Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Friday, February 28, 2014 – Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala – Sunny – 90F

Local Information.  Puerto Quetzal, named for the Guatemalan National Bird (the bird also lends its name to the national currency), is the country’s largest Pacific seaport.  From this port, sites in the interior of the country – Mayan ruins and Lake Atitlan (the deepest lake in Central America) – can be reached in a few hours by bus.  The Guatemalan Highlands are known for Volcanoes, coffee plantations, and Lake Atitlan.  The Spaniards had a difficult time conquering the local Mayans and converting them to Catholicism and the country ended a 36 year long civil war in 1996.  Guatemala now is more inclusive affording schooling to its large indigenous population; however, only about 17 percent of the country is covered by social security programs.


We are both on the same tour today (different buses) - “Guatemalan Highlands – Lake Atitlan and Panajachel”.  All of the morning tours are leaving early so we had to put in a special request to Room Service to deliver our breakfast at 6:00 AM (a half hour early) so we could meet our tour at 7:15 AM. 

My tour guide’s name is Armando and his English is good.  The bus is OK and it does have a bathroom.  The tour breaks down this way.  A two hour bus ride to L. Atitlan, a one hour boat ride to Panajachel, and hour lunch, and then the return trip of three hours to the pier.

The ride started out at sea level of the but after a while, it started it’s climb into the highlands. 

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Sugar Cane field – still in the Lowlands

The road is fully loaded with speed bumps so the bus has to slow down to keep from launching the passengers. Along the way, we see several crude dwellings most likely occupied by the Maya majority. 

The first organized town we passed was Patulul, with its few businesses and stores.


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Village of Patalul

Our first stop was a coffee field off the highway.  We got off the bus and were able to walk among the coffee plants.  There were no beans on the plants and it was a little tricky walking around the field.

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Coffee field and plants

When we got back on the bus, I noticed a police vehicle up the road from us – I wonder if he had been our escort since we left Puerto Quetzal. 

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Police Escort Maybe?

After about two hours and a “million” speed bumps, we arrived in the town of San Lucas Toliman, a larger town, where we would catch our boat for a ride across Atitlan Lake.  Two volcanoes, Atitlan (the one on the baseball cap I bought here on a earlier voyage), and Toliman, are both covered in clouds and you cannot even pick up their lower slopes. 

Our group made it down the semi-treacherous slopes toward the boats, dodging Mayan women selling trinkets and crafts.  The name of our boat is the Tel’Aviv.  I am sure there is a story behind the name of this boat but we didn’t hear it.  It is a no-frills boat with no barriers midship to prevent someone from taking an unscheduled dip in the lake.  I did not spot any washrooms.

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Shalom to the Tel’Aviv

We were told that the ride there would be smooth as we had a trailing wind and sea – a good thing since the ride takes a full hour.

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Looking back at San Lucas Toliman boat pier

The area contains a third volcano, San Pedro, which I believe is not covered in clouds and may be the only volcano we see on this trip.

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Volcano San Pedro from the boat

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Our destination, Panajachel, in the distance

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Volcano San Pedro – clearing clouds

Below, digital proof I was on the boat

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About an hour later, moving at what felt like top speed, the town of Panajachel came into view.  The town was composed of just a few streets – along the main street were a few hotels.  We would be having lunch at the Porta Hotel, one of the best in the city (whatever that may mean).  Steep stairs take us from the boat pier to the level of the hotel.  The girls are already there waiting to sell us the same stuff as before.  I am pretty sure some of the girls are the same ones we saw when we got off the bus on the other side of the lake.  Their sales ploy - “My name is XXX and I will see you later”. 

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Panajachel, Nicaragua

The Porta Hotel is a very nice place, done up in bright colonial colors.  Our lunch is being serve in the pool area.  Guatemala and Mexico are neighbors and the lunch is basically a Mexican Buffet.  We had pre-ordered vegetarian meals and we did get them but they were already represented in the buffet (the veggie meals were a plate containing peeled avocado, tomato, figs, mango, and other fruits).  From the buffet, I sampled the guacamole, tortillas, salsa, and churros.  Not much but well presented and presided over by an executive chef properly attired in Exec Chef getup.  I had one of the local beers with my lunch.

After lunch, Ellen and I wandered around the grounds checking out the hotel and looking for WiFi, which we found.  The swimming pool and deck areas were pretty upscale – there were just a few people out by the pool.

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Porta Hotel Swimming Pool

We also wandered away from the hotel and through some of the streets surrounding the hotel.  There was some armed presence and what seemed to be lots of teenagers in the area.  There were also several small restaurants offering the use of banos with food purchase – I guess banos are in short supply in this town. 

Since the level of the street is about two stories above the water, this is a good place to take a picture.

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Ellen and Volcano San Pedro

Soon, we were back on the boat for our hour long return trip to San Lucas Toliman.  The guide told us the ride home would be bumpier because the seas are angrier – legend says that the Mayans are causing the rough waters to protest the taking of their lands by the Spaniards.  If that were the case, I would expect rough waters all through Mexico and Central America.  The ancient Mayan ghosts were only slightly angry today – the water was not that bad.

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Return Trip to San Lucas Toliman

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Together on the boat

There are several town nestled up the hillsides of Lake Atitlan, like the one below – I tried to find it on the map but couldn’t tell which one it was.

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Town on the shores of L Atitlan

On our way back to San Lucas Toliman, I noticed a speedboat racing us to the shore – I think it was carrying some of the girls that are selling their wares – that is how they are able to operate on both sides of the lake. 

A two hour bus ride later and we are back at Puerto Quetzal. 

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Azamara Quest docked at Puerto Quetzal

We ran into the two dancers, Olga and Anton, and they told us how link into the local WiFi.  I went back to the ship and Ellen stayed on shore to check her e-mail. 

Tonight’s Showtime is the Azamara Exclusive show called “Voices”.  We had seen this before and it was quite the show.  The show was pretty much the same – some new stuff has been added.  Still a great show.  The sequence below is from “Voices”.

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A long day…

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