Lessons for and from a Weekend in Antigua
I’m fairly excited this week because, after waiting patiently for nearly six months (for, of all things, my mother-in-law to visit), I got to experience three of the five things I most wanted to do in Antigua that I had yet to do. It only took a weekend and about $50. And, it occurred to me how easy it was to do them, how little effort it really took, and how rewarding it felt. It got me to thinking about “bucket list” type things we tend to make and, ultimately, our ability to ignore them.
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I—and I think many of us—have spent a lot of our lives disregarding the things we want to do. I recall putting off great weekend camping trips because of a two-hour drive then watching six hours of television instead, sometimes 90% of which was composed of nature programs. I was too tired or hadn’t taken the time off to do it or needed to get this or that done. There was always a reason to procrastinate, and it was—is—usually enough. Why do we do this? It’s so unfulfilling and so easy to change.
1. Schedules are worth ignoring for a day. (Friday)
Schedules are a pain, no matter how much you've stripped them down. Since I’ve been living in Antigua, my average day consists of 3-4 hours at Bagel Barn working on the writing side of my life, and 3-4 hours at Oxford Language Center working on the still got-to-pay-for-stuff side of my life. In between, there are lunches, grocery shopping trips, walks across town, occasional basketball games, and a night or two out on the town. I managed to negotiate a schedule of a 15-hour work week before agreeing to my current job then take that and fill up the rest of my day with seemingly non-negotiable obligations. It’s life.
Visiting the Choco Museo this past Friday, however, defied the busy-ness of things. I rearranged my life a little, going to Oxford earlier than normal, putting the writing side of things on hold, and doing something I’ve wanted to do for over a year. But, was it really necessary to wait until there was a mother-in-law here to do it? It seemed that with very little sacrifice or effort I was able to do something that was on my list. My mother-in-law’s presence simply provided the outside influence necessary for me to do what I wanted.
And, the Choco Museo turned out to be awesome, something I’d highly recommend to visitors. Our guide, Pablo, was fun and lively, able to mix a good wealth of information with a healthy dose of tourist-y foolishness, and in the end, I got to make my own chocolate. In fact, we made two types of hot chocolate—Mayan and Spanish (they are very different)—and I made a tray off imaginative chocolates, the type of fabrication that involves a table full of ingredients and someone telling you to mix them and make something funky.
2. If you don’t know how, it’s not that hard to figure out. (Saturday)
Valhalla is an organic macadamia nut farm about 20-minutes outside of Antigua. It’s too far away to walk to, which means for Emma and I, a visit either required talking someone else into going or braving the chicken bus system, which I’ve been told is not even that difficult and even been given directions for. Whatever the case, it’s something that’s been on the backburner for months now because it required…something new.
Then, again, with the mother-in-law in town, it was time to wow her something else, so Friday morning, I talked to Bryant (my boss at Oxford) about going this weekend. He’s a Valhalla veteran, has a car, and loves to host folks. Saturday, a mere fifteen minutes late (Bryant, Guatemalan at heart, is late for everything), he picked us up outside our apartment, our friends Jeff and Salina in tow, with their two children. It was a proper outing, with friends and family. All it took was asking.
And, Valhalla was our type of place. The food was amazing: Macadamia pancakes topped with homemade blueberry jam and macadamia nut butter, coffee grown by people who work on the farm, and free samples. The farm was beautiful and open for exploration, nooks with cool machinery invented by the owner, crannies stuffed with vegetative oddities and experiments. There are opportunities to volunteer there, to camp, to get free facials with macadamia beauty products…The owner, Lorenzo, will entertain you with an old-school, welcoming wit.
3. It’s not too far if you can do it in a day. (Sunday)
We joked at six a.m. over coffee: Emma, her mum, and I had gotten up go to Chichicastenango, and Emma’s mum, let’s call her Sheelagh, has been studying Spanish. Here in Guatemala, many places end with “-tenango”—Acatenango, Quetzaltenango, etc. In Spanish, boobies—read it again, BOOBIES— are often referred to as chi-chis (odd that I used to eat at restaurant called Chi Chi’s). So, to the point, I was caught up explaining to Sheelagh how Chichicastenango was a “land of boobies”. I’m clever that way.
Anyhow, the shuttle picked us up at seven a.m. Emma got a little queasy on the ride, and we were there by nine. Chichicastenango is famous for market shopping (not the aforementioned) here in Guatemala. It’s one of the big destinations to “experience”. I found it a bit disappointing. Perhaps, I’m tainted by having been to a plethora of foreign markets and bought more Guatemalan tourist tat than any one person should ever. We walked around for about two hours, slithering through throngs of people, stopping for the occasional picturesque photo op, and wound up finding a bar balcony to kill time on.
Still, it’s not on my mind anymore. I’m not wondering if I really do want to go to Chichicastenango. I don’t regret going. Most of the time, we don’t regret going, doing things that we want to do. For me, for the weekend, two out of three ain’t bad. I loved the Choco Museo, and I’ll definitely be back at Valhalla. Going to the market at Chichicastenango means, when I leave here this November, it’s one less thing I’ll be wishing I would have done. That makes me feel good, a little more complete.
Admittedly, Antigua is a top tourist destination in Central America. It’s got stuff to do, but as I think back to my life in Baton Rouge, in Memphis, and other places, I know that I had similar lists there: Taking an airboat swamp tour, bike-riding along the Mississippi River, overnight canoe trips, taking full advantage of Memphis in May, the Jazz Fest…there were things, things to create those lists wherever I’ve been, things—new and old—wherever we are, and there are lessons to be learned from a good weekend in Antigua. Yes, we can.