Travels with V
Guatemala, Belize, Mexico
The brutal beauty of ruins
Our journey starts in the city of Antigua, some forty kilometers from Guatemala City. Antigua has been praised for its beauty by many poets, among them the Swedish “national poet” Evert Taube who was here in the 1950’s. He called it “An Atlantis returned from the seas “.
Five things not to miss in Guatemala:
- Antigua. Extremely charming and laidback town with an old fashioned air; low buildings and cobbled streets, lots of hangout places (recommended: Fridas) and some really fine restaurants (Meson Panza Verde!). Surrounded by scenic volcanoes.
- Lago Atitlán. The blue gemstone of Guatemala, a big lake lake rimmed by volcanoes and small picturesque villages, mostly inhabited by mayas. Our recommendation here is to visit Santiago. You go safest from one to the other by boat.
- Flores. This city stands in full on an island in Lake Petén and has an unmistakeable mediterranean atmosphere. Narrow streets, intimate restaurants and a friendly and partyloving population.
- Tikal. Capital and heart of the Maya culture and religion. A vast city with lots of temple complexes and ruins. Employing a guide is definitely worth the money, you will get a lot more useful and interesting information.
- Chichicastenango. For its colourful market and its many mayan ceremonial places, often by or in churches. It’s in the highlands which means sunny wheather and clean air.
Antigua (the city in Guatemala, not the island in the Caribbean) is a colonial dream surrounded by symmetrical and violent volcanoes. The one in the picture above, Volcano Agua is relatively calm these days. But its neighbour, Vulcano Fuego (below) puffs out smoke every ten minutes and erupted with a deadly stream of lava just a few years ago.
Från the hill of Cerro de la Cruz you get a perfect overview of the city with its straight streets and rectangular blocks.
Antigua has kept its archaic cityscape with low houses and cobblestone streets, which gives it a very cozy and welcoming atmosphere. It is since many years a Unesco world heritage. But it’s also a city with a pulsating street life, modern bars and restaurants. Lots of expats have settled here in this open and friendly society.
Antigua was for many years the base for the regional Spanish colonial administration in this region, until a series of earthquakes in the 1700’s turned most of the city into rubble. Even today ruins of the many of the splendid churches and monasteries can be found in and around the city, standing like gigantic empty shells. But often exquisitely lit in the evenings.
In some places old ruins have been included in new buildings.
On 5:th Avenida Norte the street is sealed off for traffic and the street life is vibrant. Visitors, salesmen and performers jostle one another in the days prior to New Year’s Day. It’s a continuous party 24/7. Under the arch of Santa Catalina with Volcano Agua as a backdrop marimba bands perform. The grand xylophone marimba is a national instrument and each played by three or four performers was something we saw many times. But a disco dancing rabbi we only saw once.
The market in Antigua is like a city within the city. A huge area with it’s own blocks criss-crossed by long narrow lanes. They lead past tables loaded with fiery red tomatoes, fresh vegetables, exotic fruit, fish, meat and electronics. It’s cramped and pushy, there are people running around carrying boxes, families with children, people in wheelchairs, all trying to move on.
Antiguas only brewery is of course a modern micro brewery. It’s open to visitors and there’s a drinking and dining area on the roof. They serve not just their own brew but also bottles from other craft beer makers in Guatemala. It’s so great, this generosity among people who are actually competitors, but belong to the same “movement”!
Antigua is just perfect for just walking around, checking the street life, watching the colourful dresses that the indigenous women wear. But if you for some reason want to see something else, the “Valhalla macadamia farm” is definitely worth a visit. The easiest way to get there is by taxi, it’s just a couple of miles away and you pass the Ciudad Vieja, the “Old Town” on the way.
Entering the farm you get a free round trip on the estate, they show you the macadamia trees with nuts in all stages, and also the very primitive machines used to crack and sort the nuts. After that you can find and buy exciting macadamia products in the farm shop, like the all-purpose macadamia oil and chocolate with, yes, you guessed it, macadamia nuts.
Or you can enjoy a coffee or a meal in the onsite restaurant. Their wc is actually an amazing experience!
Valhalla Macadamia Farm is owned by an american couple with german ancestry (which explains the name) and they do have some altruistic goals. They help poor indigenous families to start sustainable farming of macadamia. We definitely support this, as we really like macadamia nuts and would like to see them replace the standard boring north american peanuts sold at every tienda in the country.
We bid farewell to lovely Antigua with a close-up view of the iconic Arco de Santa Catalina, probably one of the best known buildings in Guatemala. It was built to provide shelter for the nuns in the nunnery on one side of the street to be able to pass over to the other side without being seen.
Now we head over to the blue gemstone of Guatemala!