Robb Wilkinson, a Cal Poly student whom I’d gotten to know on our adventurous trip up from Copán, and I decided to spend the day together getting acquainted with Antigua. Robb was a real mellow guy from what I could tell and was perfectly happy hanging out with me. This is good because a lot of folks wouldn’t be happy doing what I like to do, which is walking around taking pictures. To hang with me when I’ve got my camera and there are lots of really old, crappy buildings around, it takes someone who’s not in a hurry. Robb was great.
When you pick up a copy of the tourist map after arriving in Antigua, you’ll notice no fewer than 23 little icons representing the churches you might want to visit while wandering the quaint, 16th-century city’s narrow, cobblestone streets. Robb and I wandered those streets for several hours, but couldn’t quite find it within ourselves to visit all 23. While church hopping, we noticed smoke belching from the peak of Volcán de Fuego every fifteen or twenty minutes. That was pretty cool. Another pleasant surprise was running into Jes and Haley, a couple Canook gals I’d gotten to know while learning to SCUBA dive in Honduras. We dived with the same outfit and in fact stayed in the same dorm.
So, the four of us headed to the market and bummed around there for a while. The market in Antigua is one of the most amazing markets I visited on my entire trip. Its awesome factor was up there with the market I visited in La Paz, Bolivia. It was broken up into a few clearly different chunks.
First was a nice, covered area, surely targeted at tourists. It was pretty spiffy with quite nice spaces for the vendors to lure in the visitors, people like me who wanted to buy some nice keepsakes to take home. I had bought hardly a single thing on my trip up to this point. Here, I bought a handmade quilt and a few hand-carved wooden masks. I wish I had bought a hammock here, but we were being sticklers on price and we didn’t get the deal we wanted. Robb and the girls were all pretty hard core barterers.
Second was an outdoor area with many food vendors, but interspersed with all the other typical vendors selling random things. Since Christmas was just around the corner, you could find Christmas trees and various decorations for said trees.
Third was an area I explored alone. The next day, I went back to the market by myself and passed through the same area where the food vendors were located. After another inexpensive meal of chicken, rice, and a Coke, I continued farther along this outdoor market street. Toward the end of the street, there began what I would discover was an enormous covered area—primarily a world for locals. It wasn’t nice like the tourist area and didn’t sell carved masks or hammocks. Let me repeat, this area was vast. Here were sold spices, meat, fruit, vegetables, weaved baskets, clay pots, and other items required daily by every family. Also in this area were table after table after table of used clothing and shoes, apparently shipped in from the States.
While in this dark and dirty Latin American supermall, I ran into a gal I recognized from Honduras. She had also been on the island of Útila. A common friend had introduced us back then and we recognized each other in the market. Jennifer, a New Zealander, had been travelling for 6 months and had 4 to go. She had met a guy earlier on her trip and was really into him. And I mean really. She was so into him, she was going to the spend the next 3 months with him taking meditation classes near Antigua. We found some fresh fruit juice and then I proceeded to hang with her for a bit while she looked through mounds of clothing. I can’t take much of that so I headed off to explore more of the market before too long. Once again, I found that the people I met were a highlight of my trip.
The second day I went to the market, Robb climbed a volcano. Jes and Haley had done it and highly recommended it. I didn’t feel properly equipped to make the climb, so I passed. Back in the hostel room, some new people showed up: a girl from the States who had moved to Honduras to teach—where kidnapping are rampant, she said—and a couple brothers who were spending their two weeks of vacation in a few Central American countries. While we were visiting, Robb got back to the hostel after his run-in with the volcano. He hadn’t fallen in, but he was a mess. He hadn’t heeded the advice of Jes and Haley. He had worn his sandals instead of getting hardier footwear. In all fairness, we did look for shoes for him in the market, but didn’t encounter anything quite big enough for his feet. His feet were absolutely filthy and a bit scratched up, but he was in pretty good condition, considering what he’d just done.
We all went to a club where there was to be Salsa dancing. At first it was just our female roommate, the brothers, and I. After showering, Robb showed up. I never did get up enough nerve to ask any locals to dance. Our female friend became quick acquaintances with an Antiguan guy. Us guys didn’t stay too late. The next morning when I got up to leave, the gringa still wasn’t back. She either got murdered or got lucky. I’ll probably never know.
Ana, the gal at the desk, was stunning. She was a local and had just gotten a new fully-manual 35mm camera. I offered to help her learn how to use it, nice guy that I am, but unfortunately, we never did connect.
Were I to travel more extensively in Central America, I would most certainly return to Antigua to visit Ana and see how her photography is coming along.