VISA RUN. Or, that time I went to Guatemala and only ate Asian food
Once again, I’ve been caught up in life’s distractions and a few months have gone by since I’ve made the time to write. The past few months have been a delight to my wanderess taste buds and have really fueled my love for movement but I’ve spent a lot of sideways energy getting from one place to the next and from one activity to another.
And so, in an effort to start getting back into something that might vaguely resemble a routine, I’m back to sharing.
In a place like San Cristobal, instead of an “out-of-office” message you are much more likely to get an “out-on-a-visa-run” message. San Cris is full of folks who for one reason or another have found themselves here longer than they originally intended. Some are retired, others are working or volunteering for nonprofits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and many have not yet taken the steps to apply for a permanent or semi-permanent residency status with the Mexican government and are meanwhile here on a tourist visa (like me).
Mexico is generous to US citizens and to most Europeans, Canadians and Australians as well. As tourists, we are allowed stays of up to 6 months at a time, and there is no rule of “maximum number of days per year” that many other countries enforce. So basically, once every 6 months, I must leave the country and come back in. Not necessarily a bad problem to have. While some say that you can literally just walk across the border and exit Mexico and turn around and walk back in to restart your new 6 months, most see it as an opportunity for a little getaway, me included.
For those hunkering down in San Cristobal for an extended period of time and needing to make a visa run the most common and least expensive thing to do is to travel down to Guatemala by land, spend a few days exploring our neighbor to the south and return. On my most recent visa run I was already in Playa del Carmen when I decided to make my run, so I hopped a quick and cheap flight from Cancun to Guatemala City and came back to San Cristobal by land.
I had been in Guate 8 years ago and have fond memories from that visit. A lot of the details have faded with time but I remembered enjoying La Antigua and that is the most logical place to go from Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport, and so it was that my plans quickly unfolded.
Rolling into Antigua in a shuttle from the airport felt incredibly familiar. I remembered the vibration and hum of wheels on cobblestone streets. I had chosen a hostel the day prior and made a reservation even though it was low season, just so I’d have a destination upon arrival. Staying at Posada Juma Ocag was a good choice. It is a quiet hostel and is well taken care of and while it was a block or two further out than I would have liked and didn’t have any bells and whistles, I was happy with it. I love the occasional stay at a hostel. All of my best and favorite travels have happened when I’ve been in low-budget mode and hostels have been a central part of those travels.
What do I do when I arrive someplace beautiful with no plan? Throw my bags in my room and head out to wander around. Me and my camera. My camera and I. What most visitors would notice immediately in La Antigua would be the colors, the architecture, the cobble stoned streets and the ruins scattered throughout the city. What I noticed almost immediately was the number of Asian restaurants in the historic center.
And thus began “that time that I went to Guatemala and refused to eat anything but Asian food.” Yes, I realize how stupid that sounds. No, I don’t care.
Suddenly, I was confronted with the problematic fact that I had only 3-4 meals in Antigua and numerous Asian restaurants to choose from. My walking tour of Antigua centered around scouting out all the restaurants, checking out their menu and their clientele and narrowing down my choices.
On a quest to find a restaurant called “Origami” I came across the public baths and walked through the San Francisco neighborhood with quiet streets and peculiar alleyways.
Having not been convinced by the #1 rated Thai restaurant in town I headed across town to look for the #2 and spent some time exploring the handicraft market and a residential neighborhood with beautiful tree-lined streets and colorful homes. (I settled on Cafe Rocio and was pleased with their curry.)
Heading back to the main plaza with an intention to sit and rest for a bit, I came across a Korean Restaurant, “Miso,” and on a whim decided to go for their spicy calamari dish.
While looking for the two Indian restaurants I saw listed on Trip Advisor and Four Square, I found some beautiful, picturesque old buildings. I ended up without enough time to go for Indian cuisine, but next time, I shall!
One thing that is a Guatemalan classic is the chicken bus, and many were found on my walk around the town! Old and retired US school buses are sold to Guatemala and are repurposed as the most common and inexpensive form of public transport. Lovingly called “el chicken bus” because more often than not, there are chickens and other animals transported in addition to people. And boy, Guate sure knows how to decorate their old school buses! Not only are they colorful on the outside, but each driver decks out the inside with all sorts of knick knacks that make each ride incredibly unique. I even found a long bus converted into what I can only assume is a party bus.
My quirky two-day walking tour of Antigua centered around Asian cuisine ended up not too shabby! Some streets and corners I felt like I remembered but enough time had gone by that I felt like I was rediscovering the place.
Lastly, the most iconic thing about Antigua is the La Agua Volcano that hovers above the city. This time around I didn’t really get a clear view as it was always cloudy but looking through my pictures from 2007 I found a good one.
You might be quick to judge that the 2015 photo appears to have been taken in a McDonald’s. Oops, busted. But hear me out!! I’d read in a few different forums and comments about Antigua that the McDonald’s in town was worth a visit because of the beautiful building it’s in as well as the patio that on a clear day offers a beautiful, unobstructed view of the volcano. So, I battled against all my better judgments and decided to go early on a Sunday morning when it wasn’t packed with schoolkids. Sure enough, it’s a fine McD’s! They offer a nice cappuccino in their McCafe and the patio is delightful. While it wasn’t a clear enough day for the volcano, it was still a great place to spend a little bit of time. Plus, they have the best WiFi in town. Do you forgive me??
And while I’m not sure how embarrassed I should be about ending on a “I went to McDonald’s” note, I shall.
Next, to Lago Atitlan!