September 2017 Update — Still so far behind on the blog, but I will catch up with real time eventually! Life is starting to be back to normal here in Denver, but more on that later. First, lets talk about Guatemala….
We did not go in with many expectations in Guatemala. To be honest, we chose to go there because there were cheap Spanish classes and accommodations weren’t very expensive. We barely explored any of this country – we had read some tales of dangerous situations that can happen when you travel in this country and it made us less interested in long bus rides and seeing a lot of places. In retrospect, we should have, but we went to Guatemala with the primary goal of taking some Spanish classes. (Side note: One of Scott’s friends is getting married in Antigua in March 2018. Maybe we will get to return!)
We would have loved Antigua regardless of when we arrived, but our trip was timed perfectly so we were there during all the Semana Santa (Easter/Holy Week) celebrations. We loved Guatemala’s lakes, volcanoes, colors, beautiful culture, and friendly people. Our time in Guatemala was a highlight of our whole RTW journey and we cannot wait to go back to explore more places.
Things We Liked
Routine, Semana Santa celebrations, Colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, Spanish classes (one of us liked it better than the other), rooftop patios, volcano views and free movies
Things We Disliked
Bedrooms with no windows, no hot water and no wi-fi (I know, I know we are divas)
The whole reason we ended up in Guatemala was for Spanish classes. We both signed up for a week of 4 hours/day of one-on-one Spanish instruction. I loved it. Scott maybe didn’t. This was no surprise for either of us. I am so glad we both decided to take Spanish courses though – it was super fun to do together and we both learned a decent amount! We took courses at Antiguena Spanish Academy and our instructors Blanca and Aurora were awesome to get to know and to learn about their life, culture, and beliefs. We had class everyday from 8 am-12 pm and then had the afternoons free to ourselves to get some studying in.
Semana Santa Celebrations
Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a big deal in Central America and Guatemala, but it is a REALLY big deal in Antigua (Holy Week is the week leading up to Easter Sunday). We were there in the week leading to Holy Week and I have never seen anything quite like the celebrations there. They say that each week the celebrations become more extravagant and more people show up. It was quite by accident that we were there during this time – we usually just miss the festivals, celebrations, or big events because we just didn’t know about them. It was an amazing coincidence and the city was so alive.
There are grand processions, floats and intricately designed “alfombras,” or carpets, that line the streets for several weekends leading up to Semana Santa and almost the entire week prior to Easter. The coolest part was to walk around and look at the alfombras. They are truly a work of art made entirely of colored sawdust, flowers, vegetables and leaves lining the streets. They are so detailed and the families/businesses making the alfombras painstakingly spend hours creating these beautiful carpets. A few hours after the carpets are complete the processions wind their way through the streets with the alfombras destroying the carpets.
The processions was a huge parade with marching bands and a series of intricate floats depicting the Virgin Mary and the crucifixion of Christ. Every street and corner was filled with men (of all ages) dressed in bright purple robes and many females wore black with a black veil on their heads. The men wearing purple robes carried the main float with the scene of the cruxifixction — there were close to 80 men with the wooden float on their shoulders and it almost hurt to watch them carry it as it was so heavy. The women wearing white shirts and black veils carried another wooden float with the Virgin Mary and it looked equally heavy for them as well. The processions happened all day and night long and throughout the day you could catch the procession happening in different parts of the city.
Rooftop Bars and Volcanoes
Although the tallest building in Antigua is only three stories hight, the views are amazing! Rooftop patios with views of three volcanoes, perfect weather, and a scattering of colonial architecture. We went to as many rooftops as possible and the views could not be beat.
You don’t have to head to a rooftop to see the volcanoes as they are visible all throughout the city. One day at Spanish class I saw a crowd growing looking at something – my teacher, Aurora, casually mentioned that one of the volcanoes was erupting and asked if I wanted to go see. What?! It was really cool to see an actual volcano erupting and I cannot believe how nonchalant she was about the whole thing (it apparently happens pretty frequently).
Although the tallest building in Antigua is only three stories hight, the views are amazing! Rooftop patios with views of three volcanoes, perfect weather, and incredible architecture. The architecture here reminded us of Cartagena, Colombia, which is famous for Spanish Colonial architecture.
For the first time in our entire trip we had a routine. We stayed with a host family in the city which was really just a hotel in someone’s house that provided three meals a day.Our digs were not the nicest place we have stayed in (windows, wi-fi, and hot water were all things we missed dearly), but they were perfectly adequate. Our schedule looked a bit like this:
7:00 am — Wake up and take a cold shower
7:30 am — Breakfast served at the homestay (usually a pancake, cereal, or something similar)
8:00 am — Walk over to the Spanish school to get educated
12:00 am — School is out for the day! Time to walk home
1:00 pm — Lunch is served at the homestay (the biggest meal served of the day — avacados were usually included as they are cheap and abundant in Antigua)
1:30 pm — Nap, go to a coffee shop with a sweet patio, explore the city, study Spanish…
6:30 pm — Dinnertime at the house (we did skip dinner sometimes to go explore the local food scene)
Note: If you ever make it to Antigua, go to Porque No. It has 4 tables, most of which are up on the second floor via a ladder-type structure. It was incredibly charming.
7:00 pm — Relax, study, apply for some jobs, watch The Wire, etc.
10:00 pm — Time to sleep!
We didn’t have any school a couple of the days when Semana Santa festivities were going on so we spent our days walking around and watching all the people make alfombras and the processions. It was really amazing to have a routine again after 8 months on the road with ZERO routine — even if it was just for a week.
Total Number of Nights: 8
Currency: $1 USD = 7.35 Guatemalan Quetzal
Number of Miles Traveled: 1,150 miles (including our flight from Houston)
Number of Miles Walked: 52 miles (average of 6.5 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 112,129 steps (average of about 14,000 per day)
Transportation Used: Car
Type of Accommodations: Home-stay (1)
Number of Beds: 1