Docked at port in the dark. By the time the sun was a soft pink glow we were having breakfast and ready to make out way to Antigua the old capital of Guatemala.
Did the usual negotiating at the port side and got a shuttle bus to the other port where the fancy Island Princess was to berth in about an hour. In a dusty car-park about the size of a football field, the local artisans were unpacking their boxes and plastic bags of wares. Some truly beautiful handworks in both wool and silk, timber carvings, jewellery, possibly not true jade, silver,beadwork knick knacks,and anything a tourist could hope for. Reasonable prices but we didn’t buy,hoping for a better deal in town.
Eventually got a mini-bus with six other Maasdam and two Princess passengers. We were departing at 3:30pm and they were leaving at 5:30 so more haggling for the bus to return in time for us not to miss the boat. Deal done and we were off on the 90 minute drive to Antigua.
Passing the two major volcanoes of Water and Fire, both of which are still active, we had a compulsory stop at a coffee plantation that I think the driver’s great aunt owned. It was interesting to see the coffee beans growing on the trees and view the new city of San Antonia; the old one having been destroyed by an earthquake some years before. The top cones of both of the volcanoes were clouded in, but still ominous. The steam, mixing with the pollution created an eerie look.
At the plantation, the women were either weaving blankets on very simple hand looms, making tortilla shells or roasting the coffee beans. Great photo opportunities. We quickly browsed the handicrafts, again beautiful, but again moved on hoping for better deals. Made it to Antigua and up the hill to the huge granite cross, Cerro de la Cruz,situated in a national park. The sweeping views south over the city with Agua Volcano in the background made the Ten dollars entrance fee for the minibus very inexpensive. Beautiful overview of a city wrecked by earthquakes and rebuilt many times. The cross itself had a stark beauty.
All aboard again and back to our drop-off point, Parque Central to experience the heart and soul of Antigua. The city revolves around this square. As you sit you can take in the Cathedral, the Captain’s General Palace, the Ayuntamiento (city Hall), the Merchant’s arcade and Antigua’s wonderful fountain Las Sirenas, which doesn’t have any water flowing until the weekend; today is Friday.
Made our way to the Place del Ayuntamiento with the official flags flying, on the north side of the plaza. This large structure functions as the town hall, also known as the Casa del Cabildo, it’s ten fluted column arches on both the ground and second floor add a graceful beauty to it’s otherwise drab dull interior and peeling white paint large brick exterior. Vaulted ceilings of the verandahs and the purple banners draping the upper arches did add the touch of drama and colour. Using the upper floor arches to frame the views of the cathedral and Agua Volcano justified the wide elegant stairs.
The cathedral,Cathedral de Santiago’s Baroque facade, standing proudly in front of the ruins behind was an architectural beauty. An all white exterior, featuring fifteen statues set into niches, it stands atop wide dark granite steps. Inside the narrow white vaulted ceiling chapel was an ornate gold altar and a statue of Christ, dressed in beaded purple velvet gown,carrying the cross. I found it unusual to see the Christ gowned but the piece made a lasting impression. Simple beauty. Very large glass cases featuring other icons graced the interior side walls. Apparently steps behind the main altar lead to the former crypt turned chapel harbouring the Black Christ statue. We did not venture as time was limited and three of the five of us were Jewish. Oops!
I had a plan as all good tour leaders should. Paper in hand, tag-a-longs behind, we set off.
Head north on 5a Avienda to Hotel Posada Don Rodrigo at the corner of 3a Calle. took a look around the wonderful old colonial home turned into a charming hotel. On entry one could feel the beauty and grace. Long wide corridors, tiled floors, heavy timber beams above extending out to the courtyard. Verdant green vines writhing around the posts. Got an idea of the courtyard style of living in which all rooms lead to a central patio and not from room to room. Beautiful Macaws were the posers of the day,the rich colours of their plumage standing out from the green foliage. Visited the kitchen garden with original pila (wash Basin) and Moorish water garden originally used for growing herbs. Artist markets with top quality merchandise were set up along the paths. A drink would have been appreciated but the time was against us. Didn’t ask the price but it looked more than the $1 the street stall asked for water.
Continued north along 5a Avienda to the arch of Santa Catalina (a major symbol of Antigua) It was built to provide a hidden passageway from one side of the street to the other so the cloistered nuns of the order would be hidden from the public’s view. No matter how many earthquakes Antigua has suffered, the Arch has suffered structural damage but has never fallen down.The dark ominous sky contrasted with the The archway beautifully painted in rich orange hue with white accents that have become delightfully aged.The pastel washed buildings provided the perfect backdrop for the colourful outfits of the locals. Great photos. All the way were were escorted by different touts and traders.
Continue to the end of 5a Avienda to La Merced. Visit the ruins to see what many people call the most impressive fountain in Antigua. The entry fee of $4 was not excessive but the guy would not take american dollars so we could not enter. Well the group stayed outside while the leader took off and did a flying tour and photographed as much as possible. Beautiful huge columns forming an archway around the courtyard surrounding the most beautiful fountain one could imagine. The best views were from the second floor which I could not reach as there was another guard wanting a ticket. What ticket?
Next a visit to the Church of La Merced, the only surviving piece of architecture built in the Rococo style. Still had my tag-a-longs. Parched but surviving.
After leaving the complex, off to see the ruins El Carmen, home of the Carmelite order; then back turning to what was home to the cloistered Capuchin nuns, an austere offshoot of the Franciscans. It is easy to spend 1-2 hours in these absolutely beautiful and extensive ruins. We didn’t have time but there is plenty to see on our next visit.
Our tour led back to the central plaza and cathedral de santiago. Minibus arrived and the long rough journey back to Maasdam.