We leave Pana on our private excursion to Chichi. The private excursion turns out to be a shuttle for a busload of tourists staying at every hotel in the town which is irritating because we’ve not only had to get up early to catch the bus, we’ve also left just as the Men’s Final at Wimbledon between Federer and Nadal is heating up. We will only learn the next day that it turns out to be a classic.
We’ve enjoyed Pana- it hasn’t got a great reputation and is completely overshadowed by other towns around the lake in terms of popularity – but for a family with three children it offers just about enough entertainment and attractions to be a lot of fun. When travelling with your children, one has to sift through the guidebooks and information and determine what will be best for your particular situation; many times I’ve learnt five minutes too late that I’ve made a mistake in choosing an activity and have become very circumspect in my planning.
We reach Chichi. It’s Sunday morning and we’re at one of Central America’s largest and most famous markets. The market appears to be never ending; finding one’s bearings isn’t easy except for the large church at the center. Excepting (for Benjy) soccer shirts, everything imaginable is being sold and it’s great fun. While the girls go look at weavings, bags and pottery, the boys are most impressed with the machetes. Mostly it’s a cultural lesson in people watching and is a feast of color and sounds. When we tire, we get lunch and head back to our bus.
It’s late afternoon when we reach Antigua, and it’s raining. The town has a reputation for being one of Central America’s most enchanting colonial cities, but in the dark and drizzle it’s hard to see that. When we get to our Spanish school, they call our hosts and off we go. Now a word about our plans for we are embarking on a course far different from anything we’ve done before. Firstly, for the week, we will all study Spanish. Our daughter, Dani, has completed ninth grade and has good Spanish, and Liora has some, but the rest of us have none at all. So we’ll see how that goes. In addition, we’re doing a homestay, as we’ve decided to be totally immersed in the experience.
We get picked up in a couple of tuk tuks that can barely hold us, let alone our luggage and go to our host home, a few minutes away from school. Like a lot of homes we’ll see in Antigua, it has big walls with a solid wooden door, and on entering there is a beautiful garden courtyard. We’re in two decidedly simple rooms. We will be sharing bathrooms with other rooms and it’s already hard for me to envisage a week here. The kids can’t understand my fuss;it’s very gratifying that my privileged kids who lack for nothing never expect or even desire any kind of luxury when traveling. But I’m at an age where I have certain expectations, and a private bathroom is one of them.
We have dinner with the other boarders – for it feels more like a boarding house than a homestay: the family does not eat with us – and learn that portions at this house are very small. We don’t think we generally eat a lot but we are still really hungry after dinner, so we head into town to find some more sustenance. The kids all want to go to Bagel barn which sounds like their dream place but we can’t find it. In a couple of days that will seem ridiculous, but places feel far less foreign after 24 or 48 hours. We spot Cafe Condesa, but I can’t see real food, so we go to a terrible fast food place next door. Later we see Cafe Condesa has a great selection so we head there for dessert. It will become our favorite place of this trip.