Guatemala 2020 - Days 1 and 2 (Antigua)
Updated: Feb 20, 2020
I was up at 2 am to head to the airport on Friday. It had just snowed so I shoveled the sidewalk before heading to the bus stop to take the night bus to the airport. This was my first time taking the night bus instead of booking an airport taxi and it was ridiculously easy. The stop is a 10 minute walk away, and the ride took 45 minutes - about 10 minutes more than a car would take.
Delta wouldn't allow me to check in online or at the kiosks at the airport because I'd only booked a 1-way ticket, so I had to wait in line to check in at the counter. There was only one person handling check-ins and he was stuck with one person who took well over 20 minutes of his time. Finally, at 4 am, more agents showed up and the line started moving more quickly. The lady I saw was not impressed with my 1-way ticket and insisted I wouldn't be allowed into Guatemala without a return ticket. I told her I'd take my chances and she let me go. I've seen a number of posts from people saying they run into problems with US airlines when they book a 1-way ticket to Guatemala but no one has reported having any problems getting into the country. Sure enough, the border agents didn't ask me any questions about my return date and I got through immigration no problem.
For my 8 nights in Antigua, I booked a room through AirBnB at Casa de Stela. For $31 CAD/night (small discount for booking over a week), I get a large room with desk, plenty of place to hang my clothes, a private bathroom, plus breakfast. The rooms at Casa de Stela are set around a little courtyard with seating and hammocks, and there's a shared kitchen. It would be a lovely place to stay for a couple of months. The only downside, although this is likely the case for most buildings in Antigua, is that there's no sound proofing in these buildings and my neighbours are loud and stay up late... Stealing a photo from the web:
After crashing for a bit, I forced myself to go explore. Antigua is a very easy city to find your way around in. Calles run E/W and Avenidas run N/S. Both are numbered so you always know where you are and pretty much can't get lost. I decided to check out the Spanish school where I'll be taking classes next week: Don Pedro de Alvarado Spanish School. I chose this school for a new program they offer: instead of doing 4hrs/day of one on one classes at the school, I spend 2hrs at the school and 2hrs going on excursions with my teacher ($155 US, 20hrs). This will allow me to visit places that I might not otherwise have the time to visit given my packed schedule. I was given the schedule of proposed activities with costs where an activity has an entrance fee. I was also given a list of the activities that will take place at the school in the afternoons, ranging from free activities (one lunch and one supper and some salsa classes) to a couple of tours both of which cost < $10 CAD.
I then found Salsa con Gloria, met Gloria, and picked up her contact info so I can schedule some private salsa classes.
Finally, I wandered into La Casa de Las Sopas where, for $13 CAD, I got a large Guatemalan soup (tomatillos, rice, chicken, some root vegetables, and of course, tortillas) and a fruit smoothie. The choice was tough since there were many delicious looking soups on the menu so I expect I'll be going back to try another one before I leave.
I got back to my room shortly after 7 and immediately crashed... and woke up at 9:15 with sunlight streaming through the windows. I was stunned - how could I have slept for close to 14 hours without waking up once? And why was I still so tired?!?!? I looked at my phone and realized it was 9:15 pm, not am, and the light streaming into my room was from the courtyard. The lights must be on a timer because there had been no lights on when I went to bed. So I happily went back to sleep and slept till 8 am. And was still tired! I guess I'll need more than one night's sleep to recover from my 3 hr sleep on Thursday.
After a breakfast yogurt, banana, and granola with coffee, I spent a bit of time researching the excursions I can choose to go on with my Spanish teacher. There are far more options than I can possibly do in one week. I then headed out to find a second salsa school, planning to return in time for a yoga class at Shakti Shala at 12:00 but I got caught up in my wanderings and had all but given up on the class when I found myself in front of the yoga studio at 12:00. It was a good class and just what I needed after so much running around.
On my way back to my room, I stopped at Hotel Santo Domingo, a luxury hotel, museum, and spa just across the street from Casa de Stela. There's an ATM at the hotel and I needed to take out some cash for the week so I wandered in... and in... and in... the place is huge. There's a magnificent courtyard filled with ruins and fountains in the back. I tried taking a video but I moved my camera too fast so the focus isn't great. Next time I go to the ATM, I'll try taking another video to replace this one:
After changing out of my warmer clothes - the weather was cooler in the morning but had gotten quite hot by then - I wandered around some more. Did I mention that Antigua is cute as a button? It is undoubtedly the prettiest Central American city I've been to so far. Every open doorway I pass reveals a lush courtyard; a shop filled with beautiful textiles, paintings, or pottery; or a trendy bar, restaurant, or cafe filled with plants. There's a very distinct aesthetic here that makes everything so beautiful. It's too bad the sidewalks are so narrow - despite the large number of people walking everywhere, this is not a particularly pedestrian friendly city. There is an endless flow of cars going down some of the main streets, the fact that it's a Saturday probably doesn't help, and there are no stop signs. Everything is cobblestone, including many of the sidewalks, making this a sneaker city if ever there was one. Guess I didn't need that pair of nice sandals! Still, I'm having a great time wandering around randomly and taking it all in. It helps that every now and then I turn a corner to find myself in front of a magnificent ruin, church, or park. This time, I found myself in Parque Central where I sat on a bench to read and people watch. I hadn't eaten since breakfast so I chased a woman walking through the park carrying a tray of fresh fruit on her head. For $3 CAD I got a large sliced mango and an equally large portion of mixed fruit. I sat on a bench to eat and ended up striking a conversation with a Guatemalan man sitting next to me. About 10 minutes into our conversation, I learned that he did his MSc in physics in Ohio and is fluent in English. Damn him. He laughed and said my Spanish was just fine, but he did want to practice his English so he was happy to switch languages.
Although the fruit had tied me over, it was time to head out for some real food so I wandered around some more and ended up in Roots Cafe near the yoga studio. The menu had many vegetarian and vegan options and since I had meat yesterday in my soup, I chose a falafel sandwich and PB&J smoothie (with almond milk). As with the La Casa de Sopas, I want to go back to Roots Cafe to try some of their other meals.
And now I'm ready to crash again! G'night!