Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala, is a cool cobble stoned, volcano shaded, colonial touchstone to the past. It's a living museum with a vibrant heart. I'd passed through it on my journey in 95 and had been smitten. I've always been a history buff and Antigua holds a special place in Central American history as it was once the Capital of the Spanish colony of Guatemala which covered most of Central America and the Mexican state of Chiapas. It was founded in 1543 and for over 200 years it remained the capital until the Santa Marta earthquake of 1773 swayed the authorities to move it to present day Guatemala City which was less earthquake prone.

The threat from volcanoes has always existed in Antigua and today Pacaya Volcano continues to puff warnings to locals and tourists below and I must say it contributes mightily toward an exotic ambiance while one sips beer in a local bar.

Antigua became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and the reasoning behind that decision is very telling from a cultural standpoint. I'm talking specifically about how a past colonial influence had left such an indelible mark on Antigua. The town was recognized as a world heritage site because of the overwhelming Spanish influence on its evolution and how it remains in place today. It is laid out in a grid pattern making it one of the earliest examples of deliberate 'city planning' in Latin America and the cobblestone streets follow that same pattern today. Lining those streets are Baroque buildings of Spanish influence and ruins that predate the earthquake of 1773. It is somewhat ironic that the very thing that drove people to leave the town, the earthquake, is perhaps the most significant reason why Antigua maintained its integrity. Just as Palenque was abandoned and left to the jungle Antigua was abandoned for a new home and time stood still.

Our digs in a converted monastery

We managed to time things so we could spend New Year's Eve in Antigua. It was a pretty safe bet the town would throw a decent party and we were not disappointed. We'd stayed in a beautiful converted monastery for our first night but they were fully booked for New Year's Eve so we were forced to find other accommodation and the only thing we could find just happened to be half a block from the town square.

We sauntered out of our hotel around elevenish to take in the New Year and what a mad house it was. People were everywhere and as laser pointers streaked across building facades others lit fabricated globes to launch into the evening skies, so many of them in fact that the black sky above appeared to be hosting a convention of monster fireflies as they drifted across our view. Some would travel well before drifting down onto someones clay tiled roof while others couldn't quite muster the lift needed to get properly airborne and were bounced along by upstretched arms from the crowd in the square below. It was hilarious. Then the fireworks started in earnest as the countdown began. It was a very memorable night, one that I hope Cole reflects on in years to come.

With a new year on the calendar and Antigua in the rear view mirror we set our sights on the black sand beaches of the Pacific Coast as Cole needed some black sand to take home to Canada. Don't ask why, I think there was a girl involved.