Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala (November 2, 2021

Today was my favorite day so far. Before going ashore, we were able to join some of our fellow passengers on the helipad for a bird’s eye view of the port. The downside: it’s an industrial port, circa 1980s, which left us with zillions of containers to look at as well as piles of imported coal. The upside: mimosas, champagne, flavored water, and iced towels to cool us off in the already-hot sun.

Sidebar: I had a blast when I visited Guatemala with a group of ladies in the early 1990s.
We were here a week and visited wonderful places. The highlight for me was a side trip to Tikal.

Once ashore we entered a lovely park-like welcoming area with live music, restrooms, and colorful shops filled with local arts and crafts. From there we boarded our bus for a warm hour and half ride along a very nice four-lane highway that took us from the Pacific lowlands to the highlands. Our guide, Carla, was wonderful like all the others and pointed out what we were looking at: fields of sugarcane, bananas, and shade coffee (top three agricultural exports) as well as black beans, wild flowers, corn, and papaya. Once we were far enough from town, mountains and volcanos formed a backdrop for the fields and made a beautiful scene. Smoke was coming from the top of Volcan del Fuego, but most of the other volcanos were shrouded in clouds. We passed a tire shop with a guy napping in a hammock, an establishment that disassembles old American school buses (see For What it’s worth…. below), colorful cemeteries that had been decorated for the picnickers and visitors who paid their respects yesterday for All Saints Day, and small communities. Our destination was Antigua, the colonial capital of all of Central America when Spain ruled this part of the world.

Antiqua’s old town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The buildings, all low lying to withstand earthquakes, are earth toned stucco with red tile roofs. The uneven cobbled streets are paved with lava rocks. The black roads, colorful buildings, flower boxes, and bougainvillea were set into a low spot in the landscape with a backdrop of lush green mountains and volcanoes. We were so careful not to trip on uneven cobbles that we worried we were missing the beauty of our surroundings.

Indians dressed in ultra colorful clothes had come in from surrounding areas to sell their crafts to the first cruisers they had seen in almost two years. We were besieged (!!!) from the moment we got off the bus. It was fun and smothering all at the same time. A man decided I needed some small, beaded quetzals (see For what it’s worth…. below) and stuck with me from street to street. He started at $7 for one. We eventually made a deal: eight for $20. Cyd stepped up and said she’s take eight also. I’d say our salesman had a good start to his day.

We had a delicious lunch and made a few memorable stops. To get the lay of the land we started in the quaint, clean, candy colored town square with its Spanish colonial buildings and beautiful mermaid fountain. It was overrun with eager salespeople, some of whom were young children, showing off crafts made in their respective villages: textiles, beaded necklaces, and things made of jade. Near the town square is the beautiful, yellow Santa Catalina Arch which dates to the late 1600s and once served as a walkway for cloistered nuns. On a clear day the arch is a perfect frame for Vulcan de Agua in the distance.

We visited Las Capuchinas, a former convent. Like most edifices in Antigua, the convent was severely damaged by the 1773 earthquake that caused it to be abandoned for nearly two centuries. Its partial renovation allows visitors to get a glimpse of sequestered life centuries ago. We saw bathtubs chiseled out of stone; small sleeping chambers for the nuns, each with a window and toilet; gardens; and a courtyard with covered colonnades. Our guide explained that it was not uncommon for families to ’give’ their eldest daughter to the church as a gesture of gratitude for God’s many blessing. Once goodbyes were said, these girls would never have seen family or friends again. Nor would they have ever left the confines of the convent. A sobering thought.

Earthquakes and floods have left many other beautiful facades that can only be appreciated from the outside since they are now ruins. However we were able to visit Iglesia de La Merced, formerly a monastery for men, and the Church of San Francisco where we had the opportunity to light another candle for Aunt Jerry. The restroom at the church required a small fee. I gave the attendant $1.00 and got change in Guatemalan coins and (the fun part) a printed receipt! It was large, numbered (in red), and had a picture of the church as well as the address and date (in blue) of my visit to the restroom. As an additional service the attendant sold candy, snacks, and drinks, so I spent my change before heading back to the bus.

Our last stop of the day was at a jade factory, Casa del Jade, where we saw craftsmen honing their skills. Although jade is found 125 miles away, Antigua has been and continues to be the center of all the artisans that work the stone. A guide talked us through the importance of jade in the ancient Mayan culture, the uniqueness of Guatemalan jade, and its different colors. One necklace and earrings later I was on the bus ready to head back to the ship.

The ride back to the pier gave Carla a chance to share more fun facts about her country. Here’s something that’ll keep you awake at night. Sugar cane, introduced by the Spanish in the 1500s, is a natural snake habitat! The fields are burned once a year (where do all the snakes go?) and then harvested by hand. Speaking of sugar, it is routinely fortified with vitamin A. It is not uncommon to mix it with coffee, put it in a bottle, and offer it to a hungry baby waiting for its next meal!

Less frightening fun fact include the following:
*Kite festivals are held in conjunction with All Saints Day. We saw some being flown on our ride back.
*Geothermal heat (from the volcanos) is used where practical.
*October 31 is the official end to the rainy season.
*Spanish is the official language of Guatemala, but 21 distinct Mayan languages plus several Amerindian languages are also spoken.

Ronnie shared a great Pentagon joke at dinner tonight and Dan continued his eight-part trivia contest. I have maintained my firm hold on last place. If I pick the obvious answer, it’s the odd ball that’s correct, and if I go with the long shot, it’s the obvious answer. Would backing off the umbrella drinks help?

For what it’s worth…..

Currency is the quetzal (GTQ)
1 GTQ = $0.13
$1.00 = 7.7 GTQ

Guatemala is slightly smaller in area than Pennsylvania.
About 60% of the country is covered by mountains.

Guatemala has one of the youngest populations in the Americas.
The median age of the population is 23.3 years, compared to 38.5 years in the US.

There are 37 volcanos in Guatemala, three of which are still active. The tallest, Tajumulco, is also
the highest peak in Central America and is somewhere between 12,529 feet and 13,841 feet depending on the source. 😉

Chocolate is originally from Guatemala, so they say! It was used in Mayan culture as early as
the sixth century A.D. and served as a form of currency in ancient times.

The quetzal is the national bird. Its outstanding feature is tail feathers that can grow up to 16 inches long.
Speaking of wildlife, the country has the highest diversity of lungless salamanders.

Get this: One of the first McDonald’s restaurant operators in Guatemala, a lady BTW, came up with the Menú Ronald, a menu catering specifically to kids. Bob Bernstein refined the idea into what we know today as the Happy Meal.

Lots of old school buses from the U.S. retire to Guatemala and are transformed into chicken buses to
augment the Guatemalan public transport system. The new owners add more seats, paint them colorfully, and
overhaul the engines. Traveling in chicken buses can be tedious and unreliable but very affordable.
Drivers usually name their buses after their wives or daughters.

The jungles of northern Guatemala featured in the Star Wars film franchise appearing in both Star Wars Episode IV
and The Force Awakens. Tikal National Park was the location of the filming.


2 thoughts on “Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala (November 2, 2021

  1. Besides all the sipping containers, it sounds like a great day!! 😊

    Matt Mongeon, PMP, Technical Project Manager II
    Engineering Management Office
    PMP,ITIL Foundation, RCV, OSA, SOA, PPO
    5159 Federal Blvd., San Diego, CA 92105
    • 619.266.5675 (ex. 55675) |( 619.822.4661 | • matt.mongeon@cox.com


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