4/2 Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

Published: April 7th 2018
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It's 7:30 in the evening and I'm just getting down to writing of today's activities. I'm sitting out by the pool accompanied by a few other guests and the bartender. Karen is lying on one of the pool loungers and enjoying the warm tropical breeze created by our forward motion through the Pacific as we move northward toward Mexico. Today was spent in Guatemala on a journey that took us high up into the mountains to a lake resting 5000' above sea level.

It's our last alarm day of our trip, Monday. We're both up at 6:30am since our tour leaves at 8am. I cashed an extra $100 from our shipboard credit just in case Karen finds something to her liking today. With a light breakfast out of the way, we report to the BB King Lounge at 8, get our ship stickers, #2, and await our departure announcement. The organizer gal has made it known that to get to any of the buses waiting outside for us will require a walk of about 300 yards. Now I know how we are to exit this staging area and have positioned ourselves accordingly in order to give us every advantage to make the bus within the first batch of cruisers. This will afford us good seats for the proposed 2 1/2 hour ride to Lake Atitlan. I also understand we are working under a handicap as Karen can move just so fast and needs frequent breaks, a clear disadvantage. My strategy relies on really old people and those with canes and walkers to set the pace, slowing down the entire procession with Karen making a break for it the last 100 feet to the bus. The announcement is made. "Runners take yours places. Wheelchairs will start 15 seconds before canes and 30 seconds before all others. On your mark, get.........". Ok. It wasn't like that. They just said that we were free to exit the ship and board the bus, all 50 of us at once.

Right from the start we have problems. Some guy who's not even going with us wedges his scooter in our aisle stopping us before we even get started, clearly a ploy by the opposition to allow others to forge ahead. And forge they do. We get past the scooter to another walker in the hallway, moving at a snail's pace and accompanied by two blockers, one on each side, escorting this lady all the way and essentially sealing off the hallway for those of us behind and forming a larger and larger gap ahead of them. At the stairs, we lose the walker but another old lady in front of me stands at the top of the stairs repeating over and over, "Go ahead. It's OK. No, you can go. That's alright. I don't mind. I'll wait". What's wrong with her? I have no choice but to take her our, Karen following close behind. Now Karen does her "one step at a time" technique all the way down the stairs, forcing more guests behind us to go around us. At the gangway, an old guy just ahead of us can't find his ship card. Unbelievable! I eyeball security who detects my frustration and we get a break. He opens up the other checkout line and we shoot down the gangway, picking up speed.

Unfortunately, this sudden burst of speed has sapped Karen of her energy and she starts slowing down. A little at first, then complete stops to take a break. Taking a break now? Does NASCAR or triathletes take breaks? You can sleep on the bus. People are passing us everywhere. Here come the walker, canes and all people that got lost. And there they go. We're done. Reaching the bus, we were the last couple to board. One guy behind us doesn't count since his wife is already aboard, having secured both of them a seat. We get the last seat together. Wow! I couldn't believe it. Oh, now I see why everybody passed this seat. It's broke and now I'm sitting in this thing like a recliner. The seat part is tipped forward and the seat back is stuck forward. Some 600lb guy must have been here first. All these people had it in for me. I know it. Let's just get on with the tour.

Armando, our tour guide, tells us many things about Guatemala. Sugar is the country's #1 product, followed by coffee and bananas. Chiquita brand is popular here. Starbucks takes 80%of the coffee which is grown and processed to their company standards. The rest is sold on the open market or consumed within the country. Rubber trees are replacing sugar cane in many areas as the rubber industry builds. The majority of the population is Mayan at 60% with Latinos making up 30%. The makeup of the Guatemalan people is 5% rich, 25% middle class and 70% poor. He also tells he has brought a mechanic with him in case of a breakdown. Mmmm.

For 2 1/2 hours I sit in this funky seat while the bus cruises down the road, a road so full of bumps and potholes there is little chance of rest. We see fields of sugar cane, rubber trees and coffee plants. We also pass through a few towns and villages. Remember, according to Armando, 70% of the people are considered poor, making no more than $280/mo working seven days. He tells us most of them are vendors or service people, working for themselves and ineligible for healthcare or a social security equivalent. Free healthcare is available but there is one clinic for every one million people. If you need faster service, pay $20 and go right in. $20 is over two days pay for most people. The homes here, like Nicaragua, are made out of everything from scrap metal and plywood for the poor to concrete blocks for the more affluent.

It takes about 2 hours to reach the village of San Lucas Toliman on the shores of Lake Atitlan and I can't wait to get out of this seat and off the bus. My back is killing me. Barely do we exit our coach than we are bombarded by vendors offering hats, table runners, shirts, beaded birds, flutes, headbands, carvings and more. I can outrun most of them but that's not happening today with Karen. Breaking rule #1, she walks along with them and converses. Next she points to things, asking me what I think. That's definitely a no no. Finally, she makes comments like, "Oh, that's cute" or "What a beautiful scarf". the sellers, having identified the "weak and injured animal", they move in for the kill. There's nothing I can do. I can only move to a safe location and let the inevitable happen. She cries out but I can only stand by and watch. She has no choice but to make a purchase to stop the pain. With that complete, the frenzy appears to wane for the moment while they fall back to regroup. That's where we make our move, picking up the pace and joining the others for protection.

We make a walk, first to bathrooms, then to the boat waiting at the shore. We get a nice spot up on top with some plastic chairs and make the one hour journey to our destination, the town of Panajachel. During the voyage, several locals were allowed to board with their wares and sell to a totally captive audience. While I'm not a fan of the practice, I must say that the people of Guatemala that we encountered were polite and well-mannered and although they were persistent in their efforts to make a sale, they were never disrespectful in any way. Karen found a small purse and some bird ornaments that she purchased on board for $30.

We arrive in Panajachel to face the same merchandise from different sellers. The distance to the hotel where our lunch will be served is short and Karen manages without a single purchase. The location has a nice outdoor covered patio for our buffet lunch. They serve chicken, potatoes, rice, salad, pudding and desserts. It was a nice venue. The weather was cooler up here at 5000' than in the lowlands where we started. After an hour for lunch, we returned to our boat for the hour long trip back across the lake. Then it's back on the bus for the long journey back to the ship. Mom offered to sit in my seat and I take her up on it. The return trip is uneventful and we make it back by 5pm, one half hour before the ship sails. Perfect. This gives Karen a few minutes to check out the stores dockside. I find a t-shirt and she gets a jade necklace for $20. With that we board the ship and return to our room.

After a shower, we go up to the Lido to the buffet for a quick dinner. It's not a nice as the dining room atmosphere offered on Deck 2 but it works tonight. After, we go out by the pool where I start writing today's blog. Then, at 9:30, we go down to BB King for a couple of hours of music and where I can finish this report. Having completed out final excursion today, we have several days now where Karen can relax and I can send out some backed up blogs.

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