Living in Xela has been a wonderful learning experience, but sometimes a girl just needs a nice restaurant and some over priced wine so she heads to Antigua. Antigua is a lovely city filled with wide, clean streets that won’t actually break your ankle if you try to run on them and the best food in Guatemala. When I talk about Antigua I mostly tell people to take everything they know about Guatemala and throw it out the window as it doesn’t apply to Antigua. In Xela women do not wear shorts, you don’t go out alone at night, and nobody really goes out to dinner much, mostly because there are approximately three good restaurants in Xela. In Antigua women can wear shorts without getting disturbing descriptions of their ass and what said man giving the descriptions wants to do to it. In Antigua you can eat perfectly cooked Mahi Mahi in a garlic caper sauce and finish the meal with the only real craft brew in Guatemala, the Antigua Brewing Company. In Antigua you can feel safe walking the streets at night thanks to the tourist police, a force employed simply to keep the city safe enough that the tourism continues to flow in.
I know I sound bourgeois talking about Mahi Mahi and craft beer when the majority of the children in this country are so underfed their growth is stunted. I know I should be a better, less vain person, but the truth of the matter is I love getting away from reality for a weekend or two. That’s what Antigua is, it is a break from the reality of Guatemala. Antigua is where the rich kids of Guatemala City go to play on the weekend and where expats love to settle. The question I ask is, is this such a terrible thing? If you look at Antigua for what it is, the playground of the wealthy, I feel like there is minimal harm done.
It would be perfect if the money generated by tourism in Antigua could reach the rest of Guatemala, but I can’t really see a way for that to happen without massive governmental overhaul. Average Guatemalans do not go out to eat much and when they do it is at Pollo Campero, a very successful Guatemala food chain in the style of KFC. If someone tried to open a Hector’s Bistro in Xela they would go out of business within the year, there just isn’t the customer based for Q140 dishes when the average income here is Q2000 a month. For scale Q2000 is $265 USD which ends up with a yearly income of $3,180 USD. The majority of Guatemalans simply can’t afford the lifestyle that Antigua is selling.
The question of Antigua brings up the question of wealth and what to do with it. I would argue that the money I drank and ate away in Antigua could have very well been used to feed a family for a week in Xela, but I chose not to. A very good friend of mine, Jack, and I were talking about this subject a few years back while backpacking through Yosemite. We were somewhere along the Hetch Hetchy Trail when global poverty and responsibility came up. I said that I couldn’t do anything more to help those in poverty and Jack called me out on it. No, he said I won’t do anymore, but that it was okay. It took a lot more pushing to get me to finally see that yes I could do more to help those in need, I could sell my car, donate the money, and use my savings account to buy medicine for an underserved hospital, but that I wouldn’t and that is okay.
It is okay to be selfish occasionally, to want to use your money to buy textbooks so you can get a degree or to keep your car so you can commute to work. The important thing is to balance these things, to live a life for yourself and your family, but to not forget your fortune, to not forget that 50% of children in Guatemala are living with chronic malnutrition. This is how I see Antigua, as a city that has had the fortune that most of Guatemala missed because of a rigged political system that keeps the wealth in the hands of a few. Antigua is a city where those who can afford it can enjoy pleasures not found elsewhere in Guatemala. It is okay to enjoy that. However, it is not okay to forget that this life, this blessed, comfortable life, is not the life that everyone lives. I have loved my weekends away in Antigua, but it is Xela that has taught me the most about Guatemala and the people who live here.