Planning to visit the Valhalla Macadamia Farm, we decided to make a morning of it and see some nearby villages. Although we went first to the farm, backtracked to Ciudad Vieja, turned around again to San Antonio Aguas Calientes, on to Santa Catarina Barahona and turned around one more time heading back through San Antonio and ciudad Vieja, it makes much more sense to make the loop - Ciudad Vieja, San Antonio, Santa Catarina, San Miguel de las Dueñas, Valhalla and back to Ciudad Vieja. By car this was an interesting half-day outing. It is also easily done by bus, but much more time consuming. Walking is also a possibility as distances are short: Antigua to Ciudad Vieja - 5km; Ciudad Vieja to San Antonio - 3km; San Antonio to Santa Catarina - less than 1km.
Ciudad Vieja, originally Santiago de los Caballeros, became Guatemala's second capital (after Iximchè and before Antigua) in 1527. Shortly after, in 1541, a huge mudslide destroyed the town. Almost nothing remains from that era. On the plaza is a beautiful church, some say it was built in 1534, making it the oldest in Central America, others say it was built in the 18th century. The locals we asked all agreed that it was old but none knew how old. Nowadays this is a traditional and busy town with not much else to see.
San Antonio Aguas Calientes is famous for its high-quality weaving, with intricate designs where both sides of the material look finished, making distinguishing front from back impossible. There are small stores all over this small town selling textiles. The plaza is the heart of the community and the main reason to visit. It has an interesting church, gardens with benches, a beautiful fountain of a woman with a pitcher, on old cross and a community laundry area. Across the street is a two-story building, fronted by an arcade of arches, housing government offices. Next-door is the bright pink textile market. Inside are stalls selling woven goods from all over Guatemala.
After an exhausting shopping spree, we sat to rest in the plaza. Soon we heard music, and then that music being echoed. By the doors to the church was a band of elderly musicians, apparently teaching a group of younger musicians a new song. We were then overcome by a smoky, spicy smell and quickly found the man with a copal branch burning. He was blessing the corners of the plaza and then headed off to the church. The bells rang calling worshipers, the music got louder; then everyone disappeared through the doors. As we were packing our new purchases into the car, we heard the sermon being broadcast over speakers. What surprised us was not that it was in the local language but that it was a woman preaching.
Santa Catarina Barahona is a small town virtually connected to San Antonio. Once again, the point of visiting town is to see the plaza. There is a monument commemorating Sancho de Barahona, a captain under don Pedro Alvarado, who founded the town in 1530. Later a church was built, which still stands and is in use, but is crumbling around the edges. In the middle of the plaza are a fountain and a basketball court. Across the street is a small government building and a makeshift video arcade.
Valhalla Macadamia Nut Farm, besides growing and processing the nuts, donates saplings and equipment to small Guatemalan communities and teaches the villagers how to benefit, financially and ecologically, from the trees. Interesting tours of the grounds are offered, as are macadamia pancake breakfasts.