The Happiest Winter of my Life
I just revisited some trips I took 3-5 years ago and had another fun trip into memory-land. This made me think, "hey! I've never written about any of that on here, and it might be fun to do Friday features of Guatemala, Panama, Haiti, and life in Michigan. It's stuff like winters in Central American, a week in Haiti and terrible car buying experiences. Today's is about Antigua, Guatemala, one of my favorite places in the world.
Let us begin!
Yellow is the color of the winter I spent there, because I always remember it as one of the most golden times. Part of the great lesson of my life so far has been to stop fighting, stop striving, and simply be. Somehow it happened here.
Part of it was the schedule. I knew that I would get up at 6:30, shiver my way to the bathroom across the courtyard, eat breakfast, hit Spanish until lunch, come home ravenous for lunch and eat ungodly amounts of corn tortillas, study in parks and walk in the afternoon, and go to bed at 9:30. Mealtimes were fun with all the students in and out. We'd talk about travel, Spanish, local events, funny stories, jobs back home, islands in Alaska, religion, feminism, and much to my horror, politics.
There was always something to do if you wanted it, or not if you didn't want it. On Sunday afternoons I would walk to Central Park, buy an ice cream cone, and watch the world go by or chat with people from all over the world. Some days I would walk to the market. It was glorious. We Americans tie ourselves to ridiculous schedules and then feel a torturous kind of happiness when we accomplish too much. The pressure here is really something compared to some other places in the world.
There was purpose
She came to the orphanage where I volunteered, malnourished: huge belly, timid eyes, and scared of many things. Nearly two she couldn’t walk, hardly had strength to crawl 3 feet, and flinched when anyone moved to quickly.
I wrote then: "Now she has become so charming and fun. She smiles, and peeks around corners, and today when I asked her something I was thrilled when she answered, “si" with the cutest little impish grin." She'd never talked before.
There were others. Always others. These kids have no idea that I still carry them in my heart today.
Part of the happiness of that winter was the concentrated effort I put into learning Spanish without tons of social distractions. Learning a language thrilled me. It's the most fun I've ever had, and I now know Spanish grammar better than English, though I'm losing some parts of what was learned that winter.
Stuff to Do
We walked, hiked and chicken-bused almost everywhere. Along with kids I met from my school or others, we went to places like Lake Atitlan and kayaked, climbed Agua and Pacaya, and poked our noses into nearly every corner of Antigua. Antigua is so small that wasn't hard, one can pretty much walk from one end to the other in an hour. You can see its span below, with Agua's dominance over the city.
Inside the Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo
My favorite street shortcut to get to my host family's home.
The McDonalds down there are actually worth visiting, particularly the one in Antigua that could rival a three star restaurant here for decor and service. I didn't eat there much, but with everything else to eat it's a wonder I didn't gain 10 pounds that winter! Toward the end, before Easter Sunday in the Catholic church, they would set up rows and rows of food vendors outside the church for the Friday nights during Lent. Whole families would come out and have a party on the streets. I loved it, and the food was spectacular. There were spiced mangoes on sticks, pupusas, grilled chicken, fruit galore, chocolate, cake, buñuelas, elotes loco, rice and every kind of candy and drink one could think of for the location.
Perhaps you need a little Guatemala?