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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Streets Of The Arch

The beautiful old town of Antigua is Guatemala's most visited tourist destination. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the cobblestone streets of this lovely Latin American city are still lined with colourful but unassuming buildings conserved since the 16th century.

A tall pale-yellow arch built in 1631 - Arco de Santa Catalina - is the face of the city that welcomes one and all to Antigua.

Dan giving the Latin American thumbs-up for Antigua. (We learnt in Rio de Janeiro to stay clear from the universal 'OK' sign - which apparently means 'a**hole' in Brazil. There's no knowing what it means in Guatemala!)

Living life on different sides of the arch

This charming Guatemalan city couldn't have been more different from the tiny island by the same name, which we had earlier visited on a cruise of the Caribbean. Instead of spending the day lazing on the palm-fringed sands of Antigua-the-island, we got a fair bit of legwork under our belts pacing the streets of Guatemalan Antigua. Our Haviana-ed feet didn't take too well to the slippery well-worn-till-they-shine cobblestone paths. But basking in warm tropical temperatures and Antigua's laid-back, festive, year-end atmosphere capped only by Central America's sunny blue skies, we weren't in the mood for socks and shoes!

In Antigua, it's not just the buildings that hail from the past...

An ornate stone doorway. And arched windows that serve no useful purpose except for people below to look up into the blue blue heavens.

Beautiful arched walkways that let in so much natural light that people have to squeeze up against the walls just to find a sliver of shade

... you can also see glimpses of the past in everyday life on the streets.

A cute old Beetle slowly put-putting past the Catedral de Santiago (1542)

Who needs to recycle shopping bags when you don't even need one in the first place? Just tie up the goods with string and carry them on your head!

Although carefully preserved over the past 30 years, touches of modern life have managed to creep through the city's walls over time, but in very tasteful and subtle ways.

A modern annex and 16th-century facade lean into each other. It's all about balance and mutual support. The new kid on the block doesn't overwhelm the old.

A blink-and-you-will-miss-it Maccers outlet. No golden arches here. Same goes for Burger King and Citibank. Crass in-your-face commercialism promoting fast food and fast cash has no place in Antigua.

We stayed right across from the mercado local, a busy mess of make-shift stalls selling everything from clothes, toys, festive decorations, household items, shoes, hats, pirated DVDs, game consoles and every tropical fruit and vegetable available. It was just 2 days to Christmas when we were there. All the locals were frantically shopping for food, clothes, Christmas tinsel and toys. There was a huge buying - and selling - frenzy throughout the market. I got myself a jungle hat to replace the one I lost in the Bolivian desert.

Tiny oranges on a string

That woman in green looks like me in the office on Christmas Eve. Can't wait to knock off and head home for the festivities!

Typical Guatemalan dress - an ornate lacey top over a woven skirt

Guatemalan food is very simple, comprising of hearty stews, grains, salad and steaming hot tortillas (wheat-flour pancakes) that come in a cloth-wrapped basket.

Got Meat? Check. Bon appetit!

Fried chicken is the other popular option.

(Note to travelers: they don't do they equivalent of popcorn chicken here. Don't be fooled by the pictures. Those crunchy pieces are actually fried intestines... )

Waiting for our order at a hole-in-the-wall fried chicken joint. An enterprising lady selling hot tortillas positions herself at the door, tempting exiting customers to pick up a few tortillas to go with their freshly-fried chicken meal.

Fried chicken joints weren't the only hole-in-the-wall businesses we visited in Antigua.

Guess what store this darkened doorway leads to? See wall for clue.

For US$3, Dannie finally decided to relieve his wife from hairdressing duties and treat himself to a long-awaited haircut by a professional. He emerged from the shop barely minutes later with a longish but neat mullet hairdo.

Very handsome! Very latino!

Holding his breath for the end result after dispensing instructions to the barber in Spanish


heartache said...

oh! love the placement of the oranges there!

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