Friday, February 15, 2013

Guatemala Day Two - Antigua

**** Edited Saturday morning to add more photos and text ****
Wow! What an amazing day. It is hard to believe that we only just arrived in the country yesterday at lunchtime, and here at the hotel in mid-afternoon. We've been so busy and seen so many amazing sights, that I feel like its been several days already.
After a bit of a miserable sleep, we started off the day with a banking adventure. We went back to the same bank that we visited yesterday to exchange more US dollars into the local currency (yesterday we each exchanged the "maximum" of $200). After waiting in line for 10-15 minutes, I finally made it to the teller and handed over my cash and passport. A couple of minutes later he started speaking to me in Spanish....and after seeing my very confused face, turned to his colleague who asked have you already exchanged money at this bank? Apparently it is a weekly maximum of $200, not a daily max, so my passport and US$ were promptly returned. Funnily enough, Elaine was able to exchange a second allotment.
I ventured to another bank, but after waiting in the wrong queue at first, I was the next in line in the proper lineup, only to run out of time before I had to leave for our walking tour. It was a busy day at the banks today, because it is pay day for the migrant workers who are picking the we saw several long lineups. Needless to say, we will be heading back to the bank tomorrow, first thing, and try to exchange the bulk of our remaining money (we learned about a bank that has a higher - and a daily - threshold, so that will hopefully simplify things). The last thing I will say about the banks is that it's a little disconcerting to have guards wandering around with rifles, right alongside you while you wait in line....
The walking tour was interesting, but I think to both Elaine and I, the real gem today was the tour at the coffee plantation. Antigua features a lot of both "earthquake architecture", low and solid buildings designed to withstand earthquakes...and the ruins of former buildings and cathedrals that have fallen over centuries of earthquakes. Here are some of my favourite snaps from today's walking tour....
Today is the first Friday of Lent, so the city is preparing for a procession later in the day.
Inside this cathedral was a lovely carpet made of sawdust. The "carpet" was installed last night, it was on display all day today, and it will be removed tonight. So it will only be there for one day only - and luckily today was that day! Apparently many families and groups would install their own sawdust and other carpets made with materials such as pine needles for the procession to pass over. Unfortunately we didn't get back down to see other ones, but here is a snap of the cathedral carpet....
There are 3 volcanos neighbouring Antigua, and you can see one in the above picture.
(Okay, so in the interests of full disclosure, the last few photos above were from day one...but the help to show the town... :-) )
So now onto the coffee tour.....we were picked up in the monster truck, and climbed a wee ladder up into in the back...and drove about town for a bit before heading towards the mountains.

The settling was gorgeous, and the whole experience of learning how the plants are grown, the "cherries" are picked, the skins are shed, dried in the sun, the beans are hulled, then sorted and roasted....makes us feel like we will never complain again about the price of a cup of coffee.
At the conclusion of the hour, we headed back into town....
Upon arriving back at our hotel (and after picking up some beers around the corner!), we met up with the other ladies in our group. Almost half of the group is from Wisconsin, one from NWT, one from Saskatchewan, and ???

After a little wine and cheese get together, we ventured back down to Central Park....but sadly, we were too late to catch the special procession with more of the carpets. As it was dark, we couldn't even see the remnants of the carpets....but we did sneak back into the cathedral and I am so glad that we did. The sawdust carpet and scene was still on display...but all lit up, complete with smoke effects.
Fabulous dinner with the group...and then back to the hotel.
Yes, it was a very full day!