A point of view from Rick Stone:

After a Sunday afternoon of organizing pills into dispensable plastic bags and four days of clinics within one to two hours of Quetzaltenango, commonly called Xela (“Shay’-la), today was our day to see a little of Guatemala as tourists. Reverend Luke was our tour guide. Our destination for the afternoon was Antigua Guatemala (Old Guatemala). Reverend Luke likes to say that there is one crazy driver in Guatemala, and he claims the title. As such, the group that was in Reverend Luke’s vehicle arrived in the city about forty minutes ahead of the group that was in the Chevy van, and we had time for coffee at Finca Filadelfia, a coffee plantation and resort outside of Antigua Guatemala. The 1998 Chevy van is a workhorse for Healing Guatemala. This vehicle began its missionary work while Luke was an associate pastor at the Korean United Methodist Church in Columbia, and it still has these decals on it. One notes that the van was purchased at Jones Chevrolet, so that there is some of Sumter tooling the roads of Guatemala. When the rest of the group arrived, we then had lunch at Finca Filadelfia, and afterwards some people bought some items, including coffee, in the gift shop.

Antigua Guatemala (Old Guatemala) was the third capital city of the Spanish Kingdom of Guatemala. The first city was founded on the site of a Mayan city on July 25, 1524, the Feast Day of St. James, and was therefore named Ciudad de Santiago de Los Caballeros de Goatemalan (City of St. James of the Knights of Guatemala). Following several Indian uprisings, the capital was moved to another location, which was destroyed on September 11, 1541 by a lahar from a volcano. The capital city was then moved one more time to the present location of Antigua Guatemala on March 10, 1543, while still keeping the original name for St. James. This city would serve as the capital of Guatemala, most of the rest of Central America and the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico.

Antigua Guatemala became a center for learning and culture. Both Jesuits and Franciscans worked here. The monks of San Juan de Dios (St. John of God) founded the first of their hospitals and a monastery in 1636. On January 31, 1676 a university was established. Earthquakes over the years would damage and destroy parts of the city, and in 1773, following the Santa Marta earthquake, there was a royal decree to move the capital city to another location. In 1776 the capital was moved to Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción (New Guatemala of the Assumption), which is now known as Ciudad de Guatemala (Guatemala City). The old city then became known as Antigua Guatemala. Today, Antigua Guatemala is well known and regarded for its Spanish baroque colonial architecture. It is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

For the afternoon, the group had a chance to divide up. Some wanted to focus on shopping, and others wanted to explore the history and architecture of Antigua Guatemala. The Parque Central (Central Park) is in the middle of the city and surrounded by several colonial era buildings. It is a pleasant place with a central fountain. Across the street from the park on one side are the ruins of the Cathedral of St. James. It was started in 1545, and obtained cathedral status in 1743. It was destroyed in the Santa Marta earthquake of 1773 and most of it was not rebuilt. Today, one can walk through the magnificent ruins for $3 (American). Part of the cathedral was rebuilt, and today functions as San José Parish. Inside this active church, there are beautiful statues of Christ on the cross, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), and the Inmaculada Concepción (Immaculate Conception), along with several altars richly adorned with gold leaf. Old time Catholic churches do feel like a sanctuary from the world. During our historic wanderings, we came upon the landmark Arco de Santa Catalina (Arch of St. Catherine), which was started in the 17th century to connect the Santa Catalina convent to a school, so that the cloistered nuns would not have to go out into the street. The clock on top was added in the 1830s.

After a couple of hours the entire group got together again, and we drove up to the Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross), which of course had a large cross on it. Reverend Luke explained that in colonial days putting up a cross was a way for the Spanish to mark and claim territory. The hill offered a panoramic view of the valley in which Antigua Guatemala lies. Off in the distance could be seen one of the three volcanoes that are in the area.

Our final stop was at the Hotel Casa Santo Domingo (Hotel House of St. Dominic). It is a resort hotel built amidst the ruins of the Monasterio de Santo Domingo (Monastery of St. Dominic). The beautiful grounds are home to some noisy macaws. The ruins include some above ground burial crypts and a large fountain that dates from the time the hotel was a monastery.

Guatemala City is about 25 miles from Antigua Guatemala. Traffic was heavy going into the city on a Friday evening. Trucks were parked along the side of the road, as Reverend Luke noted that their hours of entry into the city are restricted to certain times. Guatemala City has a much more modern urban feel to it than anywhere else we were during our week in the country. It is the largest city in Guatemala, with a city population of 923,392 and a metro area population of about 3,700,000. For Americans needing a touch of home one can find Denny’s and IHOP. Papa John’s will deliver to your domicilio. Casa del Waffle, with the yellow and black stripes accompanying the sign, was a nice Southern touch.

We stayed the night at the modern and upscale Grand Tikal Futura. Interesting that even in Guatemala City people are requested to put papel higiénico (toilet paper) in the wastebasket, rather than in the toilet.

We had a late supper at a large, contemporary indoor mall next to the hotel. People sought out a variety of the fast food options in the food court, with some emphasis on trying something that would be considered Guatemalan fast food. However, afterward, many of us also decided that a Classic Chocolate Frosty from Wendy’s would be the perfect dessert.