This week has seen protests — for which I harbour strong sympathies — against the Cayalá-zation of Antigua.
The phenomenon is, I suspect, less the result of some dastardly dictatorial masterplan than a knee-jerk reaction to developments which have been in the pipeline over in the capital for almost a decade and which the pandemic undoubtedly accelerated.
Cayalá itself is the flagship project amongst several aiming to being strong clusters of very aspirational entertainment and consumption to Guatemala. Our mayor, who owns a crib there, has been well placed to see the writing on the wall.
Ever since I first came to Antigua in the 80s there has been a pattern of weekly migration from Guatemala City. Young affluent capitalinos would flood the place on Friday and Saturday nights and then a more family-orientated herd would trot around the streets on Sundays, congregating at for coffee and cake at Doña Luisa X. or for traditional forms of tooth decay at Doña Maria Gordillo's sweet shop opposite.
These places have been feeling staid and/or passé for quite a while now, but more modern and swanky city-based chains have always struggled to establish themselves in this town, on their own at least.
Covid brought an extended halt, not just to the flow of tourists, but also to the more domestic transfer of disposable income from the other side of the hills. At the time I predicted that things would not go back to precisely how they were, pre-pandemic, and so it has transpired.
The likes of Cayalá have established a loyal clientele. Meanwhile, here in Antigua many businesses had to pitch themselves just a little bit more down-market to survive, and this has stoked the underlying reaction. Antigua has been shedding its USP of tranquil authenticity for decades anyway, which makes it easier for the mall mentality to encroach.
What we now see happening all around us is thus a consequence of Antigua being forced out of its economic comfort zone. If it is to be properly discouraged we need to understand that telling people to be content with what they had won't cut it, because many are currently looking for ways to assuage the anxiety which has slotted into the space previously by occupied by contented complacency.
Things never stay the same. Change, we can call it progress if we dare, but it has the power of a runaway train on a downhill track. We have to ride the train or get out of the way, a long way out of the way...
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