Day 7: Antigua

Breakfast view

Our first full day in Antigua brought us the chance to walk the streets in daylight and really see the detail of the town. And what a curious place it is.

There are stretches of stone walls, often coloured and broken only by carved wooden doors. The ornate doors conceal expansive interiors built around centre courtyards filled with greenery and water features. The street frontage gives no clues to the beauty protected within. Every window has bars on the outside.  Some residents have made the bars decorative by hanging baskets of flowers, adding splashes of colour against the stones.

The cobblestone streets are incredibly rough, it would be asking for a broken ankle to attempt walking in heels. I am thankful for my comfy sneakers, though even they occasionally stumble. It’s a wonder cars have any suspension left, especially given the way some of them drive. There are fairly modern cars, motorbikes and motorised scooters. Older style open tray utes pass us filled with adult passengers casually leaning back against the cab.

Cobblestone streets on town outskirts

The town is designed in a grid around a central plaza. Within its immediate square all the streets running North to South have the same name as do those running East to West. Numbers differentiate the parallel streets, such as 3rd Avenida Norte. You would expect this design to make it easy to navigate. Instead it forms a maze within which it is incredibly easy to get completely twisted around. We walked the same street three times thinking we hadn’t been down there yet. Adding to the confusion, outside of the centre grid the streets do not conform to the design, making our hotel challenging to locate. Galileo’s offline map functionality has been a saviour. Searching for particular stores we discover the numbering of properties on the streets is consistently out by one from the online address. But we’ve thus far found everything we’ve looked for.

Periodically we come across tiny little general stores filled with merchandise of all descriptions. The seller is often sitting behind bars. We even pass a few stores with an armed guard posted out the front, cradling a shotgun of sorts while keeping a watchful eye on the street.

The town is full of ruins, seemingly the remnants of a time gone by. We later learn they were damaged by an earthquake and left in states of disrepair.

The coffee in Antigua is renowned. So it is unsurprising that it seems there are several coffee shops and cafes on every street. There is one I have read raved about in every review, a place called Fernando’s. I am determined to try the best in town, so we pass them all in favour of finding Fernando’s.

When we come upon it on the corner of two streets, the doors stand open inviting us within. We step up to the counter but instead a waiter with a bright smile ushers us through the store to tables in the centre courtyard. A waiter brings us menus in English and we excitedly order what will be our first Latte in a week. In a quaint touch the front page of the menu introduces Misha, the resident cat, as being the one to see to relieve any worries or stress. I spot her lounging on a chair in the sun. The waiter eating his breakfast nearby tells us she loves the attention from people and we should feel free to say hello.

Misha relaxes in the sun

Welcome to Fernando’s

An older gentleman comes over and greets us with a kiss on the cheek like old friends. This is Fernando. In perfect English he thanks us for visiting and hopes we enjoy it. We comment on Misha’s presence and he looks over at her with a fond smile, “she’s my boss” he says.

Our coffees arrive and Fernando bids us farewell to drink them, hoping we enjoy them.

I am taking a moment to pause for effect…

The coffee is out of this world, like seriously good. I tell Ruth I am taking some home and ask the breakfasting waiter which of the bags on sale I am drinking. He tells me it is their finest one, the bags sell for 75 Quetzals, which comes to just over $13 Australian for about 450g. He asks us where we are from and nods knowingly when we tell him, “you are coffee snobs in Australia” he grins. We order another coffee and he tells us it is his opinion that their chocolate is even better. An inspection of the store shelves reveal flavours of cinnamon, cardamon and coffee, and even lavender. We try some samples as we leave and I walk out with three blocks and a promise to see them tomorrow.

Coffee at Fernando’s

Restaurants are also plentiful, we’ll clearly have no shortage of choice for food. Hotels are another regular sight, the tourist industry in Antigua appears to be booming.

Tourist agents are another common sight, one had been helpful in pointing us to the laundry that morning. After our coffee fix at Fernando’s we returned there to enquire as to the tour options available. We book in to hike Volcan Pacayo tomorrow. I would have loved to do the Acatenango hike, but I discovered once we got here that it’s a tough overnight climb. We don’t have the gear for an overnight hike, and we can’t fit it into our time in Antigua.  Hence we are making do with the half day Pacayo trip. I am adding Acatenango to my bucket list instead. Spending the night watching Fuegos erupt from the peak of Acatenango is raved about by all as an amazing experience.

We had passed a number of day-spas on our wanders through town, but we went in search of the one I found recommended online. They couldn’t fit us in together so I took the first session and Ruth the next one, and had a lovely relaxing massage. I can recommend Healing Hands; one hour will set you back 250 Quetzals, or about $43 Australian.

Yep! That’s Lava!

I have stupidly not put painkillers in the bag I am carrying and unfortunately the migraine I had been fighting all day would stay at bay no longer. I returned straight to the hotel to call it a night, leaving Ruth to her own devices after her massage. I’ve recovered somewhat by the time she returns, and bound up the stairs in the hope of seeing a Fuegos eruption. I have to wait for a while, but I am finally rewarded with the sight of glowing lava spilling down the volcano.

Volcan Agua keeps watch over Antigua