used shoes.  So the church carries on Hermano Pedro's tradition of caring for people in need.  I'm not sure if this particular building is the church where Hermano Pedro began his work and turned it into a hospital, or what.  But it's a really pretty little church, with the pale yellow exterior and statues of saints all over the façade.

The Iglesia (church) de Hermano Pedro faces onto a little park, and is generally a lovely peaceful setting.  I enjoyed watching people walking through, meeting friends, entering the church.

Then I passed the Convent of Santa Clara.  There were a few interesting entrances along the exterior wall, and wanted to go inside.  But they charge a fee and I didn't really want to spend that much time there.  The church had an interesting front, not enough to see from the outside.  Oh well, by that time I was ready for lunch and really didn't want to explore too much more.  So that was about it for my church exploration.

I also spent a day or two at the market, first looking at everything and then a day of shopping for small items that fit in my luggage.  

The weaving and embroidery are still just so amazing!  I love watching the women working on their textiles, while they call to tourists and try to sell their items.  One woman showed me how she weaves a few rows of solid color, then uses a tiny embroidery hook to weave through small sections of color that eventually makes the pattern.  And the pattern, whether pictorial or just a geometric design, progresses along as she weaves.  I really am a little baffled by how someone keeps the pattern in their head and is able to continue, without error.  But the weavings are gorgeous!

I bought a few pouches made from old huipils - the embroidered or ornately woven section is upcycled once the body of the huipil is worn beyond saving.  There are belts, bags, luggage tags, wallets, shoes, etc. all made from recycled or upcycled huipils.  Since I keep everything in pouches or bags in my luggage, I thought these would be great for keeping all those small items organized.  (When you pack and repack every week or so, it's easy to lose things like camera or computer cables, or hair barrettes and elastics.  This is when different sized pouches come in handy.)

Having PRETTY pouches, rather than only utilitarian pouches, just makes me happier when I open my luggage.  Or repack.

The woman who sold these to me showed me the different styles - the tapestry-style woven pictorial designs come from one town.  The rainbow-colored woven geometric designs come from Chichicastanango.  (I may have spelled that wrong, but that's how the town is pronounced.)  The somewhat abstract animal patterns come from somewhere else.  She showed me all the various styles, and it really is amazing how many variations there are!

Of course, I always explain to the vendors that everything is beautiful and that I want everything.  But that my luggage is full, so I can only buy small things.  (And that we don't have a house, so I don't need anything for the house.)  The most difficult part really is making a decision!  But I finally picked out a few that sort of coordinated - birds and flowers, then just flowers, and then flowers and maybe a butterfly. 

And then, today.  We've been trying to figure out how to get to the beach.  Antigua isn't far from the Pacific coast, but that isn't the most beautiful region for beaches.  The Caribbean coast has prettier beaches, but is farther away.  So, instead of making a decision as to which beach to go to, we're just going to Guatemala City for a week.  We'll do the museum thing, and hopefully find a travel agent who can help us figure out how to get to a beach for a few weeks.

So today I went to my favorite couple of places to say goodbye.  We're not sure if we'll be back to Antigua.  First I had lunch at my favorite little café bistro place, and said goodbye over my melted brie and fig sandwich.  Then I ran into a few vendors who know me by name or at least by sight, and said my goodbyes.  Ran into our friendly taxi driver and son, and he re-confirmed for tomorrow.  (I know, it seems as if half the town recognizes me at this point!)

And then, I went in to say goodbye to all my buddies at the Choco Museo.  They all seem to know me by name!  Well, one guy said that there was another truffle workshop starting in half an hour.  So what could I do, I signed up for another workshop, LOL!  It was great fun, I made my signature dark chocolate truffles topped with just a few bits of nuts, and I had my usual wonderful time.  Served as Orlando's assistant, and said our friendly farewells.

The photos here, though, are from earlier in the week.  I stopped by one afternoon for the single portion chocolate fondue.  Yes, maybe half a banana, quarter of an apple, and two strawberries, with possibly a quarter cup of melted dark chocolate in a little pot over a candle.  All for 22 quetzales, roughly $3 US.  An absolutely wonderful treat for about 150 calories.  Several women came over to see what this amazing looking dish was, and one woman even took photos of my snack!  (Of course, I was photographing it as well.)  Turned out they were a youth group from Pennsylvania, doing volunteer work in the region.

I enjoyed by snack, smothering the fruit with chocolate.  As hard as I tried, I couldn't finish all that chocolate with the fruit.  So I pulled my spoon out of my purse (doesn't everyone carry a spoon?), and scooped up the chocolate.  And then offered the spoon to a little Guatemalan boy who was sitting with his grandmother, next to my table.  Oh his face lit up, and he scooped the chocolate up with his finger and popped it in his mouth.  I gathered more chocolate and offered it to his older sister, who also gave me a big smile and swiped the chocolate off with her finger.  One more scooping of the dish, and there was just enough for one more little boy sitting nearby - but I had to explain that he needed to put the spoon in his mouth to get all the chocolate, his finger wasn't enough.  Yes, some charades and some "en su boca, limpia, limpia!"  ("In your mouth, clean, clean."  Yeah, my Spanish is understandable but hardly poetic.)

Anyway, it was fun, sharing my dessert with these kids.  I had read that people in villages are suspicious of foreigners who spend too much time taking photos of the children, or talking to them; apparently this is leftover from the time when missionaries or whomever would try to get children to leave the villages to go to the mission schools, or even get the children adopted outside the country.  So I've been very careful about interacting with the children.  But, well, kids are cute and Guatemalan kids are extra cute with their big dark eyes, wearing miniature versions of the traditional clothing.  

Okay, off to the big city tomorrow.  We'll be staying in the more tourist-oriented areas, because Guatemala City has a bit of a reputation for petty crime.  We'll be our usual travel-savvy selves, carrying little cash and taking taxis around to the museums and such.

And trying to get to the beach!


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