Welcome to the first instalment of “Travels With the Booby”. Remember, guys, travel can be a vital part of your self-education, so take it seriously, just don’t forget to have a good time, too.
The first purpose of this series is for the Booby to impart his knowledge and perceptions of specific locales around the world based on personal experience. It’s not a travel guide for recommending specific hotels, restaurants, or tour companies (except when it is).
The second purpose is to gloat about all the wonderful places the Booby has been, though under the auspices of helping fellow travellers… in other words, it’s not unlike a million other travel blogs you’ve read, with one major difference: the Booby’s not your typical self-adoring, dripping-with-virtuousness, white college brat/alumnus. Instead, he’s a self-adoring, dripping-with-nastiness, white jerk who who strongly dislikes the former type of globe-trotting virtuist (see here).
What better place to start, then, than the beautiful mountain community of Antigua, Guatemala.
From the moment a thoroughly self-educated fella enters this little city he gets the distinct notion he’s been had. Yes, it really is a well-preserved Spanish colonial city just like the guidebooks say. However, upon closer inspection it becomes apparent that it is really just an outdoor urban hipster mall, one that caters to the very sort of Westerner he probably left home to get away from.
Virtually every street features an holistic spa or business selling everything from essential oils to beadworks, and is almost always owned by aging American hippies. These businesses are typically flanked by hipster bars with clever names like “The Fucia Frankfurter” (OK the Booby made that up), or organic sandwich bars prescribing copious amounts of kale and ancient grains. All it really needs is a Whole Foods and the circle-jerk will be complete.
As for the tourists, there appear to be two kinds here: 1) there are the North Americans and Western Europeans, both of whom delight in what is essentially a giant urban farmers’ market (and who adamently deny that they are tourists), and 2) Latins, who seem less concerned with affirming their morality than with partying hard in their delightful, albeit loud, Latin manner. For whatever reason Antigua doesn’t feature the busloads of pushy, camera-wielding East Asians, like so many other tourist meccas do.
Now, based upon what the Booby has just told you, you might believe that Antigua is not a worthwhile destination. This isn’t true.
For the active among you there are opportunities for hiking, mountainbiking, and all manner of physical (even adventurous) pursuits. If that sounds appealling, then do some research. Bing and Google still exist the last time the Booby checked. Most of the more adventurous activities are done outside town (so much the better for those looking for some peace) but Antigua can at least make for a convenient home-base.
Also, the place is just damned interesting: the Colonial archetecture can take you back to a time when conquering Europeans were still transforming so much of the world in their own image, as well as traces of one of the civilizations they displaced. Thus, it provides a first-hand glimpse at the remnants of two fallen empires, the Mayan and Spanish.
There is also the bizarre sociological phenomenon of a seemingly-happy co-existence between the locals and the ex-pats. Aside from those working in the tourist industry (including the street paddlers), most go about their business as they would were they not within a makshift urban farmers’ market, one that Westerners created in the centre of their city. It’s not every day you get see two distinct cultures simultaneously occupying the same physical space, almost oblivious to each other, like ghosts.
For the partiers among you Antigua may seem like paradise. The young and carefree of the backpacking world flock to this place, and once the sun goes down you may as well be in a New England college town, complete with nightclubs, bars, street souvenir vendors coyly hawking weed, and of course lots of easy sex to be had from inhibriated Western girls.
The Booby’s not going to cast too much derision upon this aspect of Antigua’s tourist scene, if only because the Booby is now of the age where his criticisms could be justly construed as envy masquereading as virtue.
So, if you’re young and want to indulge in the decadent side of Antigua then go for it, just be respectful of the locals, their values, and don’t make an ass of yourself. Remember, you’re in someone else’s country, not yours.
The last thing the Booby will say about Antigua is that it also makes an excellent stopover en route to other interesting places in Western Guatemala, like Lake Atitlán or Xela. Travel in this developing country can be infamously slow. Instead of spending an entire day in a bus getting from the international airport to your destination, break up the trip by stopping for a day or two in Antigua.
There are certainly worse places in this big old world to pass some time.
So sayeth the Booby.