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Antigua, 27 January 2003
On January 20th at 20:46 we experienced an earthquake of 5.4 on the Richter scale. It was quite impressive, with everything moving and shaking, it felt like being on a boat in a storm. The whole thing lasted no more than 30 seconds. At the same time we saw a fireball in the sky, apparently a local tradition at celebrations, but we though for a moment that it might be something from the volcano!
Fortunately nobody got hurt. Several days later Mexico was hit by an earthquake of 7.6 on the Richter scale and more than 20 people died! There are two major fault lines that go through Guatemala, so the country has a lot of seismic activity.
The volcano Fuego erupts several times per day, it sends large piles of smoke high into the sky. It is the only active volcano of the three that surround Antigua and it is really impressive. The first time I saw it I stopped to take photographs, but the locals continued with their business as if nothing was happening! By now we have gotten used to it as well and only stop to watch on occasion. At night, it is possible to see red hot lava erupt from the volcano, the best place to see this, is from café Sky. A cafe that is located on a roof of a building near our school, from where you have a magnificent view over the town and the surrounding volcanoes.
Antigua Guatemala, as the full name of this town goes, was the capital of Guatemala (actually the entire Spanish colony covering what is now Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras and parts of Mexico) until it was hit by an earthquake in 1773. The entire town was destroyed and in 1776 the capital was moved to Guatemala City. Hence the name Antigua Guatemala, which means ancient Guatemala.
Antigua still has the legacy of its time as a capital, the town has a beautiful architecture, cobblestone streets and a beautiful central square, called "parque central".
The reason we came to Antigua was to learn Spanish, we are now starting our 3rd week, and have made a lot of progress. The school we are studying at is called Sevilla Antigua (www.sevillantigua.com). We have 20 hours of lessons per week. After the lessons we practice, repeat and do homework. As a result we are actually quite busy. The lessons themselves are one on one, in other words, one teacher per student, and it only costs 85 USD (approx. 80 EUR at today's rate) per week or 70 USD if you take the afternoon classes.
In the evenings we often go to movies, movies in Spanish are subtitled in English, while English language movies are subtitled in Spanish. A movie ticket costs only 15 Quetzales (less than 2 EUR)!
Another thing that is dirt cheap in Antigua are Internet Cafes, at between 8 and 12 Quetzales per hour (1 to 1.5 EUR) it is very affordable. With the Internet being what it is today, you can't really lose contact anymore, with daily checks of my e-mail, online newspapers and online banking, etc... you never quite seem to be totally away. Even my faxes arrive as a picture in my e-mail box.
Some unfinished business in Holland still manages to reach me here. For example the cable company, Casema (a subsidiary of France Telecom), continues to withdraw money from my account, even though I had sent a cancellation letter by registered mail well in time. Reminding them of the cancellation, they merely claim never to have received it! This is not the first problem I have with them either so it is fast becoming a company that I particularly dislike! Strangely enough the only other company I ever had a dispute with as a consumer in recent years was Dutchtone, which also happens to be a subsidiary of France Telecom...
But let's forget about Europe and get back to Antigua. We are planning to stay in Antigua for 6 weeks in total. We want to learn enough Spanish to be able to use it during the rest of our stay in Central and South America. It is going well because at the end of each week we can really feel the progress we have made.
Dutch people are overrepresented by an enormous amount of Dutch women studying Spanish here. We often jokingly call it a Dutch colony. There are also lots of German and US students. In fact you can not walk the street without seeing hordes of foreigners. The good side of this is that all the facilities you might want, exist here. Nearly the entire economy of Antigua runs on tourism. It is so important to the town that there is even a special police force to protect tourists and accompany them to dangerous spots. Also many places are guarded by policemen with oversized guns.
Unfortunately Antigua is a bit colder than we had expected. December and January are actually the coldest months, in day time it can be 25ºC, but it night the temperature can drop to 12 degrees Celsius. In march it is supposed to get warmer, but by then we will be gone, so that is no help to us.
In what seems to be an extreme coincidence, we stumbled on a group of Estonians who are driving around the world (called the Rolling Estonians), when one day we walked around a corner and saw three jeeps sporting an Estonian flag. Maris is probably one of the few Estonians around here (if there are any others at all), so we decided to find the people who drove those jeeps. We looked in shops and restaurants in the street were the jeeps were parked and finally heard some people speak Estonian. We walked up to them and said "Hello Estonians" in Estonian. Needless to say that they were quite surprised.
They told us there is one Estonian living in Belize. The only other one they had met in the region...
After finishing our lessons in Antigua, we are planning a tour of all the famous Maya ruins: from Tikal in the north of Guatemala, we will travel through Belize on to Mexico to visit the Mayan ruins of Chichen-Itza, Uxmal and Palenque. We will probably visit Copan (another Mayan ruin) in Honduras on a weekend trip from Antigua.
After this tour, we will head back south to Guatemala, were we might take some more lessons if we feel like it, or head on further south to El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. From Panama, we will have to find a way to get to South America without passing through Colombia (which we think may be too dangerous at the moment).
Below are a few pictures of New York, where we visited Erik & Chisako on a stopover of a few days on our flight from Amsterdam to Guatemala City. Pictures of Antigua will appear in the next travel update.
That is it for now, if you want to be informed of future updates of travel stories, send me an e-mail.
e-mail Otto de Voogd
To my knowledge the information provided here was accurate at the time of our visit. However time passes and things can change.
(ATMs for Maestro/Cirrus bankcards)
Guatemala: Only Credomatic ATMs accepted our bankcards. The locations of their ATMs are listed on their site. Only US Dollars can be exchanged, Euros are not accepted.
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