Easing into Travel: Antigua, Guatemala
Surrounded by three volcanoes and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we chose Antigua as the gateway to our round-the-world adventure. We read a lot of travel advice before undertaking this trip and it was usually recommended that people begin somewhere “easy-ish”, just to get your feet wet and gain some confidence. Antigua seemed just the ticket: a bit touristy, beautiful, generally regarded as safe (though more on this below), and easy to get to from Guatemala City. Unfortunately, our luggage decided that it preferred to kick things off in Mexico City. So we arrived in Antigua wearing our airplane clothes and sharing a toothbrush (yuck). Not the way we had imagined the start of our trip, but as we’re learning already, rarely do things unfold exactly as you imagine.
Luckily, the staff at Hostal Holistico immediately got on the phone to try to locate our bags and, after many phone calls, the bags decided to join us in Antigua. Yay for clean clothes and separate toothbrushes! Now we were finally able to feel like the trip had begun.
Antigua is indeed a lovely colonial city, with cobblestone streets, a tree-lined central park that is great for people-watching, tons of restaurants and shops selling colorful bags and clothes, tuk-tuks whizzing past as you step out to cross the street, ruined churches on every other corner, people selling fresh fruit on every other corner, and at least one of the three volcanoes helping to orient you as you meander the streets. But there is also pollution (narrow streets and lots of tuk-tuks and cars make for a great deal of fumes) and signs of the tremendous poverty that pervades much of Guatemala (beggars everywhere, many without limbs). Another sure-sign of poverty is the fact that nearly every other traveler we have met who has been here for some time has been robbed. So far, no one has been hurt, as the robbers’ MO seems to be just to ask for your stuff and people immediately hand it over to them without further ado; but these stories make us hold onto our bags a little tighter.
So we mostly spent our first week walking the streets of Antigua, eating lots of beans and rice, exploring the local market – a must see – that seems to have no end (for Dr Who fans — it is like the TARDIS!) and settling in to life as travelers, rather than as holiday-makers. And that distinction struck us quite quickly: when you go somewhere on holiday (well, when we did), we tried to do as many things as we possibly could each and everyday, paying only scant attention to the cost. But that just isn’t feasible when you are going to be living on the road, both because the costs would become unbearable quickly, but also because we need to conserve energy and simply learn to just “be” in a place.
During our first week in Antigua, we met other travelers from all over the world doing amazing things. One couple was on a motorcycle journey from Alaska to the tip of South America, one woman has quit her job and been traveling by herself for several months in South and Central America, another couple from the UK are between jobs and have come out to take Spanish lessons for a couple of months. We’re definitely not alone in what we’re doing, and it is great trading information with others (re: where to go, how to get there, etc).
So while there was a minor glitch in the kick-off to our round-the-world adventure, Antigua was an excellent place to start. Next stop: the tortugario!