Day 1 - Guatemala

Guatemala is so beautiful and amazing! But alas we are only here for the night. I feel for all the world as if this is one of our SAS ports that we're only allowed one day in, and where do you even begin when you have to take in an entire country in a day?

Our flight was originally supposed to leave at midnight last night but was delayed until 3:30 this morning. This actually turned out for the better because then we were able to completely surpass our 4-hour layover in Ft. Lauderdale. After two flights, and over six hours of sitting cramped in an airplane seat, the announcement finally sounded that we were preparing for landing. I looked out the window to see nothing but an endless sea of clouds and pure white cotton ball sculptures. The anticipation of what would come once we descended below the cloud cover was killer. I love arriving in a new country, that moment before you are actually there, when a million questions are buzzing though your head as to what you are about to experience, but oh those pearly white, fluffy clouds are hiding all the answers.

We descended into a mountainous, lush, green country that reminds me of a bit of Dominica, and yet is unlike anyplace I've ever been before. There are green mountains everywhere, and valleys containing cities, and valleys of nothing but huts built wall to wall, and yet more valleys containing nothing but dense forest. I never really expected such a grand welcome at an airport, after all airports pretty much do nothing but usher hoards people into the country, but we stepped off the plane into Guatemala City to be welcomed by a nine-man xylophone band playing some lively local music on two of the biggest xylophones I have ever seen. It was quite the treat.

From the airport, we boarded a minivan of sorts and embarked on an hour-long drive to Antigua, the old capital of Guatemala. When I'm home, long car rides never fail to put me to sleep, but in someplace new, there is nothing more exhilarating than watching a completely foreign and unknown world pass by. We passed the time by pointing out every fast food chain we could find, and there are no end of them in Guatemala City. This may sound like a silly thing to do, but in a third world country it is always fascinating to see the influence that the US has had. As we left the city and the abundance of McDonald's, KFCs, and Taco Bells grew scarce, we began instead admiring the brightly painted, colorful busses, until we were suddenly driving on cobblestone and our driver welcomed us to Antigua.

I already mentioned that Antigua is the old capital of Guatemala, but what I did not mention is that the ruins of this old city still remain, and have been built around in the most remarkable way. The streets are all made of cobblestone, and are lined with walls painted from one panel to the next in every bright color you could ever imagine. Our driver dropped us off in front of the wall that surrounds our hotel, and we walked in to find the most charming hotel that has been built amongst the ruins of an old church. The gardens of this place are interlaced with the remnants of stone walls and the majority of the hotel is nothing but windows overlooking this magnificence.

We dropped our bags and then left to walk around town. The owner of the place, Lucky, had given us a map to follow into the city center, but as none of the streets were marked, we were soon very lost. In my opinion, getting wonderfully lost in a new place is half the fun, because only then do you make the best discoveries. The streets here are peppered with beautiful old churches and the entire city radiates with the beauty of a time long past. We wove our way in and out of several little shops before finally deciding on a restaurant for dinner. The food was divine. They have this salsa, which looks like a thinned out version of guacamole, but it is so delightfully spicy, and if you know me, you'll know that for me to say that means it was pretty darn hot! And the horchata! Granted I've never had real homemade horchata before, but wow! If you don't know, horchata is a rice milk made with cinnamon and sugar and now that I've had the real thing, I'm determined to learn how to make it. But the best part was dessert: plantains in molé sauce, two of my favorite foods that are nearly impossible to find in the US, and two foods that I would have never thought to pair up. I've been craving fried plantains for so long. Every country we visited on SAS had some version of them and yet in the US, or at least anyplace I've been to in the US, they just don't exist, and I have missed them so much. And molé is this exquisite sauce made from chocolate and chilies that I would gladly eat with just about anything.

After dinner, we walked around some more, bought a few trinkets, and then found a tuk tuk to bring us back to the hotel. They have tuk tuks in Guatemala! I love the different, random forms of transportation used around the world. Tuk tuks are little cabins attached to a motorbike, so we all climbed into the little automobile, and bounced along the cobblestones all the way back to our hotel, where we finished off the night with a glass of wine and a game of Scrabble.