We docked in Puerto Quetzal about 8AM and found ourselves next to the Norwegian Bliss again. This large 4000 passenger ship that went through the Panama Canal in adjacent locks seems to be going to all the same ports we are. It dwarfs our much smaller 495 passenger Navigator.
We left the ship an hour later for our eight-hour Colonial Antigua tour. The ride to Antigua, a Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site since 1979, took over an hour and a half. Our first stop was at the charming Antigua Hotel where we would later have lunch to visit the restrooms. We returned to the minibus (only 19 of us) and were dropped off at the town center where our walking tour began. Antigua was founded and colonized in 1543 by the Spanish. Many of the buildings here date from the 1600’s. Unfortunately, in 1773 a terrible earthquake destroyed many of these colonial buildings. Guatemala’s government decided to restore these and moved the capital from here to Guatemala City to foster new growth. The old town would remain as it was before the quake. The city has cobblestone streets, colorful facades, and tiled roofs, as well as restored and unrestored ruins of churches, palaces, convents, and mansions. We saw/visited/drove by the Church of San Francisco, Cathedral of Santiago, La Merced, and some old Spanish barracks that are now a museum. Today was National Museum day with free admission to all museums, although our admissions are always included with our tours.
We spent about an hour walking around before we met the bus to return to the Antigua Hotel for lunch. The town was colorful and interesting. You could easily spend a few days exploring it. We only touched on a small area.
Lunch was buffet style. There was guacamole, salsa, pita bread, chicken, beef, vegetables, rice, and churros. Juice and coffee were served. After lunch, we walked around the hotel grounds to look at the flowers and the resident macaws. There were several Regent buses here, and later more tours arrived. They must have fed almost a hundred from our ship. We did see busloads of passengers from the Bliss around town, but they must have eaten somewhere else.
After lunch, we went to Jade Maya on the outskirts of town. Mary Lou Ridinger, the archaeologist and founder of Jade Maya who was featured in national Geographic in 1987, rediscovered the Mayan jade mines that had been forgotten for many hundreds of years. Guatemala did not even know these existed until Mary Lou explained what she had uncovered. There were artisans shaping jade pieces, a museum of ancient Mayan jade artifacts, and of course, a shop with jade to purchase. I didn’t know there were so many types and colors of jade- from green, white, blue, black, and purple, all depending on the minerals they are found with. I did find some nice earrings here.
Our final stop was a coffee museum. Guatemala grows 4.9 % of the world’s coffee, mostly Arabica. Coffee, chocolate, pineapples, and bananas are the major crops exported. We got to see the plants, hear about the steps involved in picking the beans and eventually drying, roasting, grinding, etc. This takes many months to get the finished product. Harvest is December to February, so beans were not yet on the plants. We got to sample a medium roast coffee, and could purchase some if we wished.
As we began the long ride back to the ship, the skies opened up and it poured. Like Costa Rica, it is only the beginning of the rainy season, so we were very lucky the rain held off until we were done walking outdoors. I forgot to mention that Antigua is about 4000 feet in elevation, so we had a lot of uphill driving, since we began at sea level. The area around the city had lots of rainforest vegetation, much like our Costa Rica trek. Guatemala is preserving a lot of their forest land as well. We are told that only 2% of the land is developed and the Mayas are alive and well here, comprising a surprising 60% of the population. Maybe the natives were able to escape the Spanish diseases and murders because no gold and riches were found here at that time.
We decided to order room service tonight because we were still full from lunch and wanted to get an early start on photos, etc. The entertainment tonight was the Regent singers performing Broadway in Concert for the sixth time. The new passengers had never seen it. I attended for the last 20 minutes to hear their excellent medley of songs from Les Miserables.
We set our clocks ahead an hour tonight (this confused me at first) so that we would be on the same time as Acapulco, our next port. They are on central time, just an hour earlier than east coast. Tomorrow is a sea day.
Yours in travel,
Pat & Mac