Antigua Adventures

Written on Monday, March 13, 2023 by

My main aim of going to Antigua 25 years ago was to learn Spanish, what I came away with was so much more. 

There is something to be said about living like a local. It was a truly immersive experience living with a local family. I arrived into Antigua, fresh off the chicken bus. I made my way to the Hernandez Marroquin family home where I would be living for the next month while I learnt Spanish. Julia, her son Fernando and his wife Maria Carrina and her sisters Lilli & Patti all lived together in a small 4 bedroom house. Being Catholic there were many, many religious statues around the house. They had a room made up for me with a single bed and a chest of drawers. When I say small, I mean small, the ceilings were very low and at times you had to bend down to get through a doorway. The bathroom had a shower and sink, with a separate toilet next door. This was my first experience of how local families live. The plumbing wasn’t great in Central America, so to avoid a blockage the paper went into a bucket next to the toilet. I never did find out what they did once the bucket was full.   

Antigua is well known for its Spanish schools and there are many to choose from. Group lessons were every morning, Monday to Friday. We would start at 10am, go through to 1pm and then head home for an afternoon siesta. The afternoons were free to explore all that Antigua had to offer. We sometimes had a task to go to the market and practice our Spanish and ask for specific things that we had learnt that day. Classes had 4 – 6 students. It was very daunting in the beginning, because I knew NO Spanish and trying to communicate with the family was tricky. Fernando was the only one who spoke English, so early on I was using my trusty Spanish/English Dictionary to communicate. As my days and weeks went on, my Spanish improved and by the end of my month in Antigua I could hold a reasonable conversation and I understood so much more than when I arrived. 

One of the best things about my classes was becoming friends with Corien, a tall blonde Dutch woman. We were in the same classes and sitting next to each other we started chatting and realised we were both living with local families down the road from each other. Corien had arrived a few weeks before me so her Spanish was much better than mine. One of the funniest things was when we went to the market together, looking at the lovely artisan crafts, I asked the vendor in English how much an item was, she replied in Spanish, I looked confused then Corien had to translate for me. The look on this lady’s face was priceless because she couldn’t understand why I didn’t understand her when I look Latin and yet this tall blonde Gringo understood every word. Corien and I had many adventures around Antigua and weekends away exploring the many beautiful places that Guatemala had to offer and more than 25 years later we are still friends, her in the Netherlands and me in Australia. As well as learning Spanish I came away with a lifelong friendship. 

Birthday celebrations in Central America are done a little differently. This was my first birthday away from my family, so it was nice to be celebrating it with another family. After dinner Julia brought out a spectacular looking cake. It was 3 layers high, covered in white frosting with beautiful little pink flowers arranged around the edges. It looked amazing and my mouth was watering just thinking about how good this cake would taste. The family sang Cumpleaños Feliz to me, which was lovely. The moment had arrived for me to taste this spectacular creation. You know the saying ‘What you see is not always what you get’? I was expecting the taste to match how the cake looked. What a disappointment! I was expecting sweet and creamy but that’s not what I got. I think they must have forgotten the sugar because it wasn’t very sweet. It was a lovely gesture for them to think of me and I was very grateful and a great lesson to learn that sweets in Latin America are not always sweet! 

The food in Guatemala is amazing. From the local street vendors to the many restaurants & bars scattered around, serving lots of variations of fresh ceviche to the handmade tacos cooking on the portable fires in the main square. The fresh juices made to order, the colourful and delicious cocktails and an assortment of Cervezas will quench any thirst. Beans, beans & more beans. Frijoles are served with every meal, breakfast, lunch & dinner. 

Antigua is a charming colorful colonial town with colored buildings, an iconic arch, old churches, cobblestoned streets, markets with Artisan Handicrafts and surrounded by volcanoes. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 and is large enough to keep you busy, yet small enough to make you feel like a local. 


Want to explore more of Central America? Click here 

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