Semana Santa in Antigua

Antigua Guatemala – Cautionary Tale

All journeys contain many joys as well as large and small perils for the traveler.  While Antigua Guatemala is blessed with the legacy of its colonial past, there is a beautiful hazard you should be aware of.

The following is a cautionary tale.

My son encountered a friendly member of the criminal element in his journey through Honduras and Belize this winter.  He met a man whose face was scared with the trophies of knife fights. And if his stories portrayed him as the victor, you wouldn’t want to see the loser.

In a seedy bar in Honduras, over a number of cervesas, he regaled my son with exotic stories about his past life of crime.  He told of his adventures smuggling drugs and other illicit sundries across borders.  He tutored my son in the fine art of smuggling diamonds into Europe – — internally. Unlike my son´s recounting of that conversation, I leave the fine details of that operation to your own imagination.  As his mother, I was of course thrilled to learn of this encounter and my son´s further education in the ways of the world.

In the course of the evening, my son mentioned that he was traveling to Guatemala in the morning. The man dramatically stopped the conversation.  Looking at him intensely, and starring with his one good eye, he warned, “If you are going, you have to be very careful in Antigua Guatemala”.  What danger could there be – — guns, gangs, drugs, robbery?

My son rapt with attention awaited his sage advice. What would this seasoned thug counsel my son to avoid? My son leaned forward.   “Whatever you do,”, the man said and paused for effect, “whatever you do, don’t bang your head on the windows that stick out onto the streets of Antigua Guatemala.”

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala

Yes, the beautiful windows of Antigua Guatemala, with their ornate wrought iron work ironwork  enclosing stone- hard window sills. Sills  wide enough to suddenly change a three- foot sidewalk  into one two feet wide. I started looking for some real evidence of this peril.  It didn’t take long.

On New Year’s Eve night my friend Jane hit her head so hard that I can still hear the crack of her skull as she went down on Sixth Avenida.   Being of cheery disposition and slightly inebriated Jane was still able to continue the night’s revelry just a little marred in appearance by a big bump on her forehead.

But within the course of three days of that incident I saw at least two more people, staggering down the same street clutching restaurant napkins to their temples. Using this empirical, though statistically insignificant, evidence, I officially proclaim Sixth Avenida the deadliest street in Antigua Guatemala for pedestrians.

I make the distinction of pedestrian because people aren’t the only victims. One quiet morning, I came across the window of a residence near Calle Espritu Santo by the police station. Grey crumpled car parts, including a full bumper were ensnared in its black iron grill work.

As I tried to puzzle out the angle of the impact, a maid came out to sweep the glass off the street. With a disgruntled look on her face, she turned to me shaking her head and muttered one word: – “extraño,” – strange. This told me that this was perhaps a less common occurrence on the streets of Antigua, but here was  evidence none the less that your head on impact doesn’t stand a chance.

The window sustained a cracked pane of glass and a few bent iron bars. Window – 1, Grey Cherokee – zero. Intrigued, my research continued.  While interviewing a twelve- year veteran of the local police force, I asked about the window peril.

“Oh yes,”, he said, “hitting one’s head is a very common occurrence here.” He sees it all the time.  But from his perspective, it’s only a problem for “hombres.”  Not wanting to contradict him with my example of Jane, he went on to say that men hit their heads all the time as they turn to look at the beautiful women passing by on the street. He wouldn’t corroborate my indictment of Sixth Avenida.  “The problem,” he said, “is rampant all over the town.”

So there you go: advice from both sides of the law, advice never offered in any Foder’s, Lonely Planet or Rough Guide.  Advice to keep in mind while on Sixth Avenida or anywhere else  in town, watching pretty women or, like Jane, innocently walking along laughing and chatting with your pals – whatever you do, don’t bang your head on the windows that stick out on the streets of Antigua Guatemala.

When in Antigua Guatemala, make sure you take joy in your experience of the unique architectural feature, but not head-on.