I’m in Antigua, one of Guatemala’s most beautiful cities, home to at least six Spanish language schools, and I can’t make myself understood. It’s a frustrating, humbling experience.
I arrive around 3:30 in the afternoon after riding a bus from Rio Dulce to Guatemala City and a shuttle van from there to Antigua. My first task is to buy return tickets in a week’s time from the bus line, Litegua, only there’s no bus station.
A woman seated at a park bench asks, “Where are you going?” I smile, say, “Buenas tardes” and proceed down the sidewalk. A gentleman approaches and asks if he can help in his best English. I explain that I’m looking for the bus station. He launches into a sales pitch about taking me wherever I need to go by taxi. Cheap price. The woman who spoke earlier jumps into the conversation, urging me to take the taxi and a tour of Lake Atitlan with her travel agency the next day. “No gracias,” I reply and head another direction.
I stop by a food stand and ask, “¿Dónde esta la linea Litegua?” The woman waves her hand in the direction of the open air market. She sends me to the area where the chicken buses depart for other parts of Guatemala. This is not what I want.
I find a police officer and repeat my plea: “¿Dónde esta la linea Litegua?” He waves his hand in the opposite direction and indicates I should go two blocks this way, two blocks that way. Still no Litegua.
A fellow approaches. I’m wary that he’s yet another vendor on a mission to sell a flute or a ceramic bird or a drum. He asks if he can help, so I explain I’m searching for the bus station for Litegua. He doesn’t understand my pronunciation. I feel helpless. I point to the name in the book and he says, “Ah, Lay-tee-wa! Si, si!” He explains that there’s no bus station for Litegua and that I must buy a ticket to ride a shuttle van between Antigua and Guatemala City. He offers to walk me to the place where the shuttle tickets are sold.
With a great deal of relief, I follow the gentleman to a place called Maya’Ch Expeditions. The young man behind the desk speaks English. I should be happy that I’ve found some common ground, yet I’m still irritated that I’m unsuccessful in using even Spanglish. We negotiate the deal, and I’m free to seek a hotel room and dinner.
Things start looking up when I book a room at Casa Cristina for the night. The concierge speaks English, of course.
I wander through the cobblestone streets of Antigua in search of dinner. Near La Merced, a colonial church decorated like a wedding cake, I pass by a doorway that looks promising. A sign in the foyer reads, “Congratulations! You’ve found Hector’s!” I didn’t realize that I’d been looking for this restaurant. After glancing at the menu, I decide this is the place for me.
By accident I had found Antigua’s best restaurant according to TripAdvisor. The mustachioed fellow at the grill turns and welcomes me to take any seat in the house. I spot a single female diner and decide that if the restaurant is open to seating a singleton at a commercially precious two-top, I am open to take the one beside her.
When I sit down, the man I presume to be Hector comes over with a snack bowl filled with green olives and pours a glass of water. A female server arrives with a glass of Malbec and soon I don’t care what language I’m using.
Dinner arrives with a flourish. Two towers of food in a white wine cream sauce with blue cheese, chipotle and sautéed spinach are set on the table. One tower holds two pieces of grilled beef tenderloin with a slice of fresh tomato sandwiched in between. The other tower consists of deep-fried potato disks. With a second glass of Malbec, I am content.
I can’t resist dessert a few minutes later. I had to have the vanilla ice cream topped with olive oil and black mineral salt. It was weirdly sweet and biting at the same time. “Delicioso!” I exclaim to the server in my best Espanol.