After four soothing days on the blue Pacific, the Island Princess pulled into Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, “the land of trees”. The air was sultry, just the way I like it. Rick and I embarked on a day trip to Antigua, an UNESCO World Heritage site surrounded by mountains. On the drive up, we passed two volcanoes and saw another in the distance with a plume of smoke. If you’re interested in seeing volcanoes, forget Hawaii. Come to Guatemala where there are thirty-seven!
We crossed over ravines recently widened by rain washing down from the mountains and arrived safely at our first stop, the Jade Factory, run by an American couple who re-discovered the value of jade to Guatemala where ancient Mayans considered it an eternal stone. After an interesting tour and sojourn in the tourist shop, we set off on a walking tour, winding our way along narrow, cobbled streets lined with buildings and small tucked-away shops.
Each time our tour guide counted, a few more of us had gone missing. By the time we arrived at the Inglesia La Merced, the count was seven off. Some of us slipped into the cathedral and then visited the Convent de las Capuchinas while Sandy went looking for her missing lambs. We all managed to flock together in time for lunch inside the beautiful courtyard of a hotel. Replete and drowsy, some tired and testy, Sandra began the difficult job of herding us back to the bus. (IMHO, every guide should be given a chair and whip, and each tourist required to wear an anklet of bells. That way the recalcitrant dawdling and grazing in the shops could be more easily captured and brought back to the fold.)
We wound our way up and over and into a coffee plantation that also had a Guatemalan musical instrument museum. Many of these instruments originated with the Mayans. We watched a film that showed different districts with their unique costumes worn and instruments played processions and festivals. We had a coffee break and wound our way through the coffee plantation museum. An Ethiopian was the first to discover coffee and used it to stimulate his slaves to work harder. One preacher served coffee to keep his parishioners awake long enough to hear his sermon – which made me wonder if that’s why so many American churches are adding coffee bars just outside the sanctuary.
Everywhere we went, we saw street vendors, all Guatemalan-Mayan women dressed in gorgeous embroidered blouses and had woven stripped straight skirts with belts and wound head scarves. They carried packs of woven and embroidered goods. Some carried babies as well. They swarmed around us like a flock of exotic birds offering what must have taken hours or even days to make for a few dollars.
Guatemala is a beautiful country, but I found the people even more beautiful than the lush landscape.