My feelings about Antigua are so clear in so many ways, yet mixed in many ways too. So, I name this post The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly in hopes of un-mixing these feelings and sharing our amazing, our horrible, and our uncomfortable week in Antigua.
We woke up Monday morning excited to explore Antigua in the morning and start our classes in the afternoon. We ate our breakfast with our fellow homestay students, Chloe and Kandace. Chloe was a mid-aged woman from Tucson in Antigua for a few weeks studying spanish. She left the next day, so we did not get a chance to spend much time with her, but she was very friendly. Kandace was a 20-something Canadian who quit her job to travel, first to Europe and then to Central America. She was on no time frame and decided stay in Antigua for 3 weeks. We ended up talking a lot with her at mealtimes, and we really enjoyed having someone who spoke English to talk to at the end of our 4 hour spanish lessons.
After breakfast we wandered around for 3 hours, stopping to take pictures, enjoy a jade museum, and gaze at the volcanos that surround Antigua (there are four). I loved Antigua. I love the mountain valley it is in, I love the volcanos, I love the cobblestone streets, I love how everywhere smells of bread (despite not being able to eat it), I love the old colonial buildings, especially the ones that are now essentially rubble, I love Santa Domingo (a beautiful old monastery turned high end hotel, where you are allowed to wander the lush grounds and buy expensive chocolate, which we did of course), I love the main square, I love the markets, I love the pastries, I love the bustling tourist area, and the calmer side streets where locals live, shop, and eat. Our home stay was on one such street. It was a large home, with 7 bedrooms, but it housed 7 people, plus 2-4 students at a time. We kind of had two home stay “mothers”, Consuelo, the matron of the home, and her daughter Teresita. Teresita, her three sons (aged 18-30), her husband Jorge, and her sister (and Consuelo’s other daughter) all lived together.
After wandering we went back home for lunch. We had soup and delicious stewed chicken. Before we knew it, it was time to head to school! We paid $200 total for 20 hours of spanish, with one on one instruction. We had lessons in “the garden”, which is a grassy and treed park-like thing, with tons of two person tables. During our daily lessons we both learned quite a bit, Logan beginning at the beginning and learning how to say complete sentences (in present tense), while I reviewed 4 years of high school spanish in what ended up being 4 days (more on this later). Logan absorbed probably a semester of college spanish in his 20 hours, and feels a lot more confident speaking to people down here now. I remember a lot more than I did, but still am lacking in confidence, hopefully that changes. After our first day of lessons we treated ourselves to the first of many pastries, finding one layered with homemade marshmallow creme that became almost a daily treat (and for only 2.50 QZ!). We went the the same panaderia (right in front of the Merced church) so many times that the women behind the counter laughed every time we came in. For dinner we feasted on rice and beans, and after I taught Logan how to play cribbage. Then sleep.
And so it went for the first few days. Breakfast (fruit, coffee, pancakes), wandering, lunch (soup and meat), school, pastry, dinner (rice and beans), cribbage, bed. Loving Antigua was so easy. Life was so good.
Thursday is when our time in Antigua went south. Logan had been feeling a bit unwell Wednesday night, but nothing really came of it for him. However, I caught whatever he had, and it held on, relentlessly, for four days. Our home stay was COLD, which probably would have been nice, had the weather in Antigua been it’s normal balmy, sunny self, but due to the polar vortex sending bad weather even as far as Guatemala, it was way colder than normal (thanks America!). Our home stay family was bundled in every warm piece of clothing they owned. But I digress. I had the flu. THE FLU! I pretty much don’t get sick (well from drinking and eating things I shouldn’t (thanks to my no-dairy, no-wheat, light-on-the-meat restrictions I was blessed with from a combo of my parents equally hard to feed genes), and I have never had a flu shot, and have only had the flu once (while living in the dorms freshman year). IT WAS AWFUL! I was so cold I thought I may die, I couldn’t eat, and on Thursday I couldn’t really even move. I didn’t go to class and slept all day long. Friday I felt a bit better and struggled through the day, including class, reviewing past and future tense in one intense 4 hour session. Saturday I slept through the morning, but got out and walked for a few hours in the afternoon, if only to escape our freezing cold bedroom.
I took “Kold Grip” at the suggestion of my teacher, which helped the head part of the flu go away after two days, but my stomach felt like something was rotting in it the whole four days. I didn’t really eat, so there was nothing to come back up. To make matters worse, I was sad to be in bed while Antigua was outside, beckoning me. It was very unpleasant, although the worst day, of the sickness and the trip so far, came on Sunday (more about Sunday, which has become our travel day it seems, in the next post).
Amidst our wanderings in the city and my hours upon hours in bed, we took care of some business while in one place for a week. For one, laundry. Before I launch into the ugly, I need to give a bit of background. For those who do not know, my parents tend to lean (or really plunge head first) into the hippie side of life. Because of this, all my clothes from birth to graduation were washed in various types of chemical free laundry detergent. When I graduated from high school my mom gifted me a year supply of such laundry detergent and after that ran out I began purchasing only chemical free detergent as well. We brought Dr. Bronner’s castille soap (biodegradable baby!) to hand wash our clothes in, but we couldn’t bring a lot since we carried our bags onto the plane, so while in Antigua we decided to get our smelly clothes washed at a lavandaria.
I was hopeful that Guatemalans were not as chemical dependent as us Americans are, but alas. My skin has been a lovely shade of splotchy-red-and-white-polka-dot since we had our clothes washed. I look quite diseased from neck to foot (luckily one does not wear clothes on one’s face), but it thankfully doesn’t itch. So, I would like to give a shout out to my parents, mostly in thanks for not exposing me to chemicals harmful to my skin, but also in warning to never tempt fate by washing their own clothes in anything but gentle, eco-friendly, hippie soap.
To sum up, Antigua was overall great. Sickness and skin irritations aside, I really loved it there and want to go back someday. Next time I will be armed with a flu shot and my own laundry detergent.