Antigua, Guatemala

I have poor eyesight. As most of you know, I have a rare eye disease. While it’s been mostly corrected at this point — with my glasses, I see darn close to 20/20 — I still have an artificial lens and retina in my right eye and a cataract in my left eye. I like to blame my eyesight for, well, lots of things. Like not being good at cleaning the dishes. Or my recent obsessions with Croakies. Or distrusting koala bears. Or why we only toured the center of Antigua.

It’s Bigger Than It Looks

Antigua is recessed in a valley surrounded by volcanoes. We got the incorrect impression, based on a quick glance from a hilltop before our descent into the valley, that Antiqua was small. Just big enough to fill the valley. No more than a dozen calles. In fact, after our second day, we felt we had walked the city, the entire city, from the public playground one side to the Iglesia San Francisco on the other. We should’ve consulted a tourist map — we stayed in Policia Turistica station after all. It wasn’t until, on our final day, we took our van to a mechanic, that we realized how much bigger, how much grander Antigua is. Next visit, I suppose.

Policia Turistica

They’re aren’t many places to camp in Antigua. We chose here because, according to the reviews on iOverlander, half the folks that travel the Americas stay here. Travel, occasionally, loves familiarity. It’s a walled complex, two city blocks in each direction, overflowing with a police station, an apartment complex (where the police crash?), an impound lot, a grass-less futbol field, and a bunch of dirty overlanders. They don’t have facilities. Our porta-potty got a good workout.

We arrived at dusk — it took us three hours to travel about three kilometers through Guatemala City — and chose one of the few available spots, flanked on one side by five French families and the other by three German couples. We tried to remember who our allies were…. Then we saw the French family (Bruno, Pauline, Leane, and Nathan) that we’d traveled on and off with for the last couple months. Our kids were ecstatic.

Volcan de Fuego

The French family wasn’t around the first night. They, along with three of the other four French families — all with kids! — were on an overnight hike on Volcan de Fuego, an active volcano with miniature eruptions every half hour. They returned the next day. Battered. Tired. Queasy (their son got altitude sickness). Unsure whether the spectacle was worth the effort. Andrea and I debated, for the rest of our stay in Antigua, if we should attempt the same hike.

We ultimately decided no, mainly because our kids wouldn’t have other kids to distract them. And because we were too cheap to pay for horses. We’re planning the easier hike on Pacaya — a less active volcano, yet one were you can still roast marshmallows straight from rocks — when we return through Antigua in route to El Salvador.

Seismic Activity

Four sizable volcanoes, Volcan de Fuego, Volcan de Agua, Pacaya, and Acatenango, engulf Antigua. It’s stunning, shocking really. It’s also why Antigua is no longer the capital of Guatemala. It’s seismic up in here. Fuego erupted alongside three earthquakes toward the end of the 1700s, prompted the then Spanish Captain of the Kingdom of Guatemala to say, “that’s enough!”, or its Spanish equivalent, and move the capital to Guatemala City. Many structures, primarily churches, remain in ruins from the earthquakes to this day.

Fancy Fast Food

Antigua has, unquestionably, the nicest fast food restaurants in the world (see photos below). We could’ve lived in the McDonalds — and we nearly did, spending most mornings there to pilfer their wifi and evacuate our bowels (give our porta-potty a break). The Dunkin Donuts and Taco Bell could be settings for a Woody Allen movie. You want to eat fast food in this city. Kudos to the Antigua city planners for keeping everything pretty.

Colonial Magic

Once again, while the Spanish were brutal in their conquest of the Americas, they at least left behind some fetching architecture. While Antigua no longer posseses the grandiose cathedrals we saw in Mexico, because of the earthquakes, its streets are still lined with cobblestone and its buildings have been conscientiously restored. Every bit as captivating and charming as San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato, our favorite colonial cities in Mexico. Perhaps more so with the surrounding volcanoes. Or at least what I could see of the surrounding volcanoes….

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