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The International Writers Magazine: Antigua

An Afternoon in Antigua
Tyrel Nelson


The temp was mild, but my fever definitely wasn’t. I was burning up in fact. My pulse was racing. And my eyes were stinging from the sweat, which also heavily salted my mouth. Still, the sour taste lingering on my buds was better than last night’s dinner. Whoever had prepared my meal hadn’t sanitarily. My insides had been turning inside out since the wee hours.   

Be that as it may, I was determined—no way I was gonna rest. My camera was in hand, and I had learned from previous travels that second looks weren’t guaranteed. There were too many things that could happen from that point forward. Plans could change, I could get distracted, forget my Canon, or the weather could be inclement. Right then was an opportune moment to get my pictures. So I forewent a much-needed nap in my hotel room to capture the beauty of Antigua, Guatemala.

It was the middle of the afternoon, and I was in the middle of the city. The majestic Volcán de Agua towered from the south. It seemed like the colossal volcano was watching me as I circled the square. I slowly walked the tree-lined paths of Central Park, taking in the sounds of a five-piece band, giggling children, and water peacefully flowing from the reconstructed fountain at the plaza’s bull’s-eye. Weak from food poisoning, I meandered until my legs became too wobbly. I had to rest. I sat on the fount’s edge for a while and observed my surroundings.

To the north sat El Palacio del Noble Ayuntamiento. The departmental (Sacatepéquez) and national flags proudly stood atop city hall; both stories fronted by numerous stout arches. I glanced right. La Catedral de Santiago gleamed on Parque Central’s eastern edge. It was immaculate. I was captivated by the way the ivory church brilliantly shined in the afternoon sun. I looked behind me. El Palacio de los Capitanes Generales presided over Plaza Mayor’s southern border. Having read it was once the center of the Spanish colonial government in Central America, I wasn’t surprised by its almighty presence. The double-arcaded, two-story office building powerfully loomed above the cobblestones below. Then, I faced west. I studied the colorful, antiquated structures lining Fifth Avenue. Intrigued, I took a deep breath, rose to my feet, and decided to see where the road would take me.

antigua It didn’t take me long to know something was wrong. I became light-headed as I headed north, my steps grew heavier as I crossed Fourth, and I was beat by the time I passed Third Street. I was in bad shape. My joints were starting to ache. Beads of perspiration slowly trickled down my face. About to drop, I stumbled upon a necessary, yet entertaining stopping point.

Halfway down the block dozens of people circled a street performer. The crowd loudly cheered as a mime juggled atop his unicycle. The Guatemalan put on quite the display. He jumped, spun, and rapidly zigzagged while somehow maintaining his balance. Impressed with his act, I ignored my symptoms for a moment. I stepped in front of my fellow onlookers to take his picture. He saw me immediately. But instead of looking the other way, the young man posed as he pedaled towards me, putting his right hand on his hip and his left behind his head. Fighting off laughter, I steadied my camera, and snapped the mime’s photo just before he turned around.

The show was good, but I had to go on. I was rather queasy now. Staggering across Second Street, I lurched ahead, snaking through blurry pedestrians till I couldn’t anymore. I halted. I was huffing and puffing. Nevertheless, my body wasn’t the only thing that stopped me near the avenue’s northern end. I had more sightseeing to do. Gasping to catch my breath, I checked out the Santa Catalina arch, which spanned the width of Fifth. My hotel bed was calling me while I examined the colonial curve. I was run-down, but too drained to run. So I sluggishly ambled on.

Reaching a T, I turned left. Despite my ever-worsening illness, I continued to delay my return to the inn. I actually just tottered a block before pausing yet again. On the corner of First Street West and Sixth Avenue North boomed the magnificent Iglesia La Merced. I was in awe. Ogling the ornate yellow façade of this stupendous church for several minutes, I finally took a picture. It would be my last of the day.

Shortly thereafter, I was furiously pushing open the door to my room at Hotel Posada Los Bucaros. I frantically removed the camera case strapped over my shoulder, kicked off my shoes, and dived underneath my bedding. Although it was summerlike outside, I was freezing. I threw on another shirt. I shivered until I passed out.

Within a few days, I was back in the States, fully recovered and happily reliving my trip to Guatemala as I eagerly perused my pictures. When I came across the images from Antigua, however, I was instantly reminded of my ailing afternoon. I could almost feel my stomach churn and forehead get hot. Because my condition worsened before it improved, I was unable to go on anymore photo runs before leaving the country a couple of days later.

But the pics also reminded me of the positives. Revisiting Antigua in my mind, I roamed its cobblestone streets, admired the colonial structures, and appreciated their striking colors. I sauntered to Parque Central, weaved through the arches of the surrounding buildings, and took a seat at the relaxing fountain. I soaked in the tranquil ambience. Then, I gazed at the tremendous Volcán de Agua, and realized how lucky I was. Where else could a person leisurely stroll through a park eclipsed by a 3800-meter-tall volcano?

So I reflected upon the choice I made that Saturday—trading soundness for snapshots—and wondered if I had made the right move. On one hand, I disregarded my health, and certainly paid the price for it. I shivered when I thought of the chills I had that evening. On the other hand, I spent an afternoon touring incredible Antigua; a chance I may never get again.
I scrolled through my photos one more time. I sighed.
The price was well worth it.
© Tyrel Nelson March 2010
tyreln at
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