As I have stated before, there are places which I seem to return to over and over. This place I am going to mention I have not returned in about five years, but it is a place which contains the watermark of my childhood.
Antigua Guatemala is one of the many Spanish Colonial towns found in Latin America. I was to find this repeatedly glimpsing it in Cuenca in Ecuador or Cienfuegos in Cuba and the original source for this inspiration in Sevilla, Spain. They all contain a basic structure of churches, curved balconies, cobbled alleyways and streets and crumbling buildings. In Semana Santa, or holy week, they decorate the streets with colored ashes and designs and throw flowers over the balconies.
You can stroll through it’s bloody history, where you can see remnants of the repressed pain echoing through the walls. Like Otavalo in Ecuador, it is also a great place to pick up jewelry and handicrafts.
The indigenous population who speak quichua are around the parks, their beautiful and colorful clothes bright flowers popping up everywhere. Unlike the Quechua women in Ecuador, Guatemalan indigenous women are oftentimes ignored and taken advantage of .
It is an odd mix, of a Spanish forgotten ancestral town and even more ancient and dying civilization beside it. Two bookmarks of what hispanic central america would become, a mestizo of those two once great places.
Antigua has an incredibly macabre history, a lot like Toledo in Spain. You can find underground caves filled with bones of infants and nuns who buried or forcefully aborted them as they encountered priests through hidden tunnels. There are torture chambers, and creepy monasteries and crumbling churches.
You will find cobbled pathways and young students learning spanish in every corner.
I associate Antigua with my childhood, with the last escapades before my parents were separating and getting divorced. The memories are often marred with historical events and strange happenings.
One particular trip sticks in my mind even though I was quite young….
San Salvador 1989
The coup started on the day we had all gathered together to watch a television show which would feature some Bahai themes. There were at least 30 of us huddled together. I do not remember much, other than the announcement that we were not supposed to leave the house. Only, my brother had been left back in the house with the housekeeper and we didn’t want to leave him alone. We went across the night in complete darkness, in our little pickup truck, two people in the back and me squished between my parents. There was no electricity, just endless night and some prayers that we get home o.k. We did, but this left us with days at a time with nothing to do but play long games of monopoly.
In the city, the guerrillas were trying to stage a coup in San Salvador. Gun shots were particularly close, and we did not have electricity for days at a time. I remember one time, the gun shots were being fired on the street that my parents and my baby brother and me huddled underneath a small cubby hole room under the stairs . This room, where I had founded the “Boy Crazy Club” had posters plastered all over the walls. A testament to the innocence of youth that all I could think of was to prevent my parents seeing my posters…instead of fearing the soldiers and terrorists outside.
After this particular incident, my father had had enough of our self imposed exile and decided to go to Guatemala for a “vacation”.
The vacation was not without incident as my brother grew sick on the bus… or when I decided to eat chocolate ice cream at Dona Luisa’s a beautiful curved courtyard restaurant… only to make me so sick for days that I have never eaten chocolate ice cream again.
It is perhaps no wonder that for me, Antigua is bittersweet in it’s memory. It stings with loss, and it’s ruins also contain some of my memories locked inside there. There is the time as well, that my grandparents came for the only known trip to Central America and we stayed in a four star hotel. Or the memory of going to a Summer School in Antigua straight after graduating college and feeling so out of sorts with my old life and friends and missing all the life I once had. There is the memory of watching my best friend walk away from the trip in Guatemala and disappear for three days, only to show up when we were leaving again. There is another time when we a huge group of youth went to Guatemala, and the bus broke down and we were left stranded for hours…. ( It seems like in the case of Antigua, it is also the journey which makes it so poignant)
I truly believe that a place can have a power within it’s walls, and with it comes the emotions you might pick up from it. There is a distinct and beautiful sadness to the place, but yet I always yearn to go back again and again.