Still no word on my laptop, which is somewhere in Guatemala City awaiting service, so it looks like I´ll be spending a lot of time here at the Funky Monkey Internet lounge.
Below are a few photos of Antigua, the city here in Guatemala where I´m living. (Click on the photos to see them full-size.)
I chose Antigua for a number of reasons. For one, it´s a mecca of language schools. There are literally dozens of schools here in Antigua, and they range in size, quality, and price. There´s no better place in the Americas to study Spanish, and indeed the majority of the students at my school (more on that later, as today was the first day of class) are from countries other than the United States. In particular, there are a lot of Europeans and Israelis here. I like this because I don´t want to be the only gringo around, but at the same time, I don´t want to be around a bunch of Americans who only want to speak English and who share my culture. I prefer the Europeans, particularly the Germans.
Another reason why I chose Antigua is because of its location in a mountain valley with three volcanoes towering overhead. The altitude here is approximately 5,000 feet, so even though I´m in Central America, which is most definitely hot, humid, and tropical at sea level, the high altitude here ensures a temperate climate in the range of 70 to 75° Fahrenheit pretty much everyday. In other words, no snow, little humidity, and lots of sun — and though there is a rainy season, where it rains every afternoon without fail, the dry season is scheduled to begin in the coming weeks.
Another reason I´m here is because of the history on display all over Antigua. Founded by the Spanish conquistadors on March 10, 1543, as the third capital of Guatemala after two failed attempts, Antigua was originally named Santiago de los Caballeros. For 200 years it served as the capital of the Spanish colony of Guatemala, which at the time included the Chiapas region of Mexico along with all of Central America. But after a series of deadly earthquakes rocked the city in 1773, the Spaniards relocated their capital one last time to Guatemala City.
At the time of the earthquakes, around 60,000 people lived here, but they were all ordered by the Spanish government to relocate to Guatemala City. Thankfully, most of the colonial-era architecture remains well preserved, from the cobblestone streets to the gigantic cathedrals; indeed, Antigua was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The city´s official name — La Antigua Guatemala, which means “The Old Guatemala” in English — is a reflection of Antigua´s antiquity.
One final characteristic of Antigua that appeals to me is its size. While around 60,000 people lived here during the 1770s, the present-day population is only around 35,000. Relative to most major cities here in Latin America, a population of 35,000 is a breath of fresh air (literally, for the pollution level is often heartbreaking down here in Latin America). In comparison, the population of Guatemala City, a congested 45-minute drive away, is around 1,200,000. For instance, I´ve only been here in Antigua a few days, but already I´ve seen people repeatedly and have gotten to know a few people on first-name basis. To me, Antigua has the feel of a small-town community that is blessed with a constant influx of tourists and students who bring with them enthusiasm and money. Hence all the schools, hotels, backpacker hostels, restaurants, bars, cafes, Internet lounges, and shops.
As I wrote last time, Antigua is really the best of both worlds. It has all the comforts of home (i.e., the United States) along with the culture, history, and climate of Latin America at its finest. I can totally understand why so many gringos choose to live here, whether for a few months, a couple years, or for the rest of their lives.