By Anne-Marie Dingemans
I lived in Antigua, Guatemala between 1999 and 2001, and I had the time of my life! Guatemala kept all my senses triggered the entire time, and I came away from that country with so many lessons learned and experiences lived and memories to treasure forever. I come from the Netherlands, a very tranquil, rich, culturally homogeneous country that is best described by one of the most beloved Dutch sayings: "Why don't you behave just normal, that's crazy enough." Well, Guatemala, Antigua in particular, is a little different to say the least!
What struck me most upon arrival was the noise. What noise! 50-year old American school buses start running and honking their horns incessantly from 6am and don't stop until 8pm, singing housewives sweep patios at 6am, tortilla-vendors shout their arrival, trucks try to make their way through narrow, cobblestone streets. It took me months to get used to it.
And then the smells. Houses are built much more open, often rooms open onto open air patios, so when you walk from your room to the bathroom in the morning, you're outside. I loved that sense of openness and fresh air. Unfortunately that glorious morning moment always came to a crashing halt when I sat down on the toilet and realized again that in Guatemala you can't flush your toilet paper, rather you throw it in a trash basket…
The sights of Guatemala were never disappointing. The nature is so rich and so varied, and especially in November and December after the rainy season when all plants and trees are bright green and contrast the blazing sun with the stark blue sky. Which of course are exactly the colors the Indigenous use in their intricate weavings. Each village has its own style, each family its own patterns.
I liked living in Antigua because it has a perfect climate. The lowlands are very hot and humid, and high up in the mountains it gets to be a little too cold to my taste. Antigua is crispy fresh in the mornings and warm during the day. Most of the year you can wear t-shirts during the day, but it always cools down enough to be able to comfortably cover up at night. If you have fair skin you do have to be careful about sunburn, though. Antigua lies about 5,000 feet high in the mountains, and although the air can feel cool, you still burn.
I haven't mentioned the tastes of Guatemala yet! Although the cuisine is generally pretty simple and bland, (the fact that it's a very poor country doesn't help of course, as many imported products are much too expensive for Guatemalans), that perfect climate I talked about earlier is very conducive for big, juicy, sweet, truly fresh fruits. Right off the tree! You have to taste it to know what I mean. And then, what a Guatemalan woman can do with a little corn flower, water, oil and avocados… The current director of the school in Antigua recently told me that the same ladies still sell their tostadas (small fried corn tortillas) with guacamole at the door of the school every morning!