Central America, Guatemala

Antigua- Churches, volcanoes, and colors

December 19, 2014
View of one of the buildings from Central Park
Church on a street corner

Church on a street corner

After a night of celebrating the special day of the Virgen de Guadalupe on Friday night we made our way to the historical town of Antigua, Guatemala. As a UNESCO site it earns its reputation from the numerous Spanish Baroque style churches, colorful streets, the three volcanoes surrounding it, and the mix of modern and Mayan culture.  In spite of various natural disasters (floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions) Antigua has shown it’s resilience through the presence of its churches,  faith, and prayers. Historically it was a city of great importance for the Spanish colonialists and was known as Santiago de Guatemala in the 16th century onward up until a tremendous earthquake rattled and destroyed a majority of the city. The earthquake led to the relocation of the capital from Antigua to what is now modern day Guatemala City. While the city was abandoned as a result of the 1773 earthquake the buildings stayed and were preserved to be reconstructed, built, and rebuilt. These days the the only threat to its existence is the growing population, exploitation of tourism, and natural disasters.
Their version of a laundromat

Their version of a laundromat

Given the size of Antigua we found a day sufficient enough to explore it. Most people do so by foot, having the Parque Central as a base. The town is laid out in a grid and most tourist spots are only a few blocks from this park. We first hit one of many yellow churches, past the famous arch with Volcano Pacaya in the background to the south. We entered La Merud Church in the northern part of the church and watched the ceremony of what seemed to be two wealthy families coming together for a couple’s matrimony. Antigua booms with tourism and is a more expensive tourist destination relative to other places in Guatemala (but still pretty cheap).
La Merud Church

La Merud Church

View of one of the buildings from Central Park

View of one of the buildings from Central Park

Brief background of Spanish language schools- Antigua draws many foreigners wanting to study Spanish but given the higher costs and more “touristy” feel we ended up studying in Queztaltenango (Xela for short). The typical set-up is a week in a homestay with 3 meals a day and one-on-one Spanish lessons for 4-5 hours from Monday to Friday plus some daily activities. Xela schools run between $130-200 a week while Antigua schools cost between $175-300. Of course there are advantages and disadvantages to both.
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Cobbled streets filled with colorful fabrics

Street musicians in traditional dress

Street musicians in traditional dress

Mayan street vendor

Mayan street vendor

From there we wandered back towards the center of the town passing musicians, cafes, indigenous Mayans selling fabrics. There were also many locals enjoying their Saturday by eating ice cream or simply reading the newspaper. We made our way to a fountain where women wash clothes and men washed their faces. We also passed by more churches and colonial buildings inspired from the city of Seville, Spain. Going further south we found the Church of Santa Clara and a block further, the Church of San Francisco. Both churches had a huge significance to Antigua and had a huge display of well-preserved runis. We ended up paying entrance to the latter as it was much cheaper (40Q v. 5Q).
Saturday afternoon at Iglesia de San Francisco

Saturday afternoon at Iglesia de San Francisco

The Church of San Francisco was a pleasant surprise for Camille and I as we met each other in a season of faith-healing. One of the biggest draws to the church is the shrine ofHermano Pedro (Brother Peter of Saint JosephBetancur) who is the first saint of both Guatemala and Central America.

Ruins of Iglesia de San Francisco

Ruins of Iglesia de San Francisco

The roof in ruins

The roof in ruins

After working as a shepard he made his way to Guatemala but ran out of money before arriving. He joined Franciscan bread lines and would later study in a Jesuit college. He failed. After flunking out of Catholic school he wandered around Antigua visiting the prisons, hospitals, the children and the destitute. Slowly he began to create social change, building hospitals and schools in the process. During his time with the people he was known to display compassion and worked miracles. One of the hallways of the church displays various plaques, thousands of photos, and a wall of full of crutches of healed pilgrims and believers of Hermano Pedro.

Yellow Arch and Volcano Pacaya

Yellow Arch and Volcano Pacaya

Nearing the end the day we wanted to head up to Cerro de la Cruz (The Hill of the Cross) north of the town to take a picture of the entire town with Volcano Pacaya in the background. This is either a 30 minute walk uphill from the Central Park or a quick taxi ride up. We opted for the taxi as we needed to catch 3.5 hour chicken bus back to Xela.
View from the cross on the hill

View from the cross on the hill

 

Costs:

15Q lunch- 3 tacos at the taco stand

80Q for two one way tickets on a chicken bus to/from Xela

100Q taxi to/from the viewpoint

5Q Entrance to the church

10Q for a couple drinks

*1USD=7.75Q

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