Sometimes the roosters begin first, sometimes it’s the empty trucks rattling over the cobblestones, but morning comes early in Antigua. At 4:00 a.m. it’s still pitch-black when the roosters begin. One fellow sings pretty well, but the rest of the chorus must be teenagers: cocka-dooka-rawka-rawka. Sound carries well up to our third-floor room, perched on the roof of the house where my husband and I are home-stay guests for three weeks. We are intimate with the roosters, and their neighbors the geese. Year-round, the temperature is in the 70s, and the windows are always open.
We hear street noise equally well, and we deduce that at 4:00 a.m. the trucks are empty. Their empty trailers bang down the cobblestone streets with the sound of someone throwing trash cans around. One morning the sound is even louder, and the next morning, louder still. One of the stones in the street has come loose, and the hole grows deeper with each passing bus. Antigua buses! This is not Tri-met. Guatemalans import broken-down U.S. school buses, paint them in bright and wonderful colors, and drive them for thousands of miles after their northern rejection. We live on a street which has been designated a truck-and-bus route. Before we arrived in Antigua, I imagined that the cobblestone streets, the calles empedradas, would be quaint and tidy affairs like the cobblestone drives I had seen in picturesque settings in the U.S. The cobblestones I had known were uniform rectangles marching in neat rows. Antigua cobblestones are stones of all shapes, placed in holes in the street, and occasionally held in place by cement. When the cement wears away, there is only dust, and then the stone rolls itself out of the hole. Bang-a-bang-a-bang! Another truck on its way to a load.
With a sigh, my husband rolls over in his small bed on the other side of our small room—this furniture is not designed for romance—but before he settles into sleep again, he reaches for the bottle of nasal spray to combat his allergic reactions to the constant dust.
If we are lucky, we will sleep until 6:00, when the church bells will begin their insistent call to mass. One time we asked a shop owner what the Spanish word is for the noise of the bells. He looked at us quizzically. “Ding dong,” he said, leaving us unsatisfied, for these bells are much noisier than a simple “ding-dong.” “Bong-a-bong-a-dong-a-bang-a-clang” is more like it. Nearly every morning before the church bells we hear a string of firecrackers, signal that someone in a neighboring family is celebrating their birthday today. The geese chime in, roosters make a chorus, the bells sing out, and it is a new day in Antigua.