November 22, 2008 in Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua is a great place to hang out. What makes it really great for us is, we are staying at my mothers place in the little town of San Bartolo. Actually, San Bartolo is so close to Antigua and so small, it could be thought of as a just a western neighborhood of Antigua. Really, you could walk there in 30 minutes. The shuttle bus to San Bartolo takes only 5 minutes.
My mother has a very nice place here. Not a luxurious Villa. It is small and comfortable with all the basics. The property is a rectangle with the building at the back. The building is a rectangle with two small square rooms on the first floor; bedroom and living room. And the second floor much the same; bedroom and office. Both floors have a narrow bathroom with shower.
The garden extends from the building to the front has three banana trees, two lemon trees, and many flowers. My mother comes here and stays for about 6 months out of the year. We are here for just under a month.
Antigua was founded on March 10th 1543 in the Panchoy Valley. The valley is surrounded by volcanos. To the southwest two volcanoes; Acatenango (3,976 m 13,045 ft) and the still active Volcan De Fuego (3,763 m 12,346 ft). Fuego frequently belches clouds of steam and ash that can be seen from town. Not to worry though, there is no threat of a major eruption form Fuego, it just belches. The view to the south of Antigua is dominated by Volcant Agua rising 3,766 meters (12,356 ft) to watch over the city.
By the 1700s the city had become the capital of Audiencia de Guatemal, a subjurisdiction of the Viceroyalty of New Spain (based in Mexico City). The jurisdiction stretched from Mexico to Peru and made Antigua the most important political and religious center in Central America. Some estimates show the population of Antigua at nearly 60,000 in the 1770s. No surprise as there were more than 30 monastic orders located in the city. Consequently, dozens of churches, constructed in the Spanish baroque style were built in Antigua.
Because of the close proximity of Agua volcano, and two other volcanoes nearby, the city was constantly threatened with eruptions and earthquakes. Indeed there were many earthquakes and small tremors. In July of 1773 the city suffered a couple of devastating earthquakes. Basically the people had had enough shake rattle and roll and so the local government ordered everyone to leave. They moved over the hill to establish the new capital, Guatemala City.
Interesting note; the city of Antigua is officially called Antigua de Guatemala, meaning Old Guatemala. This title was not bestowed on the city until after the 1773 earthquakes and the capital was moved to present day Guatemala City.
When the people moved they pretty much just left the city as it was. Today a lot of these old churches that date back to the 1700s and earlier are still being used. Many more have become museums with their collapsed roofs and walls; testimony to the destructive earthquakes that in a fateful way, made Antigua the UNESCO world heritage site it is today.
Antigua is filled with churches and colonial style buildings. The only thing you will see more of than the churches is travel agents. It is difficult to walk two blocks and not pass at least 3 travel agents. I was told there are over 80 travel agents in Antigua. After travel agents its Spanish language schools (about 70) and restaurants.
For Soon Jeong and I, our mission here is to learn Spanish. We will need this because we are travelling in Spanish speaking countries until next March.
We are at Coined Spanish School. Our teacher is Mr. Feddy. He is a good teacher. We can recommend Coined Spanish school because of all the extras they are doing for us. Two of the teachers agreed to be interviewed for my textbook and the director will teach Soon Jeong how to cook some Guatemalan food for her cookbook. On top of that, Soon Jeong and I have needed to take side trips and do other activities for our projects, thus, we have had to change our class schedule. This has not been any problem or difficulty for the school. Everyone at the school has been very nice and flexible.
We are also taking Salsa Dance lessons. I am surprised to learn that just about all of the moves and turns are the same as the country western jitterbug. EXCEPT…. Salsa is doing everything in 3 beats and my feet want to move to a rhythm of 4 beats…. like all the dancing I have learned before. I keep telling my feet to move in 3s but they wont listen!!
So far we have visited Chichicastenango on market day and went to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan. Coming up we have scheduled a trip to Tikal and a climb up the active volcano of Pacaya. We hope to see flowing lava there. Of course we will get lots of photos and video of churches in Antigua and we will visit some Jade shops before we leave.