My New Home: Antigua, Guatemala
Even a rolling stone needs to come to a stop at some point. After an incredibly rewarding year of travelling about – spontaneously shifting from Brazil, North America, Europe, and Central America – I am in need of a rest, regiment and some structure.
I have set up camp in Antigua, Guatemala. Or at least I’m trying to in between varying bouts of anxiety & fear at having made the right decision, and the thrill of the challenges that lay ahead. My expectations are high; my list of things to do, long.
I’ve been searching for a place to live. A frustrating task in a foreign city, further complicated by my lack of Spanish language skills (that’s next on the list, find a Spanish school to attend) and the fact that I’m not only looking for a place to live, but someplace airy enough to work/write in during the day as well. I’ve seen plenty of ‘caves’ and am holding out hope that the perfect writer’s room not only exists but is available to rent (at a reasonable price!).
I’m not looking for much. A bed, a desk, WiFi, some semblance of kitchen, and natural light … in a place quiet enough to sleep and inspiring enough to write.
Antigua is inspiring itself. I choose it for its mix of exotic married with creature comforts. It’s the old colonial capital of Guatemala. (Guatemala City, the new capital is no more than an hour’s drive away.) It’s a cobblestoned grid of streets sitting at the base of a perfectly shaped volcano – there’s two more volcanoes off to the South-West as well.
Different coloured one-story buildings line the streets, interspersed with crumbling colonial ruins. Most of the buildings hold some surprise of sorts. Spanish in style, most house an inner courtyard – the nicest of which have bougainvillea draping over the terracotta roofs and a central fountain gurgling away. Some have been turned into restaurants, others magnificent hotels, while most remain private.
I’m excited by the discovery that awaits; which is somewhat hampered by the fact that there are no street signs labelling the numbered calles (streets) and avenidas (avenues). I’ve already noted a number of places that I must remember to get back to, but am stumped when I try and find them again because the town looks so similar from one un-marked street to the next. (I’m sure in time I’ll know the town like the back of my hand!)
A few horse and carriages wander around the main square which comes alive in the cooler nights with its many trees beautifully lit at night. The colonial arches of the two municipal buildings on either side and the ornate façade of the main cathedral – all elaborately and dramatically lit – enclose the square.
This is a tourist town. And as such it has a good infrastructure of services, restaurants, cafes, live music, bookstores and even a couple gyms. When I was deciding on a place to settle down for a bit this all came into play. (Yes, I’ll admit the fact that I can have a Burger King chocolate milkshake (my fav) when I want a taste of home was a deciding factor.) But the biggest reason was the pride the people here take in their town: unlike other Guatemalan towns people here use the garbage cans provided as opposed to carelessly tossing trash aside for the street cleaners; dogs are leashed and don’t run wild, uncared for with their tails between their legs; and that Burger King I mentioned – it’s as invisible as the next shop, it’s signage obviously reigned in by by-laws that make its exterior as classy as the next place. (Don’t even get me started on the McDonald’s and its incredible Spanish courtyard 😉
To live here I forfeited an opportunity to fly back to Australia because I wasn’t ready quite ready to go home yet. Perhaps this is what’s adding to my fear of having made the wrong decision, but despite moments of doubt, I’m pretty sure I made the right decision. Each day I climb the Cerro de la Cruz to look down over the town and at the perfectly shaped volcano that sits behind it. Each day I’m reminded of how beautiful it is here.
Listening to the people on the street speaking Spanish I’m spurred on by the fact that one-day soon I won’t just be picking out words from the conversation, I’ll be able to understand them in their entirety.
I plan a simple regiment: to write, study Spanish, and to get back to the gym.
Wish me luck. And feel free to come and visit.
Update: No sooner did I finish writing this post that I found the perfect writer’s haven – a sunny room (with a sunnier terrace that enjoys a view of all three volcanoes and one of the town’s cathedrals -photo above and left) in a colonial Spanish home with a leafy courtyard and a tiled fountain. I moved in today!