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Guatemala 2012

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Guatemala 2012 - Page Text Content


1: I went to Antigua, Guatemala in February 2012 to volunteer as a teacher of English and to see as much of the country and its people as I could. As it turned out, I received much more than I gave.

2: M | Maximo Nivel is the organization in Guatemala with which IVHQ places volunteers. Maximo Nivel then places the volunteers with ongoing volunteer projects. MN is also a language school located in a lovely old house. They are very professional and helpful. | MAXIMO NIVEL

3: Maximo Nivel is located just a couple of blocks from the parque central, and it's a great place to spend a half hour sitting and reading, getting a cold drink or a snack from the snack bar, going to the bathroom or meeting friends. It was truly wonderful to have a quiet place to sit down as those are in short supply in Antigua.

4: My volunteer work was teaching English as a second language in a home for girls who have been removed from abusive or neglectful homes. Many of them have visible, as well as emotional, scars. There is no sign at the home, and no photographs are permitted as part of the effort to keep the girls safe. My students were from 10 to 16 years old, and a joy to work with. They want to learn some English because English makes it possible to get a good job in the tourist industry. | To get to work, I rode a bus like this for 30 minutes, then walked along the street for another 10 minutes.

6: Finally, you turn off the highway onto a side street with trees and shade. | The entrance to the home. Behind the heavy steel doors, which are kept locked at all times, is a green lawn with flower beds and play equipment. The home, school building and administrative areas are behind that. It really is an oasis, clean and peaceful.

7: My home-stay was with the family of Elda Maritsa de Hernandez--Mari. Mari is the heart and soul of the house--indefatigable and kind. But no matter how old you are, when you leave the house, you have to tell her where you are going and when you will be back. | MARI

8: The front door. We entered through a people-sized door in the large door also used for the car. | Paca talks a lot and won't stop until put to bed. She's bilingual. | All over Guatemala, electrical devices are fitted to shower heads to provide hot showers. | Just inside the front door, where the car is parked. | Menno with Mari's three poodles | Menno with Mari's three poodles | MARI'S HOUSE

9: My room



14: Fundraiser parade and dancing with music truck in the street outside Mar's house.

15: Sunday morning pancakes and strawberries. Pat Duff in an independent missionary. Mari has a modern stove, but still uses a charcoal stove for the big pots for steaming tamales and other large batches. The charcoal is leaf charcoal, not the solid briquettes we have.

16: On Saturdays, Mari has an elaborate food stand at a local primary school that is the site of university extension courses on the weekend. She has a son in medical school and needs the extra work. I went along one morning to help.

18: Alejandro, Mari's husband's grandson. He really loves to help at the university, knows what he is doing and works hard. | The park across the street

19: THE RUINS Santa Clara Antigua is chock full of churches, convents and monasteries destroyed by earthquakes more than 300 years ago. The wonder is that the town ever had so many such institutions at all. To provide a chance of surviving earthquake activity over the colonial period, these buildings were not tall, had few windows, no stained glass, thick columns and walls. They were made of bricks plastered and in some cases faced with stone. The Iglesia y Convento de Santa Clara was built in 1734 and destroyed in the great earthquake of 1773.

20: The environs and exteriors of the great ruins give no clue to what you will find inside. The ruins are very large, covering at least a large city black. There are always tall, solid walls with thick, solid doors. At Santa Clara, the public pila, or clothes-washing area, is across the street.

24: FOOD AND RESTAURANTS | Guatemala doesn't have a cuisine that distinguishes it from all other countries. It is very similar to southern Mexico (no surprise there) and is much less picante than the food most Americans think of as being Mexican food. The food is very good, however, because the ingredients are fresh and first-rate, and almost everything is cooked completely from scratch. Antigua, being a tourist center, has plenty of choices in food. In addition to the food I had at home, I took advantage of restaurants. Also, Guatemalan bakeries are just fabulous. I bought my cream puff from a display in a bakery door and ate it in the park with my famous 'Light My Fire' brand Danish spork. The cream puff cost $1.00

25: Cafe Condesa, great old colonial house on the parque central. It's home to tourists, like Sanborn's in Mexico City. Eggs and potatoes cooked in real butter, fresh limondada with fizzy water, two scoops of ice cream ($2.00), strong, wonderful, real coffee.

26: This is pepian de pollo, a typical Guatemalan dish that is like a milder form of mole. | LA POSADA DE DON RODRIGO | Old time inn with really good food and service. Well-to-do Guatemalans go here to eat. Flower pots below are from Cafe Condesa.

27: McDonald's is very popular with Guatemalan families. Pollo Campero is a successful Guatemalan chain of chicken places, but if you buy 10 pieces, you pay more per piece than if you buy one. The fish was raised in a tank near Lake Atitlan. This was a GOOD lunch. The crepe was filled with dulce de leche. Yum. the Domino's pizza was outstanding. I had some things I didn't like, but why show a picture of those?

28: LAS CAPUCHINAS | Founded in 1726, the convent was the fourth in Antigua. It was destroyed in the earthquake of 1773. Restoration began in 1943 and is ongoing. The nuns' cells were built around a circular patio in this tower. Las Capuchinas is generally thought to be the most elegant of the convents in Antigua.

32: Nun's cell in the tower. Massive column. The tile wore away more than the grout. Bath tub. Cloister. They had a system for piping hot water to the bathtubs.

33: The circular underground storeroom produces echoes and also makes it possible to hear words whispered on the other side.

34: EARTH LODGE | Earth Lodge is an organic avocado farm high in the hills outside Antigua. Sometimes there are clouds below the level of the farm. It is too steep to hike, you can just climb. The food is primarily vegetarian, the facilities are very much like summer camp. The feeling of sleeping in the trees is great.

35: The trail down to Earth Lodge from the drop off

36: Lying in the hammocks reading, looking out over the valley, was the best part.

38: Pila in the village at the top of the trail | Antigua below

40: CATEDRAL DE SANTIAGO | This is the restored front of the cathedral which was begun in 1670 and destroyed in 1773. The current active church, the Parroquia de San Jose, occupies two restored rooms at the front. The ruins of the remainder of the cathedral are behind. It is said that Don Pedro de Alvarado, Beatriz de la Cueva, his wife, Guatemala's first bishop, Francisco Marroquin and Bernal Diaz del Castillo are buried here.

43: This is the entrance to an underground altar which, it is said, was inadvertently turned into a Maya worship site during repairs. The dots of lights in the second picture, which are never the same, are believed to be spirits of the dead.

44: CHICKEN BUSES | Recycled US school buses are the public transportation in Guatemala. Chickens ride, too.

45: If your feet tire of walking on the pavement, which they surely will, and soon, you can always try your luck on the sidewalks, where they exist, or the chicken buses. No comfortable choices.

46: LA MERCED | I think La Merced is one of the most beautiful churches in Antigua. I love the yellow paint and the white applied decoration. The church, built in the late 18th century, has held up well. The earlier monastery behind the church did not fare as well.

51: This water-lily shaped fountain (a power symbol for the Maya) is 27 feet across and said to the largest in Hispanic America. The monks raised fish in its pools.



59: Part of these ruins have been left as they fell in the 1773 earthquake. It's the only one of the ruins where you feel the real power and destruction of earthquakes. Moving the enormous chunks of masonry and rebuilding must have seemed an impossible task.

62: ZIPLINING!!! | I had been interested in trying out ziplining for some time and thought it was now or never! I'm getting old enough I figured that soon the operators would take one look at me and bar me from the platform. I went on the trip at Finca Filadelfia, and it was very professionally done. The hardest part is when you are standing miles up on the edge of a tiny platform, with nothing friendly beneath you, and they tell you to JUMP. It would be so much easier if they would just give you a little push, but they won't. Anyway, I DID IT!

66: SANTO DOMINGO | Santo Domingo is a former monastery all gussied up for the upscale tourist and destination wedding trade. it contains a four star hotel, a really nice restaurant and several small museums. I liked the Museo Vigua de Arte Precolombiano y Vidrio Moderno the best. It juxtaposes ancient art with modern art glass pieces with the same general motif. Santo Domingo does not have the power of La Recoleccion, for example, but it is very pleasant and good for what it is.

70: PARQUE CENTRAL | The parque central is the center of life in Antigua. Since Antigua is a tourist and language school center, the people who pass through the parque each day are a more diverse group than you would find in an ordinary town. There are people in indigenous dress who live in the villages outside Antigua but come into town to work or sell handicrafts, students of all ages, tourists and tour groups, NGO volunteers, government workers from the offices surrounding the square, people with business in the government offices, visitors from other parts of Guatemala. At the center of the parque central is a 1936 reconstruction of the fountain destroyed in the 18th century earthquakes.

71: The Catedral de Santiago forms one side of the square. | El Palacio de los Capitanes Generales has been recently renovated, but wasn't open when I was there. | The Ayuntamiento contains the city and department government offices. | The fourth side was originally houses, which now contain businesses, such as the Cafe de la Condesa.

72: The defining object in any park worthy of the name is the park bench. they are necessary for resting, for having someplace to set your coffee cup, to serve as a meeting place and for people-watching. The best ones are like these, with curved wooden slat seats and wrought iron arms and legs. I was sitting on one when a nicely dressed gentleman about my age sat down on the same bench. He rummaged in his briefcase, discovered he had no pen and asked if I had one he could borrow. He turned out to have been a professor at the University of Pittsburgh for many years, does simultaneous interpretation in the courts and has a daughter in graduate school at Yale. It was a fascinating 30 minutes. | Ah........... A free bench with a little shade.

73: Citibank | Upstairs at the Ayuntamiento

74: Park bench users

79: Little girls' hair is an issue no matter where you live. | This is Ruth, from Ciudad Vieja. She spoke to me every day until I finally bought a necklace. Then we still spoke just from friendliness.

80: SAN FRANCISCO | San Francisco is the largest active parish church in Antigua, with several masses each Sunday. It is also the site of the tomb of Hermano Pedro, Guatemala's only saint, who was canonized in 2000, more than 300 years after his death. Many, many people still visit his tomb and leave plaques, amulets and tokens. The ruins of the monastery adjoin the church to the south. There is a very active market and food stalls in the parking lot inside the walls in front of the church.

81: Entrance to the courtyard garden leading to the tomb of the Hermano Pedro, the mural fountain in the garden and the statue of the Hermano Pedro in the center of the garden.

87: ARCO DE SANTA CATALINA | It once connected the two buildings of a convent.

88: CHOCOLATE CLASS AT THE CHOCOMUSEO | Toasting the beans; husked, toasted beans; Maya hot chocolate (no milk, chili and other spices added); grinding beans in a molcajete; spices and other flavor additions to chocolate bars. I used cardamom, which is grown in Guatemala and is AWESOME in dark chocolate.

89: Self-satisfied smirk over quality of chocolate; hatted Canadian class member and bemused teacher | Weak tea made from husks of beans; guy wrapping bars for sale in shop, class area and participants.

90: PALACIO DEL OBISPO IN SAN JUAN DEL OBISPO | The original home of Bishop Francisco Marroquin, who arrived with Alvarado and was important in the colonial government. It's now used for spiritual retreats and run by a group of nuns.

92: MARKETS | Above is Nim Po't, a no-bargaining outlet for high quality handicrafts. To the left is the first of three courtyards in the Mercado de Artesanias. | In one sense, most of Antigua and many other Guatemalan locations are markets because of the numerous tiny stores and the street vendors. However, the big mercados have an attraction of their own. Everything useful and useless in the world is sold in the mercados, but the textiles are the best to look at.

96: La Azotea is in Jocotenango, just outside Antigua. It contains an operating small old family-owned coffee finca, a museum of Mayan music, which focuses on the marimba, a recreated Mayan village and a variety of other exhibits and activities. | LA AZOTEA

97: Fermented beans drying in the sun before roasting | In music museum | There is English riding at La Azotea, and kids everywhere have horseless horse shows. | Ripe coffee beans

99: The lion of Jocotenango | Recreated shrine to Maximon, who loves cigars, women and wine.

100: There is not much left of San Jeronimo, but the grounds are peaceful and lovely. | SAN JERONIMO

103: MUSEO DE ARTE COLONIAL | I didn't think the art in the museum was very interesting--dark paintings of violent martyrdoms and dead white men in meetings--but the building is beautiful. It is the former University of San Carlos, which was moved to Guatemala City when the government moved.

104: STREET SCENES | Many of the interesting sights in Guatemala aren't noted in the guide books and aren't famous. This float was inside a fence at a ruined church and was being readied for the many processions that take place in Antigua during Lent.

112: WHAT NOT TO WEAR | Stacy and Clinton, you are needed in Antigua! Guatemalans are very modest, and although they often don't have 'perfect' bodies, they do keep them covered appropriately and they do not wear white sneakers. Every guide book points this out, too. What are these people thinking? It is not hot in Antigua. Maybe they look like this at home, too?

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