After our jaunt back to Florida to be with our daughter Megan and son-in-law Jimmy for the birth of their first child, Trey, a big healthy baby boy at 8 lbs 14 oz, we took care of some necessary business before loading up to fly back to Guatemala where our plans included visiting various parts of the interior. Spirit Airlines delivered us safely to Guatemala City on July 22, 2008, two days after the worst rains, floods and mudslides that this country had experienced in many years. The event has been labeled the worst natural catastrophe to hit the country since the earthquake of 1973 when 1300 people lost their lives. The president declared thirteen provinces disaster areas, and the news here has been full of the tragedies that have befallen many residents. We rented a car from Dollar Rent a Car and drove out of the city in torrential rain that pelted us all the way to La Antigua, our first stop. We found the 6 lane highway partially blocked by mudslides and rock slides in many locations, but the danger spots were well marked by signs, cones, and policemen, so we were never in any real danger on this leg of our trip
Arriving in the pouring rain at our hotel, Casa Madeleine, from the street we saw nothing but a massive walled enclosure with a giant oak framed entrance. I huddled in the rain and rang the tiny little chime, and after a brief moment the massive door slid open giving access to the interior of a traditional Spanish property with beautiful gardens, patios, and multiple suites varying in size and decor. No two rooms were alike, and right outside our door we walked into the colorful courtyard you see above. If you raised your eyes just a little, Volcan Agua at 3,760 meters was displayed like a perfect postcard. This city was the original capital of Guatemala, founded in 1543, and named “La Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala” for the apostle St. James, patron saint of the Spanish conquistadors. Although Antigua was rocked by many earthquakes, the city was continuously rebuilt as it was a major political, religious, and intellectual center in Central America with 32 churches, 7 colleges, a university, and 18 convents and monasteries, until one day in 1773, a massive earthquake struck and nearly destroyed the city. The capital moved to a supposedly safer location some 45 km east to what is now Guatemala City. The old capital became known as La Antigua Guatemala, the Ancient Guatemala, and that is the name you find on most of the road signs leading you to the city.
Today the streets are paved with extremely rough cobblestone rock from the volcanoes and earthquakes. We found the streets impassible for Joy’s scooter, so we resorted to travel by car, park, then wander where there were sidewalks. Stopped below, just outside la “Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Merced”, the Church of Our Lady of Mercy (to the left), Joy, as usual, became an instant hit with adults and children alike stopping to see who was this lady on the electric scooter. This beautiful church with its ornate architecture was built in 1548, destroyed by an earthquake in 1717, then rebuilt in 1765 to earthquake resistant standards so tough that it survived the disastrous quake of 1773 with barely a crack. It is just one of many such churches we saw on our travels throughout the country, yet we find these churches and what they represent in stark contrast to the lifestyle and daily habits of most of the people we met. We will talk much more about our impressions later in our travels.
Antigua seems to be overflowing with hotels and restaurants, yet they all were busy even during this somewhat slower time of the year, winter as the locals call it due to much cooler temperatures and frequent rain showers. Daytime temperatures rarely rose above 70 degrees and the nights dipped into the 50’s. Joy and I froze, and with the cold, damp, humid conditions, Joy soon developed a bad cough that turned into either bronchitis or walking pneumonia. Her horrible cough, headache, fever, and chills stayed with her for most of our trip to the highlands. Not to be deterred though, we couldn’t help but be happy entering the little restaurant, store, and cooking school below for a quick visit!
On the morning we left La Antigua, the day started bright and sunny, and as we leisurely took our breakfast in the courtyard at Casa Madeleine, how could we be anything but content and immensely thankful for all that we have been able to see and do together. Our memories of tranquil moments like this one will last forever.
Drive to Santiago