Stunning Antigua, Guatemala and The Never Ending Market!
With Flores, Guatemala in the rear view, I was in the midst of my first over night bus journey during the trip. Started out well being given the seat with the extra leg room! Guatemalan people are not tall, to put it lightly, so it made sense that I was given this seat, and as I reclined I started to feel my Flu/Sleep medication kick in and we took off as I dozed off.
Upon my arrival in Guatemala City, I was told from my tour operator that in the bus station in Guatemala City, there would be someone waiting for a group of people on our bus to shuttle us to Antigua, Guatemala. Having lived in Latin America for a number of years, I had expected a hectic search and a long waiting period upon arriving in Guatemala's capital city, so when I grabbed my bag and heard someone say "William?" I was surprised at the efficiency. Threw my bags into the old Toyota van, and we sped off.
Bumpy sleep on a bus, loses out to excitement of arriving in a new place and even though my eyes were stinging, they were staying open. We navigated the hills of Guatemala City, leaving the capital behind and the arrival to Antigua, the old capital of Guatemala is announced with immense vibration due to the gorgeous cobble stone streets of this historic place. Having heard so much about Antigua, Guatemala, I was very pleased to finally be here to explore.
A lot of enjoying Antigua is walking the streets. I found myself scanning the town up one street to the top, then back down the following street, like a typewriter, with no destination.
Eventually, I arrived at the main street that runs east to west at the “bottom” of Antigua after my third or fourth lap and I decided to change my course and walk along it. Less than a block later I noticed the vibrant colours of all the artisan collectables hand made by the locals in Antigua. Small change purses, knitted bags, sweaters, figurines, the classic ‘Guats Up?’ shirts and a lot of other trinkets filled stall after stall. I slowly walked past each one admiring the amount of things they can fit into one store, and as I turned that corner around the final stall I noticed an entrance to the local market.
A couple years prior, when I was in South America, we had made a habit of finding a local market in each town. A great way to find cheap local food, shop where the locals do, and see all the interesting things available for purchase. This seemed to be very similar as I walked into the opening into the food court. Numerous tiled areas for you to sit down and get some tasty, authentic and really affordable eats but having just left my local breakfast spot, I was not hungry. Leaving the food area you start to enter what feels like a tunnel, and this is just the beginning.
Walls of hundreds of bottles of shampoos, soap and deodorants in one stall, 20 kg woven bags filled with all sorts of spices and grains in the next. A counter that sold nothing but cans of spray paint, even “fresh” fish and seafood deep in the center of this market, in the center of Guatemala, almost 100km from the coast. You could get anything here, and it never seemed to end. I followed the main walkway that went through the center of the market, and veered off into the pathways to the side to find an area dedicated to clothing and another with only dress shoes. If I had taken the approach to exploring the lanes in the underground market, as I had to exploring the streets of Antigua, I would still be in the market! Also, with the fact that very little daylight comes in, and with all the people walking and things for sale, you cannot see too far down the way and therefore have very little reference of how far this thing goes. Either way, I was planning on finding out.
Finally, I arrived at a t-section to go left or right and explore all the produce they had, and a little opening that had some daylight coming in, I had found the end. A short stroll, maybe 50 meters, and I was back onto the main street I had turned off just an hour before.
It is quite clear that Antigua is preserved and protected to attract tourism, and walking through the dirty, stagnant but exciting market, only a few seconds off the beautiful, clean, mainstreet, provided a perfect contrast of the two worlds of not just Antigua, but latin America.
The world to attract the tourists, and the real world the locals live in, hidden off the backstreets.