August 2007 — It is 5:00 a.m. in Antigua, Guatemala and the town has not yet woken. The security watchman at my hotel lifts two boards that he had wedged earlier against the courtyard doors to prevent night-time entry from the street. “Gracias,” I say, as he opens the heavy wooden doors for me, and step through the opening to the narrow sidewalk outside. I look in all directions down empty cobblestone streets. They constitute a grid throughout the town, an anachronistically modern feature created by the founders more than 450 years ago. Stone walls border the streets on both sides, now richly textured after many coats of limestone-based paints in a rainbow of colors. Townspeople live and work Inside these walls, where one finds colorful patios, shops and homes. Bird-of-paradise plants adorn many of these interiors. Blooms of bougainvillea drape others in a brilliant floral show.
For the second year in succession, the Lanier Law Firm for which I work is hosting a Wednesday-Saturday retreat here for its attorneys and spouses. I am an early riser even at home, where the clock reads an hour ahead of the time here. This picturesque city whose name means “ancient” in Spanish is nestled in the central highlands, approximately 30 miles from Guatemala City. Founded in 1543 at an altitude of about 5,000 feet, Antigua was for 200 years military headquarters of a portion of a Spanish Empire covering most of modern-day Central America. Three volcanoes surround the town. The Volcan de Agua (“Volcano of Water”) rises south of the city to 12,300 feet. To the west are Acatenango (13,000 feet high) and the Volcan de Fuego (“Volcano of Fire,” 12,300 feet high). I can see smoke rising from the third volcano which is active almost daily but at a very low level.
I walk a half-block to the next intersection. Down the cross-street I see the first person outdoors this morning. Her clothing tells me she is a nun. Her location and direction suggest that she is going to work at the hospital which is joined to a Catholic church. Gradually other people appear. A rickety old bus pulls into view and stops. Laborers, probably from some nearby mountain villages, pour out and scatter in several directions. A motorcyle passes, its driver wearing a backpack carrying his lunch. School girls dressed in poor but smartly-styled uniforms walk my way. A young man passes me on a bicycle, his fellow-worker straddling the back wheel behind him. Vehicles of every sort bounce vigorously on these cobblestone streets.
I walk through the hotel grounds and gardens while I wait for the open-air dining room to open for breakfast. In the distance the sun rises over a mountain, preceded by red and orange streaks across the sky. Darker clouds give way to white clouds and the sky gradually turns blue. The air is still cool from the night although it will warm with the sun. I say my morning prayers as I walk, marveling at God’s creation. I am grateful to be alive and to enter another day.