Friday, June 1, 2018


Guatemala City became the capitol of Guatemala following the disastrous earthquake of 1773 that destroyed much of Antigua.  It is home to nearly three million people, all of whom seem to be in the streets at the same time.

Traffic in the city is horrible regardless of the time of day.  The streets are filled with crowded buses, taxis and private cars, hand carts and the occasional goatherder. 

Traffic is so bad that intercity buses are not allowed in the city center.  Such buses disgorge their passengers several miles from the city center.  There they board minibuses that take them to the main bus terminal. 

Everyone seems to be in a hurry. Walking down a sidewalk, I always felt there was someone behind me urging me to move along.

Of course, Guatemala City is a modern city.  Fine high rise buildings share space with older, less lofty buildings. 

The American Empire is very present in the form of fast fooderies, big box stores and upscale shops.  McDonald’s offers the usual Big Mac and such but also offers a Chapin desayuno, a traditional breakfast with tortillas, sausage, egg and black beans.  Can’t get to the restaurant?  No problem, Micky Ds delivers. 

Amid all the hustle bustle of modernity, people still find time to relax and feed the pigeons in the Parque Central. 

A typical Spanish plaza, the park is anchored at one end with a fine cathedral and government buildings on another side. 

In addition, the city is dotted with small parks where the walkways are kept clean, the fountains kept running.  They are filled with a variety of flowers.  I was especially impressed with the Hydrangeas that had blooms nearly a foot in diameter!

Guatemala City is not exactly a tourist mecca.  By and large, it is busy and loud and a bit dirty.  There are jewels in the rough.  Many older buildings in the old part of town are worth a visit.  Then there are several worthwhile museums dedicated to history and one in particular dedicated to the history of Guatemalan textiles.

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Guatemala.  The people are friendly, open and proud of their heritage.  The music is great, the art is beautiful and the food is delicious.

Saturday, May 19, 2018


            Antigua is one of the former capitals of Guatemala.  In 1543, it became the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala, a colonial possession of Spain which was comprised of the present countries of Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador and the southern Mexican state, Chiapas. 

            The city is nestled between 3 massive volcanoes and hills and mountains which provide a dramatic backdrop. 

 Sadly, the day we visited, it was cloudy and we were deprived of the view.  During the years that Antigua served as the capital, it attracted many religious orders which built beautiful churches, convents and monasteries.

Some of the churches, destroyed by earthquake, remain as ruins and others have been restored to their former glory.  Colorful shops offer votive materials to the Catholic faithful.

            From the time of its founding Antigua suffered numerous earthquakes.  The quake of 1773 caused much damage and in 1776 the government of Spain ordered that the capital be moved to nearby Guatemala City, the present capital.  While the quake destroyed many structures, others survived. Its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has led to the rebuilding and rehabilitation of many of those magnificent buildings.

Some serve their original purpose as churches, others are schools and luxury hotels.  They are examples of Spanish Baroque and Moorish architecture.  Their courtyards are filled with fountains and gardens.

Today, Antigua is a huge draw for tourists and people desiring to study Spanish.  Its ancient cobblestone streets lead you past colorful buildings and beautiful examples of Spanish Baroque architecture.  When the bulk of the population left the city for the new capital in 1776, much of the city became frozen in time.  As in other Spanish cities, everything is organized around a Parque Central.  People come to the park to walk their dogs, to visit with friends and family and relax.

The city is famous for its religious festivals, especially those surrounding Lent and Easter.  During Holy Week, many of the streets are covered with carpets made of flowers and dyed sawdust.

Today people come from all over the world to study Spanish in schools providing immersion language classes.  It is perhaps the most tourist oriented site in the country.  The streets are filled with vendors hawking souvenirs and colorful shops offer textiles and other crafts.

Saturday, May 5, 2018


            Spanish is the official language of Guatemala and a little knowledge of the language will go a long way in the country.  But millions of Guatemalans speak one of 21 Mayan dialects as their maternal language.  It is even used in schools.  Popular knowledge will tell you that the Mayans are an extinct people.  The fact is the Mayan population and its culture have survived civil war, discrimination, oppression, attempts to assimilate and the insidious methods of fundamentalist missionaries.  It’s true that Mayan city-states were abandoned in the 10th century but Mayan traditions survive. 
While many young people and many men wear western garb, many Mayan women still wear traditional clothing.  They are well known for their colorful textiles which they produce on backstrap looms. 
Their colorful huipiles (blouses) often indicate the communities from which they come.

            Archeologists tell us that the Mayan period began around 600 BCE and ended in the 10th century CE.  During those 1600 years, the Mayans developed an intricate religion, the most accurate calendar ever devised and some of the most striking architecture the world has known.

A four and a half to five hour bus ride through the mountains to the lowlands of Northern Guatemala at Flores puts you just a few miles from one of the premier Mayan sites in Central America, Tikal.

            Tikal is now a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site of over 220 square miles.  The ruins of the ancient city cover a bit more than 6 square miles.  Over 3000 structures can be identified on the site but only 10% have been excavated. 

Great mounds of vegetation covered earth hide and protect thousands of pyramids and other structures.  At the core of the site lies the Great Plaza.  Giant temples flank the East and West ends of the plaza. 

The North side of the complex consists of many funerary structures constructed over a period of time from 350 BC to about 900 AD.  These included altars, temples and stelae.  The ancient Mayans practiced human sacrifice and sacrificial altars are part and parcel of many temples.

            It is interesting that the city was not built on a river or lake.  It had no water source.  Instead, rainwater was collected.  The temples were built of native limestone and the depressions from which the stone was quarried were plastered and served as giant reservoirs.

            Temple II, at the western end of the plaza is interesting.  You could say it is the Taj Mahal of Mayan architecture. 

It was built in honor of Lady Lahan Unen Mo' also known as Lady 12 Baby Macaws, wife of the ruler Jasaw Chan K'awiil I.  Unlike the wife of Shah Jahan who was entombed beneath the Taj Mahal, the Mayan queen was not entombed beneath Temple II.  The king however, was buried beneath Temple I at the other end of the Great Plaza.

            One of the most famous Temples at Tikal is Temple IV.  It gets its fame from the Star Wars movies.  George Lucas used it as the filming location for planetary moon of Yavin IV in the storyline for the first-released Star Wars film, Episode IV: A New Hope. It is the funerary pyramid built around 741 AD for Yik’in Chan Kawil, the son of Jasaw Chan K'awiil I mentioned above.  It is the tallest pre-Columbian structure still standing, rising to 230 feet about the jungle floor.  You can't climb to the top of the roofcomb, but you can climb to its base.  The view of the surrounding plain is magnificent

            The jumping off point for Tikal is the town of Flores.  Flores is a jewel in its own right.  It is an island community located in Lago Petén Itza.  It is a picturesque place whose cobblestone streets are lined with gaily painted houses and buildings. 

While many travel writers say that Flores is not a tourist destination.  I guess they haven’t really been there; we found the numerous hotels full and the restaurants packed with tourists from all over.  Still, it is a laid back place worth spending a few days exploring.

One other thing. Tikal has relics from more recent Guatemalan history, the civil war that raged from 1960 to 1996.