In and Around Antigua
I was feeling adventurous this morning, and decided to hop onto one of the (chicken) buses idling in a large gravel lot near the town market.
I turned around from my tasty lunch to a former U.S. school bus (turned colorful Guatemalan people/ livestock/ whatever-mover) marked for Santa María de Jesús. I had absolutely no idea where this pueblo was, but after discovering from the driver that it was only 12km from town, I figured the place was worth checking out.
Inside the bus I found myself surrounded by short, plump indigenous women packed three to a seat. I sat down—smooshing myself onto the edge of a tattered, brown pleather cushion. My ass was hanging half way off the seat, but pushing against the stout grandmother opposite me (in the same predicament) had the effect of creating an invisible seat over the isle. This scene was mirrored on every row of the bus—60+ vibrantly colored women clothed in their traditional garb, and me.
The bus exited Antigua to the south, and began climbing its way up one of the volcanoes that loom over the city. Peeking though the trees (and the dozing women) I caught a glimpse or two of Antigua nestled between green slopes and soft clouds.
Santa María de Jesús turned out to be a fairly large town of friendly, indigenous Guatemalans. The buildings are almost devoid of color (the large cluster of cement-gray structures stands out at a distance), which was surprising considering the myriad bold patterns of color found on the clothing of nearly every towns-person.
I have a feeling only a very small percentage of travelers ever stroll through the concrete streets of Santa María—sure indicators are the numerous inquisitive stares and the little children who point and say (in the cutest voices, rolling their Spanish R's) "gringo!"
Out and About in Antigua
The pace of life in Antigua is casual and mellow for me. Many early afternoons have found me on a bench in the main city park/plaza conversing with locals and travelers, people watching, or memorizing Spanish vocab. Maybe it's the weather, or just the relaxing pace, but I find myself smoking my pipe with greater frequency, and simply enjoying the moments of the day.
Antigua after dark is active enough to keep me entertained, and the floodlit cathedral ruins and plaza buildings are enjoyable to stroll past, but I'll never feel safe or particularly comfortable walking down empty cobblestone streets at night (regardless of the city/country).
These past few evenings I've enjoyed drinks and traded stories with tourists and travelers (even running into a few old ones from countries past), listened to live music inside of a combination bookstore/cafe/bar, danced in the style of salsa, and earned karma points for safely escorting intoxicated women back to their respective homes/hotels.
I try not to pay too much mind to the Guatemalan horror stories some travelers tell. Tales of pick-pockets, bag slashers, and armed robbery on buses moving between cities seem to be particularly prevalent. Even Shoal told me a story about how his friend was recently marched off a bus and into the jungle at gunpoint by bandits (who thankfully took only his currency and not his life).
I'd like to hope that I'm savvy and cautious enough not to end up on the long list of recent crime incidents involving foreigners (compiled by the U.S. embassy in Guatemala City), but I suppose only time and travel will tell.
On the eve of my 7th night in Antigua I'm beginning to feel the time crunch. I'm really quite comfortable here, and I think that I could easily spend three or four months casually moving about Guatemala—but I've got less than 40 days before I need to be in Costa Rica to meet up with my brother. I have a feeling that I'll end up breezing through Honduras and Nicaragua to meet him on time, but after our time together (and a quick jaunt down into Panama), I'll head back north until I'm satisfied. Eventually I'll fly out of Central America (perhaps even from as far north as Mexico, if I'm so inclined) and into Bogatá, Colombia to begin my South American travels (that should last well into the first half of 2007).