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Antigua Atitlán Chichicastenango
Guatemala: Our first tropical paradise
These parrots, lovingly preening in the garden of a restaurant, gave us our first clue that the environment was completely different from Mexico. We left Huatulco, Mexico on March 5, 2003--crossing the Gulf of Tehuantepec in three days to arrive in Guatemala, the "heart of the Mayan world" and the most mystical country we've visited.
Note: Click on any small "thumbnail" photos to see the large photo.
We arrived at Puerto Quetzal's naval base just as the sun peeped over the horizon to witness a new phenomenon--smoky skies--giving the sunrise and sunset an eerie glow. Charmed to think the smoke was from burning volcanoes, we later discovered it was from burning sugar cane fields; ashes from the fields and coal dust from the bulk delivery ships sprinkled our boat daily.
After some confusion about where to anchor, we found the right spot at the navy base and waited 3 hours for the welcoming committee: Uniformed officials from immigration, customs, the Port Captain and the Guatemalan Navy...plus a drug-sniffing dog! Cami was fine with it, but the oily paw-prints were not Gemini's usual deck-oration. Still, this is about the only place to safely keep your boat in Guatemala. Since it costs about $10 per day, we were not complaining.
Once we were "legal", we were happy to discover the navy base was immaculate, with a pool and bar available to us. The next morning, we awoke to witness a baptism in the water a few feet from our stern. This was our first clue that religion played a strong part in Guatemala--certainly more so than anywhere in Mexico. Another first: colorful buses that charged pennies but provided a Disneyland experience with passengers and animals jostling along together in great masses.
LAND TRIP TO ANTIGUA
Ready or not, here we come! El Regalo, Journey, Gemini and Compania hired a van for $70 to deliver them from the remote coastal area of San Jose to the soul of Guatemala: Antigua. The volcanoes in the background were just two of the many, and some were smoking and steaming regularly. The roads were good and we were very excited about our big adventure.
The churches must have been beautiful in their time, and the requisite central plaza had a beautiful fountain, but civil wars and earthquakes have taken their toll. Preservation and restoration of the 17th and 18th century buildings are concepts just beginning to gain support, and Guatemala's tourist industry is far from perfected. Still, we were able to travel safely and inexpensively, and enjoyed our stay at the hotel El Convento for $60 per night. We discovered a coffee roaster with delicious dark-roasted beans for $1.50 per pound and escaped from the Jade Museum with only a few beautiful jewelry items...hard not to buy it all!.
The City has wisely eliminated the cluttered effect of most by outlawing signs on the buildings, so the streets take on a peaceful, artistic glow. Here you see a typical garden and women washing at the town square, sandwiched by volcanoes in the distance. We learned that the tradition of wearing colorful costumes, originally common throughout Central America, died with the anti-religious movements everywhere except in Guatemala and is still common in the Highlands. We were lucky to sneak the washing photo, because the people are very shy about pictures.
THE HOUSE OF POPENOE
Originally built in 1636 for the royal family but devastated by the earthquake of 1773, this unique house was authentically restored by an American entrepreneur named Popenoe, who introduced the avocado to America.
The ponds, gardens and dish collections in Casa Popenoe were charming, but the tower with cubbyholes for the messenger pigeons was the most fascinating discovery, as you can see from Les' amazing encounter.
Surrounded by three volcanoes, Lake Atitlán was once itself the tip of a volcanic cone and demanded our immediate attention as we crested the ridge en route to this magical area known as "The Highlands" .
The cemetery was unique in its uniform blue & white motif, but the children and souvenirs reveal the more typical color schemes, with vibrant reds and blues and yellows catching your attention at every stall. A gift of a Guatemalan outfit put huge smiles on baby Rogers. We stayed in Panajachel at the hotel Dos Mundos, an immaculate $40-per-night facility with a pool and a terrific restaurant, both operated by the Italian owner with obvious pride. Call Guatemala (502) 762-2078 for reservations.
The natural reserve was a delightful introduction to monkeys and excotic forests. The monkey (on the left) appears to be waiting for the joys of motherhood, while Les (on the right) ventures across a suspension bridge. Although butterflies were not numerous at this time of year, the guide helped us through the excellent display of butterfly stages and species. A peregrine falcon was perched on a platform taking care of its eggs and a few curious monkeys approached us during our 3-hour walk through the reserve. Our friends chose other activities, like biking around the lake or taking a "panga" boat across the lake to visit some of the more indigenous towns like Santiago, which they reported was charming. Each village, apparently, had its own unique style of cloth souvenirs and clothes to offer. Wish we had more than a day to explore!
A Thursday at the mercado in "Chi-Chi" is second only to a Sunday at its mercado. The arts & crafts were more refined than anything we'd seen in Mexico, and the incense burning in and outside of the churches was intense, so we were all happy when it was time to limp over to the Hotel Santo Tomás for a relaxing lunch, where we showed off our wares, pillow covers being the most popular item. The town had a beautiful, peaceful hotel with a Mayan musician in the courtyard surrounded by rooms furnished with antiques, but we were scheduled to return to Puerto Quetzal, so our adventure ended with a panoramic drive down the mountains back to Gemini.
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