Adios, Atitlán, Hola Antigua!

It was Friday morning. Time to pack up and head out from the lake to Antigua, Guatemala, for an overnight stop on my way to the airport. I took an early-morning shot of this fisherman, using full zoom on my camera. The shot is cropped to remove electric wires from the frame. These are mighty small boats for such a big lake.

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 Earlier in the week I'd talked with Rosario Nimacachi Cumez, Bill's maid who comes three mornings a week to clean up the house and to do laundry. I commented on her hairdo being very beautiful. She undid it and redid it in the kitchen. I wanted to capture the process on video before I left. I asked permission to take a couple of pictures and she willingly agreed. First here's a shot of her framed in a window in the dining area.

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Here's the video of her fixing her hair, Bill's dog, Toni, provides the sound track.

Bill's friend Lynn recommended a good-value hotel in Antigua that he liked, Las Piletas, which means "the pools". Here's a picture of it, not imposing for sure.

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Antigua is an old city, dating back into the 1500s. Antigua means "ancient". Much of the population moved away in 1717 after many of the buildings in the town were destroyed by the eruption of the nearby volcano, Fuego (Fire). The capitol was moved to the current capitol city, Guatemala City, just called Guatemala on road signs.

Speaking of road signs, Bill gave me excellent directions to Antigua and I arrived there with no problem around 2:30 PM. Then the fun began. Bill's friend Lynn had one of the hotel's brochures and he'd gone over the directions on a map in the brochure to get to the hotel. In ancient days before automobiles and tourists the city fathers of Antigua saw no need for street signs. Putting them in now would destroy the ambiance. Sooooo, I drove around on the rough cobbled streets (reminded me of San Miguel de Allende in México) for nearly an hour looking for the hotel. I'm sure I must have passed it several times as I made circuits, jouncing along and making sure to avoid one-way streets. Even stopping and asking for directions was fruitless. The person I asked had no clue where the tiny hotel was.

Eventually I found it. The hotel's proprietor was super nice as Lynn had told me he would be. I got checked into my small room. Small is the operative word. But I didn't care because my main requirements were all met:  clean, hot water, wifi. But I've never seen a bathroom so small that the bathmat wouldn't fit in it. Or a baño where, if nature called, I would have to sit side-saddle. Perhaps this is too much info, just trying to convey the flavor of my tiny room. Here's the bathroom:

The hotel did have a nice courtyard, barely wide enough to fit a few potted plants. No pools in sight.

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I liked the décor in the room--one picture. Here's a photo of approximately the same scene with the Fuego volcano in the background, followed by an artist's view of a similar street scene, the picture in my room.

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 Looks almost the same, no? Fuego put the haze in the air by blowing off steam and dust shortly before my visit.

Looks almost the same, no? Fuego put the haze in the air by blowing off steam and dust shortly before my visit.

It didn't take me long to get settled into the room with my suitcase, day pack, and the fancy carrying bag packed with souvenirs. Then I was ready to explore the ancient city. Or so I thought. The proprietor who 15 minutes earlier said it was fine to park on the street in front of the hotel now said for security I needed to move my car into a guarded parking lot. No problem on that. I didn't want the rental car stolen or damaged. I needed to turn it in the next morning at the airport. The parking fee was reasonable, too, about $3.00 for 12 hours.

Then I was ready for sightseeing. Antigua is a small town and everything's reachable on foot. I had read about the church and the plaza in a Lonely Planet guidebook. I had to get a glimpse of the voluptuous mermaids that are an integral part of the fountain in the center of the park.

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I strolled along a covered walkway past shops with merchandise aimed at the tourist crowd. I'd concluded my shopping already so I wasn't tempted. The town's architecture is classic Castilian according to the guidebook.

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The church is huge and ornate. Here's the exterior and a shot of the interior.

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It was about dinner time so I went to a restaurant near the hotel. It was bland but filling, just cooked vegetables. After dinner I wanted to see the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, a fancy hotel built around the ruins of an old monastery. There's an art gallery there, also. I didn't have a clue how to find it so I grabbed a tuk tuk. The driver dinged me for $6, an outrageously high tourist fare. But I didn't get lost on the way there so that was a plus. I walked around a bit--very historical appearance and quite atmospheric. The gallery was showing more contemporary work, both paintings and sculpture. That was a nice change of pace. If you're not a guest there's not a lot to do there. On the way out I had to battle my way through clouds of incense. A "monk" was circulating around the public areas swinging a censer. Mosquitoes didn't have a chance! 

I found one little shop that was closing its doors for the night and I bargained for a batch of small zippered bags in a variety of colors and patterns. Then it was back to the hotel in another tuk tuk (this one only $3) for a little reading and sound slumber. I didn't have to get up super early because my plane was scheduled for takeoff on Saturday around mid-day. Still I got up, used the tepid shower, and went to retrieve my car from the lot three blocks away. 

The friendly proprietor of the hotel recommended a restaurant just around the corner, called The Santa Clara. It turned out to be a great find.

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It doesn't look like much from the street but when I went inside I found there's a second level, with stairs in the rear of the main dining room. Up I went. I found a super nice dining terrace there.

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Someone did a great job with the table top designs, taking advantage of local resources. Guatemala is famous for its coffee.

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I told my waitress I was in a hurry to catch a flight when I placed my order. Sometimes service in Guatemalan restaurants can be slow. Miraculously, she got my order up quickly while I was sipping a cup of tea. I was impressed with the presentation when she served the food. It was yummy, too!

I had a map that Thrifty Car Rental had given me with the car and I asked the helpful guy at the hotel to draw the route to the hotel on the map. He did and he gave me good directions on getting to the main drag to Guatemala City.

I had settled up with the hotel a bit earlier. I couldn't believe the price was under $20! Lynn had told me it was $55. I guess speaking Spanish helps. By comparison the 5-star monastery hotel runs $270 a night!

Of course I got hopelessly lost trying to find the turnoff for the airport, ended up in the industrial district. A call to the rental car office for directions didn't help. The woman there had no clue where the factories I was near were in relation to the office. I drove around a bit more in the direction of the airport (I hoped.) Finally stopped and asked direction from a man in the street. He drew a diagram that was accurate. And soon I was at the airport. The car rental office was offsite so I pulled to the side of the road and called again. I carefully described where I was. I got out of the car and looked around. Turns out I was parked 50 yards past the gate to the rental car compound! What a joke!  The woman on the phone sent a guy over to help the dumb gringo get turned around through the traffic circles to get to the office location. 

The rental agent who inspected the car for damage didn't even check the spare tire. Oh, well, it had to be fixed and it was. They shuttled me to the airport, I checked in and made it through security with no problem. I had a few quetzales left in my pocket so I went to a souvenir shop and bought this refrigerator magnet.

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We boarded on time but the plane had a mechanical problem and we had to get off. Over 90 minutes later we boarded and took off. 

Because of the delay I missed my connection from Houston to Raleigh. United put me up in a nice Hilton a short shuttle bus ride away from the airport. My flight to Raleigh was scheduled for 11:45 on Sunday so I had time to enjoy the breakfast buffet at the Hilton ($7 voucher from United, woo hoo!)

Here's the flight info displays where I waited at Bush International in Houston. Lots of gates for commuter jets. I picked up a salad to eat on the plane at a place close by the waiting area. It tasted great--first one I'd eaten in a week! Generally I don't eat uncooked veggies in Central America.

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The return flight was uneventful. I and my one checked bag arrived in Raleigh around 2 PM.

Que viaje tan bueno! It had been a very good trip to "the most beautiful lake in the world". Muchissimas gracias to my host Bill, the best ukulele player in Santa Catarina!