first impressions (Antigua Guatemala)

Guate City street

Heat. Dazzling sunlight. The closeness of a thousand other bodies. Bright flowers - red, fuschia, orange, purple - foaming up and spilling from the tops of walls and out of every possible container along the narrow raised sidewalks. Dizzying speed, even around the curves (no estacionarse en las cuervas!), and the barest hint of a regard for anything resembling a traffic law. Unsettling lightness - the sudden absence of the bags that had weighed me down for so long that they began to feel like part of my person. And then so many new faces and buildings painted in every color that they began to melt into a haze of smiles and handshakes and cobblestones. I sang, I think. September and I blended our voices in the same way we'd done so many times before she left, and the old tones of home in the new and alien streets did nothing to convince me that there was anything more than intense and beautiful dreaming to the moment, and I can't point to a change in my perceptions when I finally stumbled into bed.

sun over the volcanoes

I always wake up early at the start of a new adventure. September dozed on in the big bed next to me (and with good reason, as we'd been out til the wee hours) but I was bright-eyed and bushy-headed, scampering up the narrow stairs at the side of her little house to sit and write and watch as the sun rise over the lush hills that surround the city, turning them from stark sillhouettes against the watercolor sky to canopies of distinct twining leaves, viridian against azure. Rocked to sleep in the arms of the mountains, I wrote in my journal. Sung to sleep with the lullabies of the volcanoes.

And then, refreshed and fully coffeed up, I began the slow process of exploration - first sticking so closely to September's side that you could see the apron strings if you squinted, then gradually expanding the circles - walking farther than a meter away, talking to the other major group of conversationalists at the gathering - and then about half a week after my arrival I strapped on my pack, clenched September's hand-drawn map of the city (home is marked with a tiny heart) in my fist, and strode out into the dust and light alone.

I don't know how long I walked the streets. I do know that I zigzagged, sticking to the shady side (damn my Danish pigmentation), up and down and up and down the avenidas, the tiny muscles in my feet finally accustomed enough to the ever-surprising cobbles that I could lift my eyes and see the city coalesce out of the dusty haze. And as I walked I began to remember walking before. Cafes and particular ruins I knew I'd passed before began to spring out at me like individual words recognised in the flow of foreign conversation in a way that my little map (now tattered and disintegrating at the folds), even so lovingly drawn, couldn't relate.

This is the street with the tienda where we bought eggs, I thought, and through that little travel agency, there is a courtyard with a murmuring fountain and vines hanging from the open roof and dripping with jewels, and my friends are there.

Clarity of direction spread out from those bright remembered points every next day, giving me an ever-finer picture of this little bubble of the world. I learned the ups and downs of the sidewalks like the lines on a new lover's hands, and traced them again and again, until one day I walked out to the road and rounded the corner to see the sun streaming down from behind the volcanoes and lighting up the ruins by my house all golden, and realised that I'd fallen in love.

-b