Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lago de Atitlan to Antigua, 77 miles

We left Panajachel via the same route a week later. Saturday finds us headed to Antigua for a 2 day stay. It is not far by milage count but still takes almost three hours before our arrival into Antigua. Antigua is one of the cities that I really want to visit on our travels. Filled with a colonial past, this city transports you back in time to when the Spanish ruled. It was originally called Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, after the patron saint of the Conquistadors and was capital of a region that includes what is now all of Central America and part of Mexico. Along with Lima and Mexico City, it was one of the greatest cities of the Americas. It is the old colonial capital of Guatemala prior to 1773, when, due to earthquakes demolishing Antigua twice in a 60 year period the capital was formally moved to Guatemala City. Antigua does not allow traffic into the main old town centre and traffic circles the city on the perimter in a counter clockwise direction. We had been told that the easiest way to drive the town was by following a bus. The idea being, if a bus can fit down a street, so can an RV. This is true but quite harrowing. Our campground in Antigua is a Parqueo next to the bus station. A parqueo is simply a parking lot available by the hour, 1/2 or full day use for people coming to town. In our case we negotiate a 24 hour parking fee (about $18.00) per day and we parked at the back, in a beautiful grassy park with no other vehicles. These parqueos are manned with guards day and night and are completely safe. Petty crime is prevalent in Antigua as in many tourist towns both abroad and the States and it is not unusual to see security guards armed with automatic weapons walking around, hopefully as a detterent. Sunday is a sight-seeing day for us. We walk Winston for a couple of hours and set off. Antigua is really an old city that was devastated by 2 earthquakes in the 1700's, rebuilt after the first and abandoned in 1773 after the second. Our first stop is La Recollection, an old monastery built in the 1400's. The walls still stand but the huge ceilings collapsed, leaving a shell and huge stone boulders as a reminder of how massive these quakes were. Leaving there we go to Nuestra Senora de la Merced (Our Lady of Mercy) cathedral. This is the famous yellow and white cathedral that is pictured in many photographs of Antigua. The church is bright yellow with white decorations that make it look like frosting on a cake. Beautiful architecture and mass was in progress. So we joined the congregation and stayed until well into the sermon stage. Not understanding Spanish as well as we should, we could not follow the priest and so headed outside to continue on our sight seeing mission. The next stop is the Colonial Arch (Arco de Santa Catalina) which spans 5th Ave Norte. This is the remaining remnant of the enormous Convent of St. Catherine. The convent was founded in 1613 with only 4 nuns but in the late 1600's due to it's growing numbers the convent spread across the street. The arch was built to allow the sisters to pass from one side to the other without being seen. This arch is also highly photographed with the volcano in the background. Be still my heart! This particular sight is one of my "bucket list" items. I am overwhelmed. We take lots of photos and just in time. The rain started and surprise of surprises, we find an Irish pub! Beer and appetizers are on our agenda now. After a break and getting a break in the weather we head for another abandoned convent, The Convento de las Capuchinas. This is the largest convent built by the Capuchin nuns. Their numbers were huge because unlike the other sisterhoods, this was the only order that did not require young women to pay a dowry to go into religious life. The convent was damaged in the earthquake of 1773 but restored in the 1940's and opened to the public. The ruins are a poignant reminder of how sequestered a nun's life was like and the grounds are beautiful. Afterwards we head to the main plaza, the Plaza Mayor which is the central park and home to the main cathedral, the Catedral de San Jose. This is a gorgeous white cathedral with two chapels and like most Central American churches, the cross and altar face east so that worshippers pray facing the Holy Land. We are now both sated with culture and reminders of our Catholic religous upbringing. We decide to splurge and instead of walking back to the parqueo, we hire a horse and carriage for a final ride through the city's cobbled streets before going home to the RV. Antigua is haunting and beautiful and well worth a visit. We get back to the RV, to a very excited beagle who now wants ....a walk. We pour a glass of wine, toast our day and as Tom prepares dinner, I walk Winston through our private park sanctuary (now closed and locked for the night) and with the volcanoes around us, reflect on a near perfect day.

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