SMr Road Trip Mississippi to Nicaragua
Days 19 to 23 - October 21st to October 25th - Antigua, Guatemala
We pushed Shakira into a snug parking spot in front of Hostel Antigua. We came to find out over the span of our five day stay that this hostel had a lot of rules and its employees watched guests constantly, scolding us if we were too noisy or got in too late. It reminded me of staying with my grandmother. No smoking, no drinking, no talking after 10 pm. Signs posted everywhere like a library. The trade off was fair though for it was one of the most affordable places around and was pretty nice too.
Antigua is a historical city that had once been the capitol of Guatemala before Guatemala City took the title. The buildings are old, the sidewalks are narrow, and it is difficult for two people to walk side by side. The city is peppered with giant cathedrals, and there are scattered ruins from ancient civilizations giving away the cities age and cultural depths. It's beautiful and definitely a tourist destination. We had a lot of time here and used it to decompress and pursue our independent interests. I spent my time attending Spanish language school and going for long runs to my new favorite overlook high above Antigua. The point offered a beautiful view with a large cross that seemed to cast its blessing on the city below.
I would let myself get lost each day to find unique places to buy local crafts and healthy restaurants serving up delicious local favorites. Antigua was a city that had a deep rooted culture, many of the indigenous locals still wore variations of the traditional Guatemalan clothing, bright and colorful, while selling delicious homemade food, and handmade items in the Parque Central. I would find the local venders waiting all along the park side each night when the tourists had all gone to bed. At first I thought they slept here, but after waiting in a nearby street-side food stall, I saw trucks and buses begin to pull up. They all loaded up, squeezing in where ever they could fit, and returned to their homes, wherever they may be.
While I was exploring the local tourist culture in Antigua, Eli had taken the responsibility of dealing with the car and mechanics by himself. Eli's dedication to mending the car got him involved in a less than desirable situation. Eli rode along with Jaime, a friend we met through SMr, to Guatemala City where he got to see first hand how car parts are sold in Guatemala. They could not find the parts that they were looking for in the car part stores, but by happenstance found another person driving the exact same car as Shakira, a 1982 diesel fueled Jetta. Ironically, the owner of the car happened to be looking for some parts himself. He said he knew just the place, and signaled to Eli and Jaime to follow him. He led them to Zone 8. Zone 8 is the part of Guatemala where it is understood that you simply “should just not go”. It is filled with crime and not unusual for a black market vendor to hold a gun to someone’s head simply for one hub-cap, or a shiny hood ornament. Apparently this was where all the parts that had been obtained in less than reputable ways were sold. They found the man they were looking for on a dark street corner in zone 8. Just as Eli was about to pop out of the van, Jaime stopped him saying, “No, this is much too dangerous, you need to duck down, and wait here.” Eli waited anxiously while Jaime haggled his way to get the part that they needed. Eli at that point really had no choice but to just sit it out and follow Jaimes instructions. Only when it was all said and done, and he was in a safe zone again, did Eli learn of the severity of danger in that zone. Otherwise he may not have gone.
Once they obtained the car parts, they delivered them back to the mechanic who worked on Shakira. He replaced the timing belt, replaced parts of the shift linkage, and rebuilt the radiator. By the time all of this work had been done, 5 days had passed and we were more than ready to leave Antigua. I was worn out from exploring and Eli was worn out from ceaselessly working with local mechanics trying to ensure that the car was repaired and ready to get back on the road.
Overall Antigua was a beautiful City. There were several international tourists and we got to meet people traveling from many parts of the world, as well as a few wonderful locals. Despite the turmoil we had faced, and the difficulties with the car, Antigua was an extended pit-stop in a lovely town and turned out to be an enjoyable, stress-relieving breather that I really needed at this point in the journey.