There are many many things to say about Antigua. I'll go in order of what i noticed first.
Foremost, it is absolutely beautiful, the old capital of the country it is full of original colonial architecture. Its scale and style are incredibly pleasing on an aesthetic level. I've never seen anything like it in the States.
Second, due almost exclusively to the former point, is that it is crawling with tourists, english speaking mostly. It is undoubtedly the tourist capital of the country.
Which leads to the third thing, it is one of the most expensive places in Guatemala, which also means that everything there is of high quality, with jewelry shops, cafes and choclatiers comparable to what you'd find in a major US city.
All of these things, minus the architecture, bring me to my fourth observation- it was the most like home of any place i visited in the whole country. Amongst the Maya Pedallers it was pretty popular to rag on Antigua for all of the things that made it like home, namely the absurd amount of wealth and complete detachment from the reality of the rest of the country. And while i had my issues with many of the trustfund tourists, there was a strange comfort in walking around and hearing my native language, looking at things in upscale shops and eating food that tasted like stuff from swanky vegetarian restaurants in Philadelphia. It was a guilty comfort; becoming attached to these things grew entirely out of their familiarity, not because i particularly enjoy looking at jewelry.
However, the thing that i loved most about Antigua was the one thing that did not remind me of home- its architecture.
We often took trips out to Antigua for our various vices, be it handmade chocolates or boot-legged dvds. (The dvds were often near perfect replicas). The best part of the trip, however, was the bike ride. It was a half an hour pretty much all down hill. Both ways.
Passing by farms and through small towns, going down the side of a mountain while a huge ravine opened next to you, grabbing onto trucks and getting pulled for as long as you could hold on. Even on gray days it was beautiful and breathtaking. Along the way there were all kinds of really interesting houses and shops, with the coolest hand painted signs i've ever seen in my life. Crazy chicken buses decked out with flashing lights and loudly colored decals in honor of Dios (God). It was such a great ride, every time.
When you didn't feel like biking, really, biking back- the chicken busses were the way to go. You could also hire a taxi for around 100q, as Erin and i found out one night when we almost got stranded. I think i insisted on taking her to dinner and then it was like four hours later and the busses were all gone...
Typically chicken busses are a lot more crowded than the one pictured below, this is actually only a third full. It was pretty ridiculous how many people they would cram into the busses. It really tested our north american sensibiliteis of personal space, as people were constantly rubbing against you, leaning on you, squeezing by and generally being VERY close. There were times, i remember, when we'd get on and it would be absolutely packed and the ayudante (the guy who puts bags on top and takes money) would say "keep going" and the thought was always "are you serious? there's no way that will work." But the ayudante was always right, there was more room if you were willing to step on 38 little old ladies to get to the back.
Antigua was full of pretty spectaular churches, all around town, they were often the most intricate, ornate and beautiful buildings. The insides were often full of very heavy imagery, lots of bloody tortured saints. I personally find images of death and maiming (and i'm not just referring to Guatemala, i mean anywhere) not the least bit uplifting or spiritual. But this imagery is obviously very important to the Guatemalans, so of course we respected it.
This particular church was realtively benign compared to some of the others that had extensive scenes of very pained patrons.
On one occassion we had the pleasure of meeting up with Dory's parents in Antigua. They just happened to be in Guatemala visiting a good friend who volunteered his medical services to poor villagers on Lake Atitlan. We had considered going to visit them there, which seemed like a pretty awesome idea, however our wallets did not agree. Though, as her parents had to return through Antigua we were able to catch them there for a few hours.
We all agreed to meet them in the city center. A pretty park, surrounded by fantastic buildings, complete with a fountain of lactating women. (Kind of hard to see here, but the water is definitely shooting from her clasped chest)
There was a guy singing hoarstly about Jesus. His wife and daughter were the chorus.
I ate a strange homemade popsicle. One of the girls pawned it off on me. Maybe they weren't so into the jelly on top.
And here is a prime example of what all of us strove not to be, but inevitably were. A rotating three eyed beast of photodocumentation. It was hard not to be obnoxious with a camera.
Eventually the girls returned from whatever they were doing, going to the ATM i think, we took a quick stroll, hung out with jesus in the church, and then promptly ran into Dory's parents Joanne and Steve. The five of us explored some for a while, then moved on to eat a well known restaurant run by two former peace corp volunteers. [The name of the place escapes me, it was something like Lucietta's- named after a mayan princess who had been handed over to conquistadors by her father, the king, and spent the rest of her life at the side of the spainards as they raped and plundered. Maybe i missed something, but it seemed pretty off coming from two foreign peace corps volunteers.]
But i digress.
this lady was playing really bad trance-jazz at the restaurant.Lunch with Steve and Joanne was really quite nice. They had all kinds of interesting stories from their travels through Guatemala, this trip and one a year prior (in which they had scouted out Maya Pedal for Dory). We spent loads of time swapping stories, making jokes and eating festive street food. Somewhere we stumbled on an Alfombra (carpet) laid out for a holiday, can't remember which. Eventually we wandered back to their hotel and sat on the roof, which had a terrific view of the city, and talked and laughed for a few more hours. Steve and Joanne were pretty awesome to hang out with, really interesting and lively. In fact, i liked spending time with them so much that months later, back in the states, i spent a weekend with them in Utah completely absent of Dory.
Oh, and if they weren't already terrific enough, they brought us stuff! We had all been missing quality chocolate, so they brought lots of that. There were also spices for Erin and pretzels for me. (I discovered while sick, that there are NO pretzels in the entire country- it then became a mission to find some- Joanne and Steve were, officially, heroes).
While out on the town we saw lots of traditional handicrafts. I was always amazed by how inexpensively people sold their work, it took them months and they'd sell it for something ridiculous like 80 US dollars.
One of the stores we visited, pretty typical of the city, a favorite of the girls. I bought my sister a bracelet and something else that, uhh, don't remember.
And yes, there is even a McDonalds. No tourist trap would be complete without it.
I was really entertained by this particular street food, which when fried balloons to 4 times its original size. It reminded me of those grow-in-water dinosaurs i had as a kid.
Antigua, good and bad, was an interesting place. And despite our quibbles with it, the other tourists, and really, with ourselves it was always enjoyable to visit.
Especially for bootlegs and chocolate.