The last time I visited Guatemala with my family it was 2011. I had just finished my sophomore year of college, was about to spend my first summer working everyday in NYC and had never visited the Czech Republic. It seems like it was a very long time ago and that a lot has changed since then. However, visiting Guatemala felt very much the same. We are all a little bit older, but the memories came back quickly and the same smiling faces were there to greet my family and me as we fell back into life in Antigua.
Our family first went to Guatemala without me to volunteer with the non-profit organization, From Houses to Homes. They built the first house and then brought me back down only a few months later to build a second. Five years later, we now have our own home, right in the beautiful city center. Antigua is picturesque with an amazing combination of new, trendy spots enmeshed within the historic, colorful city walls. The city is growing to be more and more full of tourists, yet they remain dotted between local people of the Mayan culture.
My week in Antigua literally started off with bombas or fireworks, the traditional method of celebration on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. From our home’s terrace, we could hear and see the fireworks all around –from as far as villages halfway up a volcano, to as close as right outside our door. Although the weather was sunny and in the 70s, we went to a nighttime Christmas Eve mass, took in the Christmas lights all over the central park and spent Christmas Day opening up presents under the tree and then spending time with familia.
The most special part of Antigua is the large family we’ve come to have there. Especially with some of the kids, it was amazing to see the time reflected in how big they’ve grown. We spent much of the week watching movies, playing games and practicing a lot of Spanish with everyone. While I was really looking forward to a relaxing vacation, it was energizing to spend time with people from a totally different background than mine and to experience my life with them.
A few of our days were spent in Antigua doing “touristy” things with the rest of the Christmas visitors. We went on a walking tour of the city by Elizabeth Bell, which was interesting to learn more about the history of both Antigua and Guatemala as a whole. Next, we went to the ChocoMuseo to learn about the history of Guatemala and the Mayan people through the lens of chocolate. Finally, we visited Plantation Filadelfia to learn how coffee is made in Guatemala from seed to cup. Not to mention there was some excellent taste testing throughout 🙂
My two favorite days of the trip were polar opposites. First, we traveled to visit two of our families in Santa Maria de Jesus and San Antonio de las Aguas Calientes, two small villages in the mountains surrounding Antigua. Visiting them in their homes was a reminder of the reality of life and how while visiting is a vacation for us, the traditional and simple way they live is normal. Meanwhile, the next day we went to the beach, care of a beautiful all-inclusive resort. The day was like a fantasy with the black sand beach and pure-blue pool. We had so much fun—learning and teaching to swim, playing with the waves and sprinting over the sand.
With the first big blizzard looming in a few days, our week in Antigua seems far away. However, it is unmistakable that from this special bond between families from two different worlds, we help each other and bring each other large amounts of joy. For now, the clear skies and warmth will have to stay strong in our minds. Hasta la proxima…