Que Guapa Guate
Fall break officially started today for us Alabama kids. I say officially because I may or may not have taken a few unofficial days of break earlier in the week... Whoops.
If you know me, you probably know I don’t say no to travel. So when best friend Allie finalized plans to study abroad in Antigua, Guatemala, the plane ticket was just another formality. I promptly booked a plane ticket (I wrote a post on my best tips and tricks here) and the countdown began.
After stepping off the plane into the Guatemala City airport, I was instantaneously greeted by vibrant, live marimba music. Personally, I can’t think of a better greeting. After a long bout with baggage claim and customs, I met Allie outside the airport. It was the sweetest of reunions, even with all the locals and my massive backpack impeding our bear hug.
Since Allie’s been attending school in Guatemala for a few months now, she’s had the immense fortune of making friends with locals. One of them, Mynor, has become one of her closest pals, to the point where she's been practically adopted into his family. His family lives in the city, and Allie lives about an hour outside in a tiny tourist town called Antigua. To get to me at the airport, Allie took a cab from Antigua to Guatemala City Airport, and from there, the two of us met up with Mynor’s dad, the sweetest man, who offered to pick us up and hold our bags while we explored the city. The Guatemalan people have hearts of gold.
Our first stop of the morning was the cluster of museos (museums) 10 minutes or so from the airport. In cliche middle school fashion, Mynor's dad dropped us off and wished us a fun and safe afternoon out. We waved goodbye and hurried inside. Truth be told, we were so excited to be back together and eager to catch up that I can only really recall a whopping two pieces of art. After one museum, we decided we were too distracted to pay admission to something we weren't actually paying attention to, and so we hailed a cab in the name of food and life chats.
Though I never felt unsafe, Guatemala City is not necessarily a place two unaccompanied twenty-one year old gals want to be strolling around. Safety considered, we opted for lunch at a shopping mall called Paseo Cayala. The outdoor mall was gorgeous and extremely safe for the two of us. Paseo Cayala transported me from Latin America to Europe. The architecture was fit for Italy, and the Italian food we had for lunch at Tre Fratelli (we're terrible, I know) certainly added to the cultural complexity.
In a twist of events, my Spanish menu comprehension let me down and I accidentally ordered some very non-vegetarian friendly tortellini. I think the pasta had ham or bacon in it- I am pretty rusty on the taste of meat- but boy, did I suffer afterwards. I highly recommend the cocktails at Tre Fratelli- I potentially had the best mojitos of my life. Of course, the alcohol did not help the digestion of my meaty lunch, and despite my extreme efforts to eat around the meat, my stomach had a full on revolt. Note to self: meat is still the enemy.
After strolling around the mall for an hour or so and willing my body not to throw up, Mynor got off work and picked Allie and I up as planned. I had heard so much about this guy from Allie, so it was wonderful to finally meet him. He drove us from Paseo Cayala to his family's house.
The drive was chaos. I am here to confirm that Guatemala driving etiquette falls somewhere on the spectrum to the left of India and about equal to Egypt (read: buckle up and say a prayer).
By the time we made it to Mynor’s house, I was so hyped up on new country adrenaline that I really didn’t even notice my stomach pains. Once we were inside, we visited with Mynor’s father and thanked him again for taking care of our bags. On the patio upstairs, we clinked beers to the next few days of adventure and lounged around, talking until sunset. We eventually mustered the energy to pull ourselves together and get ready for an art exhibition that Mynor’s mother and sister had so graciously invited us to.
The exhibit was amazing. Perhaps the venue itself was just as artful as the work on display. The building- ancient and colorful- was a sample of what was to come in Antigua. After taking a few pictures and admiring the talents of the many artists, the three of us had worked up quite an appetite.
As per Allie and Mynor’s suggestion, dinner was at a popular local taco joint, Tacos los Tios. Emphasis on local. My quesadilla was pretty dang good, and the toppings/salsa bar took it over the top. In a moment of excess confidence, I decided to top my quesadilla with the hottest salsa at the bar. All the taco shop workers laughed at the silly gringa girl going for the spicy salsa and redirected to a milder one.
Feeling as though my abilities were doubted, I opted for the next hottest salsa. Bad move. Despite my valiant attempts, I had to show mercy on my mouth and call it quits a few bites into my second quesadilla. Dragons aren’t real, but fire breathing humans are. If you go to Tacos los Tios, go for the mildest salsa you can find. Also, order tacos- I've been told they're the best in town.
That night, Mynor drove Allie and I to our hostel in the city. The accommodation was quite an experience. The rickety top-bunks we were given were slightly frightening, but the free pancake breakfast we were fed the next morning was absolutely divine. We awoke the next day pretty early. Thursday was spent navigating the Guatemala City streets (or attempting to, anyway) and dealing out death stares to the men who found it appropriate to cat call us. While not super effective, it definitely made us feel better.
Our first stop of the day was Parque Central. It was a few blocks from the hostel, and not at all what I was expecting. The park was actually just a cobblestone square with a beautiful fountain and hoards of locals. Across the street from the park was a famous cathedral. The inside was immaculate with endless rows of pews and bright emerald and gold accents. Lunch followed, and we backtracked to a lovely restaurant called San Martin. Allie had raved about their food, and my brunch certainly set the tone for the quality of food I would eat during my time in Guatemala. The hype was worth it- our food was delicious, and the service and atmosphere were great.
From lunch we headed back through Parque Central to a "mercado" (market) called Mercado Central. The market was a very cool experience. It's completely underground, and accessible through stairs. Stalls upon stalls make up an extensive grid inside. Unfortunately, the market isn't the best place to wander around with a camera or phone, so I didn't get to capture the experience. I did, however, outdo myself with the shopping and came out lugging three big black bags.
During our walk home it started to sprinkle, so we rolled with it and soon mastered the art of walking under awnings in an effort to stay dry. On a side note, the streets of Guatemala are beautiful. They’re bursting with color and alive with tiendas (tiny stores). One thing I think is so unique about Guatemala is the sheer quantity of arches used in their architecture. I mean no joke- streets are lined with arches, streets go through arches.. you get the picture.
We made it back to the hostel only slightly damp and collected our bags before calling an Uber. We had made plans for the following day to journey a few hours outside the city to the beautiful Guatemalan beach town of Santa Rosa. Mynor scooped us up where the Uber driver dropped us off (a taco bell, ironically- and a dang nice one at that), and we were on our way.
By the time we arrived at Santa Rosa, my hair was twice as big as when we left. The ocean humidity and three hours of driving with the windows down were to thank for that. We made a pit stop at a grocery store along the way to collect some drinks and snacks. That ended up being a total blessing because we didn’t make it to the hostel in time for dinner. My second "dinner" in Guatemala wasn’t the most glamorous, but it held me over until breakfast the next morning.
Speaking of arriving to the beach late- it was so pitch black when we drove up that we actually drove like, you know, into the beach. The whole situation was just outrageously comical the way it all played out. As we rumbled down the narrow beach road, Mynor remarked, “Look! We’re so close to the beach!” No sooner did the words escape his mouth than we found ourselves quite literally stranded in the middle of the beach. Apparently, we’d missed our turn to the hostel a few meters back. The three of us got out of the car just heaving laughing and assessed the situation- our car was undeniably, utterly stuck in the sand. Allie and I has some success pushing the car backwards, but we only made it so far before the sand engulfed the wheels.
Thankfully, the hostel workers came to the rescue and we somehow managed to pry the wheels from the grip of the black sand beach. What a night.
I spent the remainder of the night working on freelance work, somehow managing to chisel out time at the end to go for a late night swim. The only bad thing about the hostel was the fact that it was a breeding ground for mosquitos. I am convinced that the bugs must find the gringos more juicy than the locals because, wow, Allie and I got eaten alive.
The next morning, we feasted on one of the most tasty desayunos (breakfasts) I’ve had in the history of ever: eggs, salsa, beans, plantains, and a baguette. We all three devoured the meal rather quickly. I found myself lounging on a hammock afterwards, while Allie and Mynor occupied their day with all sorts of fun and games. The hostel offered a plethora of activities, from slack-lining to a gym area, as well as full access to a very uncrowded black sand beach. I would highly recommend checking it out the tiny town of Monterrico, especially the lodge we stayed at. The food, service, and atmosphere was to die for, and it was very affordable.
Now we’ve finally made it to Antigua. Although I’ve only had the chance to see Antigua at night, I have a feeling I’m going to fall head over heels when I see this place in the daylight tomorrow.