Unlike yesterday this day is promising to be a full day indeed. First out is a guided tour of the town that starts at central square. We learn some interesting facts about the town, like that it’s laid out like a grid with 7×7 square blocks and that you have a very specific division where the church is at the north, the military in the east, the merchants in the south and the political branch in the west end of the square. It definitely feels like someone sat down at a table and just drew how the town should look and then was like “Here, it’s all done, go build it!”
We make a stop at the repeatedly earthquaked cathedral that, in preparation for some Christian festival thing, features a rather cool sawdust mat. It’s basically a really intricate pattern made of carefully laid out colored sawdust, a lot like the mandalas you might have seen Buddhist monks make out of sand. Something I’m recognizing is that even if buildings may look rather uniform and boring from the outside, they very often feature fabulous garden atriums on the inside. So if you find yourself in Antigua, it may pay off to just try and walk inside of a building if you can find an entrance that isn’t obviously private.
Another stop is a gorgeous yellow church decked out like a Scanian Spettekaka, the similarity is uncanny! =D It has an even larger sawdust mat inside but aside from that it’s pretty boring. Next up is an old cloister, remodeled into a five star hotel and restaurant. Now if I were to stay at a five star hotel, this would be what I would go for! Very cozy and subdued, not the usual gaudiness you see at these places. The tour is rounded off at one of those usual jade places where it’s just a very obvious tourist trap. Oh well, it’s not like I’m surprised or anything…
We go for lunch at a place decorated like an old timey grocery store with a rather eclectic menu. I go for a rabbit stew but sortof regret this choice when I actually get the food since it’s almost only bones and very little meat. The afternoon has yet another tour, this time it’s a coffee plantation. We’re picked up in some military surplus-looking vehicles and taken to the plantation which is surprisingly centrally located. The bulk of the coffee plants aren’t really here though, but on the surrounding hills, there are some in the middle of the estate though and it’s rather curiously grown. See, the plants need some shade so you mix the coffee plants in with some higher trees and other bushes. The result really doesn’t look anything like a plantation, I was more expecting a vineyard type of deal with row upon orderly row of plants, this looks more like a patch of brushland.
We learn that since the Arabica strain (which is the one that is considered the most desirable, Robusta being the other) of coffee has a rather puny root system, what they do is that they grow one Arabica and one Robusta plant and then they graft the Arabica plant onto the Robusta root, problem solved! We get to walk around and pick some berries, which we are encouraged to taste. They actually taste very nice, sortof like passion fruit and the flowers smell like Lily of the Valley! The hand picked berries are dumped into a water tank where the ripe ones will sink to the bottom and go into the peeler machine. They are left to ferment a while before being spread out in the sun to dry. After all that it’s just the roasting left and we of course get to taste a freshly made espresso in the end. A very interesting tour, all things considered, especially if you’re a bit of a coffee nerd like I am.
Back at the hotel Johan and I discover a market right next door. Now, it’s not that were totally blind or anything, the market entrance is really just a hole in the wall! Inside is a sprawling maze of small stores selling little handicraft items. Sure, it’s a bit touristy, but in a good way! It’s actually rather nice quality and a wide array of goods and just a treat browse among all the pastel colored blankets and hammocks. I decide I want a bedspread and fortunately for me I run into our tour leader Karina who really enjoys haggling (I’m perfectly atrocious at it and almost have to walk out red-faced several times in the process). She ends up getting us a really good deal for the blankets in the end and I’m really happy with my garishly green bedspread!
Come dinner time a bunch of us end up at the Rainbow Café ( featured in Lonely Planet). It just so happened that tonight was open mike night and I get it into my head that I should go up and sing the Soviet national anthem. Taking the decision was easy enough, but it left plenty of time to fret over it (and making sure I had the correct starting note to sing the entire song without having it be too high or low for my voice). My “competition” turns out to be pretty good, which didn’t exactly help. When it finally comes to my turn I’ve more or less come to terms with my nervousness and I grab the microphone and present my number as the “Hockey Song” (a reference to that it was pretty much the only song you heard whenever there were the World Hockey Championships on TV when I grew up in the 80’s). This greatly delights the loud table of Americans up front. Their demeanor goes from drunken bravado to weirded out confusion once I start singing however, something I’m rather pleased with. I get a free drink for my efforts (plus bragging rights of course) and we go back to the hotel to round off another evening with some more lobby hangout.
City tour: 115 quet
Lunch: 110 quet
Mints: 22 quet
Coffee plantation tour: 150 quet
Chocolate beans: 90 quet
Bedspread: 150 quet
Dinner: 100 quet