Sunday, October 25, 2015

My First Trip to Antigua

I've been helping to organize a Halloween party for my fave bar here in Panajachel, Gringos Locos, and wanted to get some cool Halloween decorations and most especially glowing things to spice the bar up for the big spooky night. I messaged a party store in Antigua on Facebook to try to get neon glow bracelets and they assured me they had packs of 100 for Q70. I told them I was going to make a special trip from Pana to Antigua to buy them.

Super excited, I asked my friend, Jo-Lori, to come with me. She is an American expat who has been living in Guatemala for several years, volunteering with Mayan Families. I was pumped when she agreed to come with me! Girls trip! YAY!

We paid Q160 each for a round-trip shuttle ticket from Pana to Antigua and back through a travel agency called Tierra Maya on Santander. As I've mentioned before, I believe all the travel agencies in Pana cooperate to offer the same price for shuttle tickets no matter where you book, and then consolidate all their customers to fill up a shuttle, rather than sending shuttles with only a few passengers. This time, we were pretty lucky to have a shuttle with only Jo-Lori and me plus one other couple. The trip to Antigua takes three to four hours, depending on traffic.

Our shuttle was supposed to pick us up at 9:15 but of course was late and arrived closer to 9:45. Then we picked up the other couple near the docks, as they had come over from Santa Cruz. We had a wonderful chat with them as we rode. Kevin (...or maybe Keith... sorry!...) was an young American who had been traveling the world for a year. His girlfriend, Maddy, was from England, and had joined him here in Guate to learn Spanish in Antigua and to Scuba dive in Lake Atitlan. We had a great conversation with them and it made the long drive pass very quickly!

They had been living in Antigua for the past while so I made sure to pick their brains before we parted ways in Antigua. They recommended a great, inexpensive Indian restaurant as a place for us to have lunch after we had finished our shopping.

Our lovely shuttle bus driver jumped through hoops to try to drive us to the Halloween store, which had only given me the very obscure address of: Km 5.5 carretera a ciudad vieja. I had posted the address to the Guatemala Expats Facebook page to get some help on the directions, and received some clues but no definitive location. Our driver asked traffic cops, strangers on the street, store owners, pretty much anyone until we finally arrived at what we believed to be the right location.

The driver asked some people standing at the entrance to a plaza at kilometer 5.5 on the highway if there was a party store in the strip mall. They said, "No." Alrighty then. Off we go again! Jo-Lori had spotted this little sign just a few doors down, so we let the shuttle go on it's way, and we went in to check it out.
Infantile fiestas? I'm in!
Well, this first stop was a bust. No store, and the waiter at the restaurant could only suggest we check the plaza that we had just been at. We trudged back down the side of the road and into the plaza. We needed a bathroom and were lucky to find a free public one. The sign gave us a few moments pause.
I guess I'm a moon?
We walked around the corner from the bathroom along the strip mall place and.... GASP!! Could it be???
Antigua party store! 
The party store!! I was so thrilled! We had succeeded in our mission!
Or so I thought.

Entering the store we were greeted by a lovely young woman. The store was obviously new, very clean, with sparse shelves of various party items. There were some Halloween costumes, basic masks and stuff, pirate hooks, tiaras, etc. However, there were no glow sticks to be seen.

I asked the clerk, and she said, "No, no hay." (They're aren't any.) Um, what? We clarified that this was indeed the store I had been messaging on Facebook. Jo-Lori has much better Spanish than I do, so she took command and asked that the clerk call her boss. A brief phone conversation ensued but the answer was no better. The glow sticks were in a warehouse or someone's house or basically somewhere not at the store, and no one could get them today. "You have to come back another day," they said. Yeah... NO. I was furious! Jo-Lori explained to them that we had come from Panajachel. Still no luck. Ooh, I was mad! But what could we do? So we bought a few little things and left.
The Panorama Plaza, km 5.5, Antigua, Guatemala
Standing on the side of a highway in the middle of nowhere outside Antigua, my mood was bleak. I had spent so much money to come all this way to get nothing! As Jo-Lori said, "Epic fail." I took a few moments to quietly sulk.

I had to force my dark mood to pass. I was in Antigua, Guatemala! The sun was shining and I was with a nice friend. Who needs stupid glow bracelets anyway?
Being the good Girl Scout that I am, I had written down the addresses of a few other stores that might be helpful for Halloween stuff, so we found a tuk-tuk and headed to a store called Nimpot.

Driving thru Antigua was an adventure! The roads of Antigua are almost all cobbled and very bumpy. I was gawking out the window so much that I actually hit my head on the side of the tuk-tuk. Owie!

We arrived at an intersection and the tuk-tuk driver pointed us down a road that was closed to traffic. Hey! We had inadvertently arrived at the infamous arch of Antigua, shown on so many postcards. Cool!
That's me in the pink shirt! Goofy tourist photo.  :D
The arch looking from the other side. The volcano behind it was covered by clouds or I would have included it in the shot.
The Nimpot store didn't have the type of costumes we were looking for but it still was a very cool store to browse. I will definitely go back there to buy some things when I have more money.
Nimpot Store, Antigua, showing some large kites that they fly for Day of the Dead, November 1st.
Yes, Nimpot had costumes... but not for gringos! Those are all masks and costumes worn by people in processions.
By this time, we were super hungry, so we attempted to find the Indian restaurant our shuttle friends had told us about. We hopped in a taxi and headed in what we hoped was the right direction. Well, we did find an Indian restaurant... but it was not the one with a Q36 menu. Oh well!
Pushkar Indian Restaurant, Antigua, Guatemala
Jo-Lori at the entrance to Pushkar Indian Restaurant.
So who would have thought that I'd eat the most amazing samosas in my life at a Indian restaurant in Guatemala???  They were soooooo good! Jo-Lori ordered a huge spread of dishes, kinda like a sampler meal, with Chicken Korma and Raita and Naan and all sorts of yumminess. The restaurant was in a beautiful, tranquil garden. It was superb!

Time had flown by far too quickly and by this time we had less than an hour until our shuttle bus back to Pana. We had no clue where we were in the city so we tried to find a tuk-tur or taxi to take us back to the central park. We stood for ages on the street with no luck. Where are all the tuk-tuks? We're not in Pana anymore, Toto! Everywhere people were driving their own cars. Not at all like our little lake town.
A decrepit building across the street from the restaurant.
Finally, I attempted to get a taxi number for a travel agency. Then I realized I couldn't call the taxi because I didn't know where to tell him to pick us up. The travel agent told me the intersection name, and I told Jo-Lori, and she called... and the taxi company was confused! So a nice man asked Jo-Lori for the phone and explained to the cab what intersection we were at. So helpful!

Back at the central square, Jo-Lori sat down with a hot chocolate while I quickly explored the area, hoping that our shuttle would be late so I would have more time to see things!
I showed this picture to Bert and he called it "the lactating fountain". :D
Yes, the ladies are spouting water out of their nipples. Stay classy, Antigua!
Hard to see them but those are green parrots in the trees in the park! I was super excited to see them. They were noisy too!
Random large awesome building with cool architecture.
I popped into few stores, still desperately searching for Halloween stuff. I kept checking back to see if the shuttle had arrived. No? Okay! Into one more store! But everyone I asked had never heard of pulseras luminosas or glow bracelets, or if they did know, they didn't have any. If only I had had more time! I'm sure I could have found a party store somewhere in the city.

Alas, our shuttle finally arrived and we climbed aboard. I snapped one last photo of the Volcán de Fuego (volcano of fire) out of the window of the shuttle as we drove away.
Volcán de Fuego, Antigua, Guatemala, on a cloudy day
The ride home was a blur. I was immensely disappointed that I had not found the things I was looking for, yet I had a really good time with my friend and enjoyed an amazing meal. I focused my attention on the lovely scenery passing by and let my worries drift away.

It got dark before we got home, and Jo-Lori and I passed the hours sharing stories. We were held up by a broken-down chicken bus on the road at one point. For some reason, they were blocking four lanes of traffic trying to get the bus turned around to go back up the hill.
Broken down chicken bus on the highway
We were right at the head of the line, anxiously waiting for the police officer to signal us through so we could get home! It took soooo long, I was considering just asking all the impatient drivers to gather together to PICK UP the darn bus and turn it around by force! The tow truck driver was really having a hard time figuring out how to turn the wheels to get the bus to go any other direction than straight into the ditch. Ah, Guatemala. You're so fun!

Finally, we got back to Panajachel and were dropped off into the madness of Santander. I was relieved to be out of the shuttle and stretching my legs. I was hoping to hit up the grocery store and head home for dinner but someone else had a different idea. I was chatting with Jo-Lori when a cold nose touched my knee. I looked down... wait a second! That's Calvin!! That's my dog??? What the...??

Calvin was on Santander, mooching it up at a street food cart. He was super excited to see me... that is until I tried to grab his collar to drag him away from the people eating. Then he growled and snapped at me. BAD DOG. I quickly called Bert to come with the leash to take our errant foster dog home. He said that Calvin had gone up into the garden about 15 minutes ago and figured he had just gone into the grass to go to the bathroom. He hadn't realized the dog had hopped the fence!

I said goodbye to Jo-Lori and waited for Bert to show up with the leash. Calvin was not happy to be taken away from his free meal of taco scraps, and he was really not happy that he got chained up at home!

So, a day both good and bad, and certainly memorable! Can't wait to go back to Antigua with Bert. Now that I've had a sampling of the city, I am eager to see more. Will try to stay overnight next time though, for sure. I'd love to see the volcano erupting at night!

Here's a short video of the fountain in the Central Park of Antigua.
Until next time, my friends. :D

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