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Published: December 7th 2018
On Wednesday morning we rrived into Puerto Quetzal about 9am.This is the gateway to Guatemala for most ships and cargo..
Our included tour today was to be 6 hours in length so we were prepared for a long bus ride before reaching our destination, the city of Antigua. This had been the capital in colonial times and contained many beautiful old buildings. To get there was an almost two hour bus trip into the central highlands of Guatemala. On board the bus we were pleased to find a lunch bag containing two rolls, two packets of chips and an apple each. This would keep the hungry bugs at bay. We had also brought our books in case the trip was boring. We left at 10am and headed inland. Our guide, Jose, talked to us about the history and geography of the region. In the centre of Guatemala are many active volcanos including one which erupted in June this year, killing 2000 people and devastating the towns and the road on which we had to travel. As we approachd the area, we could see the smoke arising from the crater and two other, now extinct volcanos flanking it on
When we reached the area the road was still not fully repaired and there were many bulldozers and men working, digging through the ash and mud. The lava streams’ paths were easy to spot as they had gouged long rivers through the undergrowth. Houses were still standing , abandoned and derelict. It must have been an horrific experience. Jose said the inhabitants had been given warnings but ignored them as in the past they had resulted in false alarms. When it was too late they tried to outrun the flow, but they were overcome with the heat.
We arrived in Antigua a little after 12 and alighted from the buses on the outskirts of the city. Then we walked in to see the sights. The streets were cobblestoned and it was hard work walking on the uneven surface. I wondered at some of the older travellers as they tried to use their walking frames here. Not suitable for those who cannot walk unassisted, and there are many in this category on the ship. Our group went at a brisk pace. The area is very prone to earthquakes and we stopped at the façade of a church
that had collapsed during one of these, Saint Clare’s church. Then we came to a lovely square where there was a horse trough, protected by an archway and at the other end the Church and Hospital set up by the Franciscans. This is bright yellow and well looked after. Jose walked at a fast pace and it was a warm day.
However, we followed him into the central square which was shady with a large fountain in the centre. The Cathedral of San Jose stood on one side, the City Hall on another, the Military barracks on the third and many shops on the fourth side, so religion , the state and commerce were all centred on this square. We spent some time trying to get money from an ATM as we only had $US50 notes but no luck. I did buy some beautiful shawls from a local trader who was able to give us dollars in change. From here we proceeded to the symbol of Antigua, the arch of Santa Catalina. This was originally built so that the nuns from the adjoining convent could cross the street without being seen. It is beautifully maintained and bright yellow in
Further on we came to the church of Le Merced, Here the bells were tolling and as we arrived a hearse pulled up and relatives carried a coffin into the church. I respected their privacy and did not enter. The church’s facade was decorated with intricate stone carvings and again beautifully looked after.After spending some time here we retraced our steps and as we wound through the narrow streets we saw many beautiful old buildings, many now used as restaurants. By looking through the open doorways we could spot invitingly cool courtyards and wished we could stay for awhile and sample the local cuisine.
Our final stop was at a Jade factory. Guatemala is renowned for its Jade mining and this jewellery display centre contained many fine pieces. While some of the group took the tour, Fletcher and I sought the comfort of the adjoining small bar for a local beer and a much needed sit down. Very pleasant. The beer, Galla, was also very refreshing. Then it was back to the buses through the winding uneven streets. We had spent nearly three hours here, but we wished we weren’t so rushed and had several days as
there was much to see and admire.
Back at the bus we were glad we hadn’t lost anyone as we collected some strays from another group. Then it was back on the bus for the long drive back to the ship. We ate our rolls etc as we went and saw the scenery from the reverse view. At one point we came upon one of the buses which had broken down. We collected a few more passengers from that bus. It was after 5pm when we reached the ship and were glad to be back. However, I would like to see more of this place as it was an intriguing experience.
That night we dined in the Restaurant and sat with the Indian couple we had met a few night’s ago. Much conversation and pleasant company ensued. We now have three days at sea before reaching the next port in Mexico, Cabo San Lucas.
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