Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Antigua. A first look.

Me standing in front of Parque Central. 
Bellies full from a big lunch, we hit the streets – walking towards Parque Central which is ringed by buildings on three sides and by the beautiful Catedral de San José on the fourth. Most of the buildings housed banks and commercial establishments.  With the buildings all draped with purple banners, it seemed appropriate for the trees in the park to also be awashed in purple.  The purple blooms of the jacaranda trees added just the right touch.


We strolled through the small park that occupies the center of the square. Workmen were busy at work cleaning the fountain. I’m guessing it’s being gussied up for Semana Santa.  There were lots of opportunities for photo ops.

Parque Central

These purple banners, which read "Lent and Holy Week, La Antigua, Guatemala" hung from many windows and balconies.  The whole town had been decked out for Holy Week.

Parque Central.  The day we arrived into Antigua, it was relatively quiet.  A few days later and it would be packed with people, standing shoulder to shoulder!

Soon and Valiant standing in front of Catedral de San José.  Simply known as Catedral, this was the place where we saw one of the most moving Holy Week processions on Good Friday.

Palacio des los Capitanes.  For 200 years, this was the home of the Spanish viceroy,
 making it the seat of power for all of Central America. The original building,
modified many times over the centuries, was constructed in the
 late 1500s and held the court of law, provincial offices, post office, treasury,
royal office, servants' quarters, and horse stables within its more than
20,000 sq. m (215,000 sq. ft.). The current two-story structure, with its
traditional facade of arches, is currently closed to the public and
undergoing massive repairs and restoration.

Catedral.
Fuente de las Sirenas.

One of the buildings on a street surrounding Parque Central. 
This one housed a couple of museums, a bank and a few commerical
establishments.  Because the entire town of Antigua is designated
as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Spanish colonial beauty of
the town must be maintained.  There are no large, ugly or even neon signs
marking establishments - just modest plaques that unobtrusively blend into
the building architecture.
A view of Parque Central with one of its two fountains in the foreground.
Old wooden beams and cobblestone walkways are a prominent feature of
many of the buildings in Antigua. Adds to the charm of the place.

Here's a 360 degree video of Parque Central.

On one street corner, we passed a street vendor selling mangos. We decided to check them out. Greedy as the four of us are, we could not pass up buying a couple of mangoes to try out. For less than $2, we got a couple of different varieties.  Not surprisingly, with my brother the Fruit Obsessed One in tow, we would be buying and trying every exotic fruit Guatemala has to offer and it has a lot to offer as we would come to find out.


Tucked behnd the fruit cart was this little boy, hiding behind a bunch of bananas.  The concept of babysitters or daycare does not exist in this part of the world so kids, when not in school, are either working or just hanging out with their parents while Mom and/or Dad go about their daily business.

The one think noticed right away about the children is that they didn't look underfed.  Definitely smaller in physical size than their identically aged counterparts in the US adn Europe but they looked healthy.








Me, standing in front of the ruins of Compañía de Jesús.






On our "self orientation" walk through town, we passed by several of the church ruins that Antigua is famous for.

"The Boys", as they would come to be known as, at the Mercado.
By now, I was getting thirsty and so I was in search of water. We passed by several local shops but decided to head for the Mercado highlighted on our map. Several blocks later, we spotted the stalls that signal we’ve arrived at the Mercado.

The Mercado is absolutely huge – vendors fill the open spaces outside and are crammed into the indoor space. This is a combination of a tourist hotspot and the place where locals buy what they need for daily life. By now, it was late afternoon so many were closing shop. We’ll have to come back on Saturday when the market is operating in full force. I'll cover our visits to the Mercado, and we had quite a few, in a separate blog posting.

We were starting to feel really, really tired – it had been a long day for all four of us. We decided to meander back to the hotel.

First stop. A shop to buy water. Remember, we had planned to head to the Mercado to buy water but we got so distracted that we completely forgotten to get any.  My throat is now parched dry and I need some agua fria :-)

Located across the street from the store were the ruins of San Jeronimo. By now, we had figured out the fee model for seeing the ruins – GTQ5 if you are Guatemalan, GTQ15 if you are from a Central American country or GTQ30 if you are an *external* visitor…..i.e., us. Antigua is chock full of ruins, one of the reasons why it is has its UNESCO World Heritage designation. I’m hoping our tour guide can advise us on which one(s) are worth visiting as I don’t think we’ll manage or even be interested in seeing them all.

On the way back to the hotel, we passed by La Merced. It was difficult to not be drawn in by this magnificent church – ornately decorated and painted in yellow and white. We found some spots just outside the church to sit and rest our feet. For a few minutes, we were content to just watch the world pass by.

The front entrance of La Merced.

The afternoon sun cast an orange glow over the mustard yellow facade.
The white of intricate relief carvings stand out dramatically against the yellow facade. 
This modest church has one of the most beautiful facades I have ever seen.

Posing just outside the front entrance.
This ever so cute girl was standing near her mother. Her
 juice bottle  just about overwhelmed her tiny little figure.








As had happened to us the moment we set foot outside the hotel, we were immediately besieged by local Mayan women selling their wares – mainly textiles, jade necklaces and woven dolls. It takes me a while to get back into the tourist mode of having to say “No” every few minutes - at times, it can seem so annoying to have someone shoving stuff in your face as you’re focused on your surroundings. 











The church bell pealed and we all took that as a signal, I don't know why, to head inside where the cool air was a welcome reprieve from the hot, sunny outdoors.  In contrast to the exterior, the interior of the church was extremely modest.  Purple banners provided a splash of color against the white walls.


Near the apse, an alfombra (carpet) made of vibrantly colored sawdust, had been created on the floor. An alfombra typical of those for Semana Santa. Surrounding the alfombra were fruits, including the palm fruit we had seen at the market – prayer offerings perhaps??

The workmanship of the carpet was just stunning!!

My brother chatting with a couple of local Antiguenos who were also
admiring the alfombra.


As I stood admiring the handiwork that went into creating this beautiful carpet, it was hard to believe that for all time and effort that goes into creating the beautiful carpets of Semana Santa, that they existed to eventually be trampled on by the processions that would take place during the days leading up to Easter. Truly a labor of love for the creators.

Alongside the church pews were statues atop platforms. From the looks of them, I’m guessing these will be carried during the processions. As the rest of Antigua is also doing, this church is getting ready for the upcoming festivities. From what I read, the major processions will start from this church and wind their way through town. I wonder if we can secure a prime viewing spot…..that would be awesome to experience Semana Santa from this church.

By now, we were all really pooped and all we could think of was heading back to the hotel.  We left La Merced for the day and made our way back to the hotel.  Tired or not, it wasn't quite the end of our day yet.  There was still dinner to come!