Guatemala Trip January 2001

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January, 2001, we arrived in Antigua, Guatemala, the volcano-surrounded early capital of Central America, to begin our medical mission trip.

Our introduction was immediate - with the earthquake which killed hundreds in nearby El Salvador! It shook for 15-20 seconds, after which the ground just went back and forth for about a minute! Talk about a seasick feeling! No major damage here, though.

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua street scene.

This quaint town is a typical Spanish colonial town with cobblestone streets and stucco buildings.

Like most such towns, life centers around the central plaza.

Central Plaza

Plaza at night.

And this is especially true at night, as the plaza is the central focus of the night-life. Families, young lovers, and children gather for gossip, to talk, and to listen to marimba music.

The old cathedral, built by the Spanish around 1735, dominates the plaza. Although the center of much activity in the main room, looking behind the scenes tells "the rest of the story"....

Cathedral at night.

Ruins of the cathedral.

A massive earthquake in 1765 or so destroyed many of the structures built by the Spanish. Churches, convents, and cathedrals throughout Antigua lie in ruins to this day.

One must take the earthquakes seriously when silent testimony to their strength bears witness all around.....

Ruins of the main cathedral.


The buildings all have central courtyards, often with magnificent plantings. This is the view from the dining area of our hotel while staying in Antigua for several days before and after our work. There are several volcanoes around Antigua. This year none of them were active.

This is the view of the open-air dining room from the rooftop patio. This courtyard (one of three in this 300-year old hotel) has a water garden.

Dining room.

Mayan man.

The people of Guatemala, about half of whom are Maya, are generally very strong, very intelligent, and very polite.

The central market in Antigua is a potpourri of color, scents, textures - and tastes!

Market scene.

MArket scene

Wonderful pineapples, melons, papayas, and other fruits are everywhere!

Vegetables are also available - not much fresher than these anywhere!

Market scene

Market scene

Meats of ALL varieties may also be found in the marketplace.

I said meat of EVERY kind! - Here next to the familiar shrimp we have smoked iguanas and smoked armadillos.

Market scene

MArket scene

And of course, there are lots of spices, pepers, and other tasty things to add to your dish!

Seeds and nuts are available in large quantity as well.

MArket scene

Market scene

Of course, it is the crafts that Guatemala is most famous for. Carvings and weavings are everywhere.

These masks are modeled after those long used in Mayan ritual ceremonies.

Market scene


The weaving is most famous - every Mayan village has its very own unique pattern of weaving for shirts, blouses, and pants (often with embroidered embellishments). The smaller articles of clothing are made upon "back-strap looms" such as used by this young lady.

Orientation to Guatemala required adjustment to the altitude, and nothing works better than exercising at altitude, so we rented bikes and went into the mountains....

Bus loading

Soon it was time to load up our bus and head towards Lake Atitlan, where we would be working for the next week.

But it wasn't too late to buy a hat before the trip from the local hat peddlar!

Hat salesman

Road to....?

What would a third-world road trip be without treacherous mountain roads in an old "BlueBird" schoolbus?

Author Aldous Huxley was right - there is NO lake in the world as spectacular as Lake Atitlan! This lake, formed in an 8-mile-wide volcanic caldera, is surrounded by the mountainous rim with scattered Mayan villages, amongst a number of volcanoes!

Lake Atitlan, viewed from San Antonio Polopa

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© 2001 Dr. Stephen Blythe