Antigua 2011

October 24, 2011 at 12:06 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , )


WARNING: SUPER MASSIVE LONG POST AHEAD

As promised, here’s an overview of my first and only entire solo adventure in another country:

Typical sidestreet

Antigua, Guatemala was once the capital of the country but a series of horrible earthquakes kept demolishing the town and in the mid 1700’s, they decided to up and move the capital to Guatemala City.  Officials actually told everyone to vacate the entire place but even back then there were some people with listening problems and there were families that remained behind.  Now, Antigua is a little city that still thrives on cobblestone streets and has the ruins of many buildings and cathedrals strewn throughout the landscape.  It was pretty surreal to stand in front of buildings that are older than our entire country and it was powerful to say the least.  There are volcanoes surrounding the entire town and even though it was mostly cloudy while I was there the tops could be seen every now and then.

Speaking of volcanoes, I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way now: I had planned to hike and camp overnight on the top of one with a group I found and while I did manage to get about 1/3 of the way up, I got altitude sickness and had to come back down.  Antigua itself sits about 1500 meters above sea level and the peak of the volcano was around 4000…I made it close to 3000 before bowing out.  Apparently everyone else on the tour had been in Antigua for weeks or months and their bodies were better adjusted to the height – I was there about a day before attempting the summit.  As someone who’s never had altitude sickness I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening to me but I knew it wasn’t pleasant.  I was carrying a 60lb pack and got weak and dizzy and couldn’t seem to catch my breath for the life of me.  I pushed myself as hard as I could but ultimately decided it was a more responsible (albeit less fulfilling) decision to come back down rather than get any higher and really get ill.  The hike was steep (obviously – it was a volcano after all) and I had visions of passing out and tumbling back down what had taken me forever to climb, so I called it a day.  I was embarrassed and am still pretty disappointed but I still think I made the right decision.

Anyway.  Other than attempting to conquer a volcano, I spent the majority of my time in Antigua walking around, checking out ruins, wandering through museums and patting myself on the back for any Spanish I was able to correctly utter.

View from the rooftop of ruins

Antigua is full of churches and cathedrals and they provided me more enjoyment than I would have guessed.  I was raised Catholic but consider myself more spiritual than religious these days, which was why I was surprised with the emotion I felt while in these places.  Now, most of what I read about these cathedrals was in Spanish and since my skills have been in atrophy since high school, I did not learn everything I could.  For instance, I can tell you that this picture to the right was taken on the roof top of some ruins of my favorite cathedral I encountered, and that the priest who used to work these grounds became canonized as a Saint by Pope John Paul in the 1990’s.  There are relics that the Saint wore on display in the museum (including some very uncomfortable looking underwear that was made nearly 500 years ago) and his tomb is on display within the new church.  There was also a room full of letters, photos, glasses, crutches and other items that people placed there after seeking health and cures from the Saint.  After the people were relieved of their illnesses, they left trinkets as signs of gratitude.  I’m not sure how to convey how powerful it was to be in the presence of paintings, statues and artifacts that have brought so many so much comfort for such a long time but it was pretty moving.  I had tears in my eyes and I’m not afraid to admit it!

Antigua is also pretty touristy, at least for Guatemala, and there are many language schools that people can go to for immersion in Spanish classes.  I did think about that but they typically ran for weeks and I didn’t have the time or money.  These schools bring a lot of students and I met people from as far as Australia and near as Chicago (seriously, I probably met 5 Chicagoans while there.  Crazy).  So there were many people to talk to and I made friends with a few women in my hostel.  It was nice to share experiences with other women traveling alone over a few drinks and I did that on more than one occasion.

There was a huge town square that had a park and water fountain and I would spend some time hanging out there with my book after having dinner.  This cathedral was in the middle of the square and was lit up every single night.  How could I not want to sit in its shadow?

Seriously gorgeous

This was probably the most impressive night-time display but it was not the only one I encountered.

This trip taught me a lot about myself as well.  I proved that I really can just up and fly someplace totally foreign and get by for a while.  I did manage to use some of my archaic Spanish skills to order entire meals, so I was pretty proud of that.  And even though I’ve eaten plenty of meals out alone in the States, I was able to do so in Antigua without feeling awkward or on display.  I did some bargain shopping and enjoyed the freedom of doing exactly what I wanted, whenever I wanted to do it.  I was able to go to the same museum on two different days without anyone giving me grief or rolling their eyes and if I wanted to lay in the hammock of our hostel patio for an afternoon siesta, no one told me I shouldn’t.

Well-known Antiguan archway

I also learned that even when I try my damnedest to be alone, it just doesn’t happen.  The girl sitting next to me on the flight down is from Chicago and we have plans to meet up and have drinks next week.  I met a retired book seller who has a shop right down from the hostel I stayed in and he used to work right down the street from my current apartment.  I also met a guy in my hostel who had been partying in Chicago the week before I left with some old college friends.  Not to mention all of the other people from places outside of the American Midwest I was able to get to know.  If there’s one thing that traveling so much as taught me, it’s that it truly is a small world and most people are basically the same.

Sure, the trip didn’t go exactly how I planned and I would give the entire experience to have Catsby back (I’m not strong enough yet but one day there will be a post about her passing).  I’m very glad I went though and I’ll admit it – I’m proud for how I handled everything.  Which reminds me of the middle-aged guy from Florida I met one night while having dinner – he heard my American accent and had to ask just what the hell I was doing there.  Apparently he had always wanted to learn Spanish so waited until his mid-life crisis to give it a shot and he asked just how big my balls were that I up and flew down there on my own.  After assuring him that my ovaries are in fact massive, I realized he was right.  It was a risky adventure but I survived.  It went better than I expected and I’d go back again.  Maybe solo, maybe not…but at least I know that I can get by on my own if I want to!

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