Saturday, April 25, 2015

Inca Empire Cruise - Day 24 Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

Today we arrived in Guatemala at 9:00 AM, but our tour for today did not start until 10:30 so we were in no rush to get up and around.  After breakfast we walked out to the Sea View deck to watch our arrival in Puerto Quetzal.  There is a cruise dock there, but a larger Celebrity cruise ship was already there so we had to dock at the pier where the freighters dock.  We were wedged in between two freighters so it took a bit of maneuvering to get docked and required the aid of a couple tug boats.

Arriving in Puerto Quetzal.
Although there is a cruise ship pier in this port, we would once
again be docking in the an industrial area.

The Celebrity Infinity got here before we did and docked at the cruise pier.
Today we would be on a ship excursion to visit another colonial city called Antigua.  We have been told that if you visit only one colonial city in Central America, visit Antigua.  Built on the slopes of a volcano, Antigua, originally the capital of Guatemala, was built and restored several times over the past several centuries due to earthquakes. Eventually the capital was moved to Guatemala City, but Antigua lingered on and is now a very old example of early colonial architecture. Our excursion was called “Antigua on Your Own” so we would be taken by bus to the town and then dropped off to spend the day doing whatever we wanted.

We left the ship just before 10:30 and were put on a very comfortable bus for the one and a half hour drive to Antigua. There was a guide on the bus who talked about what we were seeing as we drove along, as well as about Guatemalan history and culture.  He was very knowledgeable and the time went by quickly.  Like Nicaragua, Guatemala is a very active seismic and volcanic area and as we drove toward Antigua we gained quite a bit of altitude and could see the volcanic peaks getting closer and closer.

We could see the volcanoes on the bus ride to Antigua.

We arrived in Antigua, told where to meet the bus and at what time, and then left to explore on our own.  One very pleasant surprise when we got off the bus was the temperature; it was quite pleasant with a bit of a breeze blowing.  The port this morning was pretty warm and humid although not nearly as bad as Nicaragua, so the moderate, relatively dry climate of Antigua was a very welcome surprise.

Val and I were hungry so we went looking for a place to eat.  Val had read about the Hotel Casa Santa Domingo, which has been converted to a hotel/restaurant from an old monastery.  It was supposed to very unique and interesting and also had a very good restaurant.  It was near where the bus dropped us off so we decided to have lunch there and we weren’t disappointed.  It certainly was a very unique and beautiful spot.  Since our time was limited, we didn’t want to spend too much time on a big lunch so we opted for some appetizers.  We started with some small tacos, which were very, very good and some of the best food we’ve had on the trip.  We finished it up with a kind of Chinese style fried wrap of salmon with various dipping sauces which were also very good.  Service was slow so even our small meal took almost an hour, but soon we were out trying to find our way to the main plaza.

The entrance to Hotel Casa Santa Domingo.

Our mini tacos were very good.

We became a bit confused at first because the place we were dropped off had entrances on two different streets so it confused me when looking at the map, but we soon got that straightened out and headed in the right direction.  The ancient streets are paved with very old and worn cobblestone, and the sidewalks are too narrow for two people to walk side-by-side.  You have to be careful when you walk as it is easy to trip on the uneven walkways.  We saw several people fall during our visit there.  Interestingly, they have a “medic” that walks around with a large supply of bandages to help people (mostly tourists) when they fall.  However, it is a very safe place in terms of crime as there are police everywhere maintaining a low profile, but always around if you need help.  There were also many people walking around selling Guatemalan flutes, little wooden drums and women selling serape like wraps and jewelry.

The narrow sidewalks and the cobblestone streets were a little rough to walk on.
There were street vendors everywhere selling their wares.
We finally made it to the Central Plaza and walked around enjoying the uniqueness of the town and visiting many of the small shops around the area.  We made quite a few purchases so we did help the local economy.  As the afternoon wore on we both decided that finding a restroom would be nice, but discovered you have to pay to get in.  So we each paid our 25 cents and were each handed a small wad of toilet paper and were allowed to enter, me on the men’s side and Val on the women’s.

The Central Plaza

Several people told us they took a tour on one of these
horse drawn carriages and had a great time.
A look across the plaza with a volcano looming in the background.

The Cathedral of St. James

The bright colors of the fabrics are beautiful.

One of Val's purchases.

And the vendors who sold it to her.

As the afternoon wore on we decided it was time to go back to where we got on the bus so we started heading in that direction, stopping in interesting shops along the way.   

The bus pickup was at a place called the Jade Museum, which was more of a store than museum, but they had some very nice things and Val enjoyed browsing around and found a couple things to purchase.  By this time it was time to board the bus, but as we walked out the door as we didn’t see anyone or any sign of the bus. Val asked a security guard about the bus and he directed us around the corner and sure enough there was a group of people, the bus, and the other entrance to the Jade Museum.

Inside the Jade Museum.

A "Chicken Bus".
A final look at one of the volcanoes from the bus.
The day had gotten warmer as it went on and although it was so much better than yesterday, it felt very good to get into the air conditioned bus.  We were back at the ship around 5:00 and despite the fact that the ship didn't leave until 7:00, it seemed like most people were on board early.

After getting back to the room I decided to go out on the sea view deck to see what was going on. I had only intended staying a short time, but I became interested in watching the freighter near us at the pier being unloaded, and the one further down being towed away from the dock by two tug boats.  After a while Val came out to join me and we also ran into a couple from her trivia team who are from Australia.  It turns out he was in the Australian merchant marines and was a captain at one time so he filled me in on some of the workings of the harbor and the freighters, very interesting. 

The freighter behind was unloading what looked like grain.
There wasn't much room to maneuver so tugs had to pull this freighter straight from the pier.

The Celebrity Infinity leaves.  It will be our turn next.
We returned to our room and spent some time on our balcony watching our ship untie from the dock and leave the harbor.  Then it was off to the MIX, dinner and the casino where Val continued her winning ways.  I had a little better luck, but still lost all of my evenings allowance and I am becoming envious of Val’s winnings.  Tomorrow is a welcome sea day after three days of ports, but we have several things planned so it will be a bit of busy day (busy only in terms of life aboard a cruise ship).  The end our cruise is only a week away, and it is going by way to fast.

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