La Antigua Guatemala is a grower. For the first couple of days we were here, we didn't understand why travellers constantly raved on about it's amazingness, but now we've been here over a week we're definitely coming round to their perspective.
The town itself isn't that pretty, although it has fairly picturesque cobbled streets and low-slung stucco houses painted in muted rainbow shades. But if you step inside one of Antigua's many bars, restaurants or boutiques, you step into another world. They have beautiful courtyards with abundant flowers and greenery, tinkling fountains, shady nooks and fine fittings; very strongly evoking a bygone colonial age. It's a very pleasant sort of sanitised version of Central America where everything one could want to do can be accomplished pretty easily and crime and poverty aren't that in-your-face. Basically, it's a perfect location to ease us out of the creature comforts of travelling in the USA and into Latin America.
We are studying Spanish at a school here for three weeks and staying with a local family (arranged through the school) in their house. It's a very basic, yet pleasant place arranged over two floors, and as the climate is so mild (similar to an English late spring or early summer, all year around!) none of the communal rooms have doors separating them from the outside which is wonderful. We're writing this from the terrace outside our bedroom which is draped in greenery and currently ringing with the dusk cries of the birds in all the trees around us. It also has a wonderful view of Volcan Agua. Antigua is actually nestled between three volcanoes – Agua, Fuego and Acatenango. Fuego (Fire) is still very active and we saw a mini-eruption the other day from the schoolyard which was rather exciting. We've also felt a few minor earth tremors, which are reminiscent of standing on the ground above a tube train going underneath. Not quite London!
Our Spanish tuition is quite intensive and is all one-on-one so we are picking it up fairly quickly and are now able to converse with some of the locals (with some waving of hands) which is great. All the lessons are also outside in the school's courtyard, fuelled by copious amounts of the great coffee which grows nearby. In typical Antigua style, the school's courtyard is beautiful, with lots of trees and flowers, and hummingbirds visit frequently. Our school lays on a number of free/subsidised activities in the afternoon, which allow us to see more of the area, mix with more of our fellow students, and try out our fledgling Spanish on the (semi-suspecting) locals. So far, we've walked up to the Cerro de la Cruz (the hill of the Cross), above Antigua itself, visited a macadamia nut farm and created a colourful carpet (alfombra) for the Easter Holy Week processions in the town – but more about that later.
We're also getting three excellent meals a day sitting with our host family – a mix of foreign and traditional cuisines. The traditional meals are even more yummy than the others – usually consist of maize (corn) in tortilla form or some other preparation (of which there are many – pupusas, tamales, chuchitos, ...), beans, loads of fresh fruit and veg and some meat and cheese. And loads and loads of homemade piccante sauce, washed down with freshly-prepared fruit juices.
We are enjoying the laid back (well – it would be if it wasn't for these pesky lessons!) lifestyle and are slowly starting to unwind and taking the London sticks out of our arses (hence the lack of recent blogging – apologies). It is a wonderfully laid back place where plans are usually very elastic things and most of the time we're just going with the flow of whatever comes across our path that day, be it creating a carpet of flowers for a procession or an impromptu salsa lesson. Case in point – it's taken Jon a week to get around to getting his hair cut (He also had his first cut-throat shave, which was a little bit too exciting).
Just to round up, here are a couple of pictures of us and our gringo Americano flatmate Toddito making ceviche (raw marinated seafood) with the family today. Yummy!