Monday, January 18, 2010

Antigua weekend…and feeling like a normal person

This was our first free weekend, and man, was it much needed. It seems like we’ve been physically and mentally stressed every day for the last two weeks, so we new volunteers were ready for a break!

The answer: Saturday in Antigua.

We’re really lucky in that NPH is only about a 20 minute chicken bus ride (Cost of bus ride = 3 quetzales. Exchange = about $0.35) from Antigua, which means we get the best of both worlds in Guatemala.

Here at NPH and in the town of Parramos, we are surrounded by the typical Guatemalan lifestyle. The town consists of a church, a park/central square, a few tiendas (imagine very tiny convenient stores with bars that make them look like jail cells), and about one restaurant-ish establishment. We live pretty modestly, eat tortillas, rice, and beans every day, don’t have great internet access, and see no other foreigners.

Antigua, however, is a completely different world. Twenty minutes on the chicken bus, and I can buy shoes at Aldo, use the wireless at Bagel Barn while enjoying my cinnamon-raisin bagel with cream cheese, visit the fanciest McCafe I will probably ever see in my life, and jam to Rhianna in crowded discotecas.

So it was off to Antigua!

Saturday morning I met my William and Mary friends Sara and Abby at the McCafe in Antigua!

The outdoor area of McCafe, complete with fountains and free computers for internet.

The courtyard of McDonald's and McCafe. Yes, that's Volcano Agua in the background.
I told you: crazy, right?

Sara is in Guatemala for work right now, and we all lived together in the infamous G-Unit our sophomore year. :) It was so fun to catch up and explore the city together. We saw all the sites, splurged on amazing food and margaritas at Frida’s for lunch, and snuck into the 5-star Hotel Casa Santo Domingo to see what all the talk is about. Antigua is gorgeous, with cobblestone streets, a beautiful Parque Central area, and 3 volcanoes bordering the city.

Arco de Santa Catalina. Once part of the giant Convent of Saint Catherine, the arch was built so sisters could cross the street unseen.

La Merced church (Our Lady of Mercy), famous for its decór that incorporates Mayan deities.

Parque Central with Volcán Agua behind 

Church at Parque Central

Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, once the center of Spanish power in the region

City Hall

Artisan market...and ruins everywhere

Lunch with Sara and Abby! G-Unit!

A visit to Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, built in the Santo Domingo Monastery.

Super fancy hotel. Rose petals everywhere!

The hotel takes up an entire city block and includes museums, pools, ruins, a spa, restaurant and bar, and dozens and dozens of gardens and courtyards.

I could definitely get used to this place.

Sunset over Volcán Acatenango

History lesson: Founded in 1543, Antigua served as the administrative center of basically the entire Spanish empire in the area – stretching from Mexico to Costa Rica. Along with Mexico City and Lima, Antigua was once one of the most important cities in the Americas. Then, in 1773, after earthquakes had repeatedly destroyed the city, the government finally decided to relocate to Guatemala City (Guatemala’s current capital). And then the cool thing: because the government left and only the poorest inhabitants remained behind, there was never enough money to tear down buildings or build new ones. As a result, Antigua’s churches, universities, government buildings, etc. were incredibly well-preserved for another 200 years, and in the1960s and 70s laws were passed to ensure Antigua stayed that way. That means that today, Antigua is one heck of an awesome city to visit.

After Sara and Abby left to head back to the capital that night, I met up with the volunteers, who had made their way to Antigua for dinner. We were craving something a little less rice-and-beans, and we found the jackpot with a restaurant considered Antigua’s best pizza joint. The rest of the night included barhopping, some salsa dancing at La Sala, and then some more dancing at a crazy crowded discoteca that can best be described as having the same ambience as a frat party at William and Mary (read: disgustingly sweaty, but fun once you just give in to the grossness).

Me and Sam! Out in Antigua!

So to wrap up: it was such a fun day! This morning another volunteer and I were saying how something as simple as pizza dinner and out for dancing made us feel like normal people again. A day spent in a really cool city with really cool people = everyone seems to be refreshed and re-energized for this next week. :)

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