I first set foot in this country more than 40 years ago and the changes have been immense as in the rest of my world. People tend to dream of the past as the better days and in a way this is true. Then the indigenous Mayas, both men and women, dressed in their traditional regional costumes. This has disappeared mostly among the men who now wear Western-style clothing while the women maintained their native dress but with less purity. The people used to be very polite, the food more natural, the Mayan textiles handmade and dyed with natural colors (now a day to find a real hand made textile not made overseas is rare and if found, extremely expensive). Then pottery was the main source of water containers and cooking pots; now they are all plastic or metal imported from you know where. Dollars were worth a lot and the local coins were pure silver; try to find one now. Poverty was there but I never saw hungry indigenous people in the countryside; this has changed too. It is better now? It depends on who you are.
Going back to food, a mixture of Mayan and Spanish cuisine was dominant 40 years ago with a variety of corn dishes, and lots of fresh vegetable available. There are still old restaurants in Guatemala City where fresh food can be found. I had lunch this year at the Altuna Restaurant where the service, ambience and menu still preserves the styles of the past. I had a bacalao a la vizcaina, a typical Spanish staple that is rarely found in the more eclectic modern eateries. Of course you can always go McD, Domino’s Pizza or Poyo Campero (a local version of Kentucky Fried Chicken).
Most of the images in this blog were taken with an iPhone, as I am getting tired of carrying the big cameras; for the purpose of a blog, digital phone images are adequate. Graffiti is endemic everywhere one goes now a days and I am a fan of those street artists (vandals to others) and what they can create with spray cans. So bear with me and observe the treasures I found in the streets of the Capital City. Here the local government has embraced the wall defacers and established zones where graffiti is promoted and protected.
The samples below may have come from the minds of extra-terrestrials or extreme re-incarnations of Van Gogh and Jeronimo Bosch. I got hundreds of graffiti images to be added to my world collection but will not bore you with more.
Guatemala City is rich in art and architectural styles with hidden treasures in private homes in the forms of interior designs as well as decorations. An example of a modern home interior below but the original colonial homes are also real amazing. Find a friend with local connections there that could open those doors for you. And of course, you can always find the weird in the streets as the statue to Santa Apolonia, the patroness of the dentists. By the way dental work by highly skilled dentists can be obtained there for a fraction of the cost of that available in the USA; the savings may pay for a whole trip there.
The ancient capital of Antigua was destroyed by earthquakes several times. When I was first there, the streets were safe, devoid of automotive traffic; the restaurants and accommodations were few, and the locals were friendly but not all spoke Spanish and wore their traditional outfits. What were then private homes are now tourist traps. Even the recent rage of microbreweries has arrived. And the roof of these and some restaurants were modified to accommodate the clientele. Of course they warn you of the hazards of drinking alcohol…but if you are a woman, would you not like to like look her?
Although Guatemala is not known for its wines, its bodegas are full of it with signs attesting to its medicinal virtues. The sign on the wall’s veracity is proven by the happy winos across the street. Better than snake oil.
Back then the old ruined churches, monasteries and convents were just that, and I wandered all over them; this is no longer possible. Some have been converted into fancy resorts or with controlled access with chains and signs mandating “DO NOT CROSS”, DO NOT CLIMB, PRIVATE PROPERTY…the fun is gone. There are also signs warning you as to the perils of tourism such as assaults and robberies. I had local photographer friends that lost their gear in plain daylight…another advantage of carrying a iPhone, but these are at risk too. Fancy boutiques are protected and to access some, you have to go across a cage before inspecting the goodies. The mountain in the image below, behind C’SANTOS, is the Volcan del Agua- seldom seen since is mostly covered by clouds.
As I mentioned before, one of the former monasteries has been restored into a 5-star convention/museum hotel complex. A textile exhibit by the artist David Ordonez, who uses textiles as the medium was on display. Below is an example of his work mounted in a frame; the image you see is that of a tri-dimensional cloth bundle; I marked the KNOT so you can get a reference as to the topography of the object. Below is a photo of a wall with climbing flowers inside the complex.
Wandering the streets of Antigua is rewarding since it has preserved at least the external colonial styles with wonderful window decorations and doors, some more than 500 years old. Some of these properties are still under the ownership of the descendants of the original Spanish Conquistadores who built them and not converted into tourist traps…yet.
Before leaving this historical place, despite having been there several times, there is always something new to discover walking the streets as the hermita below. And something old, the communal laundry that during my first visit was busy with the local ladies in their traditional outfits doing the laundry under the arches, and the kids bathing in the adjacent pool. But I missed the vendor of the green cart who only sells flavors but no colors.