All posts by karenfranza

Lake Atitlán – Panajachel Again

Feb 17 – Our plan was to take the lancha across the lake from San Pedro to Panajachel, then hop on a bus for the nine hour drive to Cobán. Unfortunately, the Guatemalan equivalent of Montezuma’s Revenge caught up with us, so we are spending a few extra days in Panajachel while Jim recovers, eating a bland diet of white rice and boiled potatoes, before attempting the long road trip north.

Here’s the local supermarket, where we stocked up on rice and potatoes. Don’t know what the occasion was, but there was a barker, plenty of loud music, and a dancing mascot.

As you definitely don’t want the details of our recuperation, I’ll share that we completed all our souvenir shopping by strolling Calle Santander and bargaining hard for presents for the grandkids. (Historically, they are underwhelmed by whatever we bring home.) I saw a lovely scarf, and was proud of getting the price down from 60 quetzales to 33, until we walked to the next shop where the same scarf was displayed for 25. I’m embarrassed to report that later in the afternoon, we saw it for 10! I am a very bad haggler.

Eliese and Janice – look at this lovely quilt:

Our other plan was to take all the goodies we purchased to the post office and ship them home so we wouldn’t have to lug them around for the next several weeks. Guess what? Guatemala hasn’t had a postal service in three years! Any service, anywhere in the entire country, since 2016! From what we can gather, the private company contract for the country’s mail services ended in 2016, and the government declined to renew or renegotiate it. So, no mail within or out of the country, period.

Ever resourceful, we googled other options and found a DHL Express office in town. The cost to ship home our paltry little box of cheap souvenirs would be over $120 US! A fellow blogger related his solution when faced with this issue – he took a bus to El Salvador, stayed overnight at a hotel, shipped his box from there and then bused back to Guatemala, saving considerable money over what the DHL charges would have been. Bravo for his resourcefulness, but I think we’re just going to lug our trinkets around. Our grandkids better appreciate them!

A Day of Unexpected Things

Feb 9 – When we awoke this morning we still had no electricity thanks to last night’s wind storm, but it didn’t affect us too much: the stove runs on propane, so the coffee was hot and the breakfast was delicious as always. The plants and chairs up on the terrace all blew over, but these things are easily fixed.

After breakfast, our host Sara let us know that the booking we thought we had made for four additional days at Casa Kaktus did not go through properly (it showed up in March instead of February – this has happened before on booking.com), and we would have to leave, as they are all booked up. Drat! She suggested we try La Casa Rosa, a regular hotel right on the lake that might have a room. Unfortunately, there is no other place in Santa Cruz that has a kitchen that guests can use. And we just bought four nights worth of groceries! Sara graciously offered to let us continue to use the kitchen, even though we would not be sleeping there. So nice.

Gracious hosts Sara (originally from England) and Ever.

La Casa Rosa is run by a native family, and is a lovely place, with lush gardens and seating right on the lake. We secured a room with a private bath. We’ll miss the camaraderie of Casa Kaktus and the daily breakfasts, but I think we’ll be okay.

Remember our little dinner party last night? When Jim was slicing vegetables for his spaghetti sauce, he sliced his thumb pretty badly. He bandaged it up and carried on bravely, but when he took the bandage off this morning it started bleeding again like crazy. Our host Ever tried to butterfly bandage it, but suggested we go to the clinic up in town to have it seen to properly. Jim pooh-poohed the idea, saying he was fine.

We settled our stuff at La Casa Rosa, then walked up the big hill to the Mayan town for lunch. A chicken joined us for part of the journey.More delicious native food at the CECAP restaurant, Cafe Sabor Cruceño, where the workers are all native and the profits go the education and skills training of the local community. After our meal, Jim thought it might be a good idea to check out the clinic after all.

We walked in, and the building appeared empty. We hallooed, and a man walked out of an office. Are you open today? (It is Saturday.) Of course, he replied. Come in – I am the doctor. He unwrapped Jim’s thumb, cleaned the wound and declared that sutures were needed. He and Jim kept up a genial conversation in Spanish while he worked. The doctor is 27 years old, educated in Guatemala at the University in Quetzaltenango. He is not married. Yes, he would like to visit the US someday, but doubts that he could get a visa. Yes, the clinic is open seven days a week.

Before too long, the sutures were in, Jim was given a tetanus shot, a week’s worth of antibiotics, and some extra strength acetaminophen for pain. How much did we pay for this excellent care? You guessed it – when they say free clinic, they mean it.

We relaxed at our new home for the rest of the afternoon, then walked back to Casa Kaktus to heat up our leftover spaghetti, and catch up with Monica and Mary. And the electricity came back on!

We returned to La Casa Rosa to sit at the lakeshore and watch the sunset.

Not the way we planned to spend the day, but very nice nonetheless.

Feb 10 – Jim spent a restless night and was in considerable pain this morning as his thumb starts to heal, so today we will stay local and take only a short walk to visit the Enchanted Forest here in Santa Cruz.

We walked along the lakeshore for a while.

Then uphill into the trees.

The path meandered past several grand houses in the hills, all behind walls and locked gates. When we could go no further, we turned around and walked back down.

We passed some native women in their traditional dress. Ever told us that all the women dress traditionally here, and there is no traditional attire for the men.

As we came back to the shore, we saw some native wooden boats.

This place has been changed drastically by the coming of the tourists in the last twenty years. I hope we don’t ruin it.

Lake Atitlán – San Pedro la Laguna

Feb 12 – We continued our exploration of Lake Atitlán today by bidding adios to Santa Cruz.

The view from our room at La Casa Rosa

After breakfast, we packed up our things and walked to the dock, to board a lancha for San Pedro. Unlike the lanchas heading toward Panajachel, which come along every five minutes, we had to wait for one heading the other way. Once it came, we sat inside while the pilot waited and called for additional passengers. The native woman sitting next to me was impatient to get going, drumming her fingers and knocking on the side of the boat. She must really want to get there!

After stopping at all the other waterfront haciendas, and San Marcos, which is known as the place where the hippies hang out (are there really hippies anymore?), we reached San Pedro la Laguna.

From this side of the lake, the view is not as spectacular, as the volcanos are hidden from view by other mountains. This looks like a more established town, with cinderblock buildings rising several stories. We are staying at El Delfin, a regular hotel. Here is the view from our hotel balcony – a little grittier, and the WiFi isn’t so good, but the shower has plenty of hot water.

A short walk from our hotel is the Museo Tzunun Ya. Tzunun Ya is the Mayan name for this town. When the Spaniards came along, they built churches and renamed all the towns after saints, but the people still practice their Mayan rituals here.At the museum, we received a guided tour from a lovely native woman who spoke slowly so that my poor Spanish could keep up. She told us about the four points of the earth, with Grandmother Moon and Grandfather Sun watching over us.

Our guide explained the Mayan calendar, and gave us our own number and symbol based on the date of our birth. My number is 4, Tz’ikin, the quetzal bird, and Jim’s is 1, Keme, the lord of death. Kind of like a horoscope, I think, and also helps you decide on an auspicious day to start a new project.

A woman selling trinkets on the street, Maribel, has befriended us, calling out our names whenever she spies us walking down the street. She has a seven year old daughter who sits with her. I think there may be trinkets in our future.

Feb 14 – Happy Valentines Day, a holiday that is totally not a thing here. The next festival here will be the Mayan new year. Our hotel gave us a swan heart today.

We walked up the hill to see the Iglesia San Pedro (church of St. Peter).

Inside, we admired the green hangings fluttering in the breeze.

Pope Francis says hello!
I liked this statue of St. Anne.l

Outside, we looked at the statue of San Pedro, with his keys to the pearly gates and his chicken. Did you know Saint Peter had a chicken?

Down the street was the much more elaborate First Baptist Church.

Lots of missionary evangelical influence here.

I wonder how the power company keeps all these lines straight?

There are no hills to hike here, but the town is pretty vertical, so we are still getting our daily workout.

Kernels of maize (corn) drying on the street

Another lovely day.

Lake Atitlán – Panajachel

Feb 8 – We are running low on quetzales, and Santa Cruz has no ATM, so today we took the public lancha (motorboat) back to Panajachel (Pana-ha-SHELL, or just call it Pana like the locals do). We’ve befriended Canadian sisters Monica and Mary from British Columbia, and Jim offered to cook supper for them, so we will go to the market and see if there are ingredients on offer that will make a meal.

As we approached the dock, a boat was just pulling away, but the pilot called out “Pana?” and when we nodded in the affirmative, he pulled back in so we could hop on. I sat next to an American retired couple who purchased a house here several years ago so they could winter here and summer in Maine. Now, that sounds like a perfect life.

Panajachel has all the hustle of a city, with touts approaching at every turn offering taxi rides, food and souvenirs.

During our search for an ATM, I spied these little cuties. Photographed from the back only, of course.

We were told that every town has its own design for traditional clothing. Ladies from Santa Cruz use blue and green thread, and the triangles represent the volcanoes.

Everywhere we walked a little knot of locals followed us, offering key chains and pencils as well as the more expensive woven, carved and leather goods. When we sat down in a restaurant to eat lunch, they followed us in!

We weren’t buying souvenirs today, so after finding the ATM, we looked for what other things of interest Panajachel had to offer. We found the church of course, Iglesia San Francisco.

As soon as we stepped inside, we heard this god-awful wailing. I feared we had stumbled into a funeral, but as my eyes adjusted, I could see a parade of people crawling on their knees, from the back of the church, down the hard tiled center aisle toward the altar, presumably exhorting the Lord with lamentations and prayer. What a racket!

We sat quietly in a pew, then watched as each person reached the altar, than started the long journey back up the aisle, on their knees, crawling backwards, still wailing. That was enough for me.

We’ve seen this form of penance before, at pilgrimage sites like Lourdes and Fatima. This was the first time we’ve seen it in a local church.

As we were about to leave, the caretaker of the church approached Jim and asked if we wanted to see the side chapels. He unlocked the gates and let us in.

Then he asked if we wanted to see upstairs. We gamely climbed into the choir loft, which was just a dusty space devoid of organ or pews.

Then he showed us another circular stone stair that led up to the bell tower. From the narrow step I was standing on, I would have to leap across empty space to access the other stair – no thanks! Of course, long-legged Jim was up for the challenge. Do you know what was up there? A bell!

That was enough excitement for one day. We found a modern supermarket, Jim bought provisions for the next few days, and we took the lancha back home to Santa Cruz.

Jim set to work in the big kitchen, managing to slice his thumb in addition to the mushrooms, peppers, onion, garlic and chorizo that went into his super spaghetti sauce. With fresh garlic bread, cold cervesa, and the good company of Monica and Mary, it was a meal that couldn’t be beat!

Monica and Mary, adventure-loving sisters from British Columbia

After supper, it started to get windy, than really windy. At about 8pm the town lost electricity, and we prepared for bed by candlelight. I wonder how long the battery in my iPad will last?

Lake Atitlán – Jaibolito

Feb 7 – The next village over on Lake Atitlán is Jaibolito (highball-ito). We were told that it’s about a 45 minute walk along the lake, so we will explore it today. We set out at mid-morning of another beautiful day, spying some paddle boarders on the calm water.

Here’s the end of our lakeshore walk. Time to head up into the hills!

Some big bamboo:

Can you see the swimmers down below? The water is so blue!

Up some more – there’s the town, nestled in the hills.

Not there yet – this reminds me of a Bernstein Bears book that Lexi and Emma used to read: Up the hill, around the lake, through the rocks and over the bridge.

Jaibolito is a tiny village of about 700 souls that is not accessible by road, so it is not as touristy as the other towns. From here we can see Volcán Atitlán, which is next to the volcano we can see from our terrace in Santa Cruz.

The native Mayans speak a language called Kaqchickel that does not sound at all like Spanish – sort of guttural. I asked twice how to say ‘thank you’, which you should always be able to say to folks, but couldn’t get the word to stick in my head. The kids here learn Spanish as a second language. When I tried speaking in Spanish to some of the school children (what is your name? how old are you?), I received blank stares in return. We were told that the native people do not like to have their pictures taken, so as cute as the kids were, I refrained from snapping them, even when I was tagged in their game and presumably “it”. Here is some wall art instead.

Missionary influence is evident here, with several small evangelical and charismatic churches, none of which were open.There is a fancy resort down by the water, and several restaurants, but we prefer to support the local economy when we can. We found a little comida and ordered a simple lunch of chicken, vegetables and rice. Our Lemon Crush came with ice, which gave me pause for the first time on this journey – would the ice be made with filtered water up here in this untouristy place? We drank up, and happy to say, all was well.

We looked in the tiny food market, and Jim got some tomatoes to add to our supper, but there wasn’t much on offer. Then it was back down the hill toward home. Watch your step – one foot wrong, and down the cliff you’ll go!

Here are some houses on the lake that I’d like to live in:

A lovely day!

Lake Atitlán – Santa Cruz la Laguna

Feb 5 – Today is a travel day, so we had our last cooked breakfast and last (?) hot shower at Central Bougainvillea, then went back to our favorite panderia (bakery) to pick up some of their yummy chicken and beef filled pies to take on our journey. The mini-bus picked us up at 12:30 for the three hour ride to Lake Atitlán.

We were dropped off at the dock in Panajachel, the main village on the lake, then immediately whisked onto a small boat that ferried visitors to the surrounding villages. Once again, we were the only not-twenty-somethings in sight.

We are staying at Santa Cruz la Laguna, in an abandoned school that has been reclaimed as a B and B – Casa Kaktus – a bit of a climb from the water’s edge.

Each of the guest rooms is a former classroom, huge by regular room standards. The toilets and showers are down the hall – a boys room and a girls room, of course. Happy to report, the showers have warm water, and the WiFi is excellent!

It is warmer here than Antigua, and we immediately exchanged our long pants for shorts, and our boots for sandals. As soon as the sun went down, however, the temperature cooled and we needed our sweatshirts.

On the roof is a veranda that gives us a great view of the lake and the volcano beyond. I believe this one is Volcán Toliman.I can feel the stress of the day’s travels melting away. I think we’re going to like it here!

Feb 6 – After two cups of excellent hot coffee and our Guatemalan standard daily breakfast of scrambled eggs, fried plantains and black beans with fruit and toast, we set out to explore the tiny town of Santa Cruz.

There are three hotels at the water’s edge that serve dinner (our place does not) so we stopped at each to peruse the menus and the prices. There is also a little comida that serves typical Guatemalan food and does not require a reservation – looks like our kind of place.

In addition to the hotels is a place called Free Cervesa (free beer) where the kids sleep in tents. Here the music was blasting and the kids in their teeny bikinis were soaking up the morning sun.

We stopped to converse with a woman environmentalist from Guatemala City who is going back to school to become an attorney, and a native man selling alpaca blankets from Peru. The woman needed help hooking up the gas tank at her house, and asked Jim to help her. He got the job done – my hero!

Then it was time for lunch. Santa Cruz is called “the vertical village” as you have to climb an extremely steep path to reach the place where the Mayan natives live. We heard that there is a good restaurant up there that helps the local community, so up we went.

We ordered pepian, a stew made with a complex mix of seeds and spices that is considered the national dish of Guatemala. This version was made with chicken, and was delicious.

Up the hill was a school, a little tienda (shop) offering sodas and snacks, and (of course) a church.

Inside the church, the walls were lined with statues – some of saints and some of kings.

On our walk back down the hill (which was much easier than the walk up) we spoke to a woman from New Hampshire who was here for a yoga retreat. This is certainly a groovy place.

Tonight the mist obscured the volcano.

Still a pretty sight.

Volcán Pacaya

Feb 3 – Jim decided that I was ready to hike up a volcano today. As Antigua is ringed by volcanos, there are many tourist options of one or two day hikes up several different mountains. Here in Guatemala, hikes must be taken with a guide. Jim picked us a one day group hike up the shortest mountain, Pacaya, in the hope that this would not kill me. (Jim has promised not to endanger my life when we travel.)

We decided to fortify ourselves with a typical Guatemalan meal – roasted pork, garlic potatoes and salad. Today’s tortillas were made from blue corn, and the drink of the day was coconut milk. Yum!

A mini-bus picked us up at our hotel, and soon we were wending our way up mountain roads in the company of two dozen mostly twenty-something mostly females from Europe and North America. Some taught English on line to Chinese students. Some were traveling to try and find themselves. Some were working on their ’30 before 30′ quest to travel to that many countries before reaching that age. One was looking for a llittle cation for her yoga studio. Such a chatty group, and no grey hairs as far as we could see.

Ninety minutes later we reached Pacaya national park, where we met our guide Lillian. Little boys were hawking walking sticks, and we were told that horse “taxis” were available for anybody who couldn’t keep up the pace. The pace was my concern – Jim and I hike alone. I’m fine on level ground, but really slow going uphill. Could I keep up?

Lillian started up the mountain at a trot, with the twenty-somethings right behind. I started in the middle of the group, but before too long I was at the back of the pack, huffing and puffing. The trail was steep and dusty, and I knew I couldn’t keep up. So? Jim paid for a horse, and I climbed gratefully on.

Now, here’s something not everybody knows: I am a New Yorker, and have never ridden a horse before! I grabbed the pommel and held on for dear life while Señor Caballo bounced and swayed up the steep trail, guided by a little native woman who didn’t huff or puff once. I mentally reviewed everything I knew about horse riding: sit up straight, grab with your knees, don’t fall off!

It took about an hour and a half to get to the top

Once we reached the shoulder, we could see smoke rising from the top of the volcano.

I bid adios to Señor Caballo at this point, knowing that I could keep up with the group for the hike back down. I swear the horse was much bigger in my mind!

Then in five minutes time, the fog…

rolled…

in, and that was the end of our scenic view.

Lillian led us down to an area filled with black volcanic rock that could have been on another planet. She passed out sticks, and removed some rocks to reveal the heat emanating from below. Time to toast marshmallows!

The light was fading as we scrabbled down the dusty rocks until we could see our bus ahead. No beautiful sunset for us tonight, just a long bumpy ride back to town. We were so covered in sweat and dust that there was no thought of dinner, just an immediate shower. That was our Volcan Pacaya adventure!

Feb 4 – Today we got ready to bid adios to Antigua and prepare for the next leg of our journey. There are many little travel and tour agencies in town, all promising the best fares and all amenable to haggling. We are heading to Lake Atitlán, about three hours away by mini-bus. Jim secured us two seats tomorrow at a fair price.

Then we stopped in to a nearby art museum, housed in another former convent.

There was a whole room of ceramics with faces, one of my favorite things.

Another exhibit featured photos of those who lost limbs in various recent conflicts: Afghanistan, Kosovo, Slovenia. I stopped at a photo taken in Cambodia, remembering our time there in 2015.

This painting reminded me of the not-so-happy couple we saw being married the other day.

A relaxing conclusion to our time in Antigua.

More Antigua

Feb 1 – South of town is a road that leads straight uphill to San Cristobal el Alto (Saint Christopher’s Heights). Carlos explained that the town’s original hippie, a guy named Frank, bought up the land, started an organic farm, opened a vegetarian restaurant, and invited all his friends to visit. Sadly, Frank is no longer with us, but his restaurant remains, and offers great views of Antigua below and the mountains beyond. Most people opt to drive the 2.6 uphill miles, filled with switchbacks, but this will be our morning walk.

On our way, we passed an interesting old building, and several schools.

Then up, up and up some more!

After two hours, we arrived. Lovely gardens at the top, with eucalyptus and a few blooms.

When we got to the restaurant at the summit, the other patrons all greeted us. We passed you on the road! We saw you walking from our taxi! Our one minute of fame for the day – the only old crazies who walked instead of drove. We tucked into a really fine mushroom and spinach pizza – our reward for a successful hike. This was supposed to be a vegetarian restaurant, but featured shrimp on many of the menu items. Antigua seems to be a vegetarian-friendly town, but their definition may not coincide with ours.

On the way down, we saw the yellowest building ever.

Iglesia el Calvario

It turned out to be another church – there is no shortage of churches here – that was plain inside but had very nice paintings.

It also had a life-size tableau in the garden. See the caged doves behind?

Getting down the mountain was much faster than hiking up. I was happier with my ability today – pretty soon I’ll be ready to scale a volcano!

Banana trees!

Feb 2 – Today we moved to a hotel on the other side of town, to see how the other half lives. I really enjoyed the people we met at Casa Gitana, especially a German biologist and a couple from Sweden who shared their adventure stories with us, but the facilities left a bit to be desired – cold showers are bracing, but…

The Central Bougainvillea seemed to be the answer to our dreams – hot water, electrical outlets and extra pillows, but…. no WiFi! We pestered the cleaning lady, who had no idea what to do. As it was early and no other guests had arrived at the hotel, we peeked in all the corners until we found the WiFi router, unplugged it and reset it. Voila!

We had an easy day today, getting groceries at a modern supermarket (where eggs are sold by the 15 instead of by the dozen), enjoying a leisurely lunch (eggplant and caramelized onion sandwich – yum!) and walking around town. It is Saturday, and there is music in the air at the town square.

We walked through the Arco de Santa Carolina, with a view of a volcano beyond.

At yet another church, Iglesia de Merced, we happened upon a wedding in progress, as the happy (?) couple glided out to the strains of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

Further inspection of the church revealed a portrait of the Apostle Thaddeus that bore a remarkable similarity to Mr. Bean.

Next door was an abandoned convent, ruined in that darned earthquake of 1773. It must have been a doozy.

A simple supper, then a walk through the square in the cool of the evening. A relaxing day.

Antigua

Jan 30 – After breakfast, we packed up our packs, and got ready for the 90 minute ride to Antigua. (Note: we are not talking about Antigua the Caribbean island, but Antigua the colonial former capital of Guatemala.) Our original plan was to hike back to the airport and catch a shuttle bus, but it turns out that the Uber fare was comparable, so we just tapped the app and David pulled up to our door. This really is too easy – we may never walk again!

It took an hour of driving to reach the edge of Guatemala City, which looked just like any other big crowded city, then a half hour of ear-popping altitude climb to reach the quaint little town of Antigua. We are staying at the Casa Gitana guest house, which has great reviews thanks to its very personable host, Carlos. Carlos spent about a half hour marking up the town map, showing us which places were tourist traps and which were worthwhile.

Our first order of business was to find some lunch, so we took Carlos’ suggestion to check out Rincón Tipico for some typical Guatemalan food. There was a huge wood-fired rotisserie and two little ladies slapping out fresh tortillas. The meals were super yummy, and I don’t think we’ll need much dinner tonight.

We checked out the town square, where local women sold woven goods and jewelry.

Folks are definitely short statured here!

Jan 31 – Next to the central square is the Antigua Cathedral.

Our Lady of Fatima

What was notable here was the number of people on their knees in prayer- something we don’t often see in the churches we visit.

We stopped into a coffee shop, in one of the few old buildings not devastated by earthquakes, and Jim thought he ordered a potato-filled pastry. Not even close! Pan tres leches, or three milk cake is soaked in heavy cream and topped with whipped cream. A happy accident, as this is something we would never order. It sure was good…

Further down the road is the ruins of Antigua’s original cathedral of San José. Devastated by three different earthquakes in the 1700s, it was not rebuilt.

Intricate stone carvings can still be seen where exposure to the weather has not eroded them.

Below the ruins are catacombs that once held the important dead.

In the midst of the ruins, orchestral music played and we were ushered into a tableau of the Holy Family’s escape to Egypt. The figures are life sized.

Isn’t this a pretty building? It is San José el Viejo, a ruin used as a wedding venue!

In the afternoon, we walked up to the scenic overlook called Cerro de la Cruz, or Hill of the Cross. It gives a view of Antigua and Volcan de Agua beyond. This particular volcano has not been active since the 1500s. I was not happy with my ability to climb this hill – my heart kept pounding in my ears as we ascended. Maybe the altitude? Jim has many more walks planned to get me back in shape!

Thank you to the young man from Perth for offering to take our photo!

Antigua is laid out in a nine by nine block grid with numbered streets and avenues, so it is very easy to navigate and very walkable from one end to the other on foot. The streets are all cobblestones, many of them loose, so sturdy walking shoes are recommended. Tomorrow, more from Antigua!

Guatemala!

Jan 28, 2019 – It’s been a little too cold in Virginia lately, so we’ve been planning to warm our old bones with a little Central American sunshine. Thanks to the government shutdown ending just in time, we hopped a very pleasant flight to Atlanta and then one to Guatemala City with nary a hitch. Neither flight was filled, and we actually got to spread out a bit and felt like humans instead of packages in transit to a hub!

So, where is Guatemala? No, friends, we are not in, or anywhere near Venezuela where the current politics are a bit dicey, nor are we in Brazil where the dam just burst. There are no caravans forming here headed for US borders. Heaven knows we are not in Guam, despite the spelling similarity, nor in Guadalupe (see Mexico 2018)!

Guatemala (pronounced like What-emala) is just south of Mexico, with volcanos to climb and jungle ruins to explore. We only jumped one time zone, so no jet lag. We are currently at about 5000 feet elevation, similar to Denver. We are in the dry season, and the weather is temperate, with daily highs expected in the mid 70s.

The money here is the Quetzal, which is also the national bird. As a bird, it is long-tailed and resplendent. As money, it takes between 7 and 8 of them to equal a dollar. Now you know everything I learned about Guatemala online.

We found an ATM deep in the darkened airport with the assistance of a friendly taxi driver (who didn’t even ask for a tip), then called our B&B for a pickup. Ten minutes later, we walked in to Hostal Guatefriends, a very nice place indeed, with a private toilet and hot water shower. We don’t expect this level of luxury everywhere in this country.

Jan 29 – After a nice hot breakfast (eggs, black beans and good strong coffee ) we set out to see what there is to see in Guatemala City. There’s not much, and most guidebooks suggest not to bother, but we are here, so we will see. Our hostal is about 4 miles from the city center – too far to walk, and taxis depend on haggling, so we decided to Uber. Oswaldo picked us up in two minutes flat. Uber (pronounced Oovair) rocks!

Our first destination was the Palacio Nacional, which has a museum inside.

We tried to walk in, but were stopped at the door. Although Guatemalans may enter for free, foreigners must pay $6 US each, and stand outside until the next tour starts (on the hour). A guided tour for foreigners – how nice! Will the tour be in English or any other foreign language? No, solamente Español. Oh well. With 50 minutes until the next tour, we decided to move on.

Next door to the Palacio is the Catedral Metropolitana. The Cathedral sustained damage from several earthquakes, and has been rebuilt.

The Cathedral has small chapels dedicated to various saints, and paintings of the life of Christ all done by Pedro Ramirez in the 1600s.

A sad Madonna
Our favorite Apostle, St. James, with his walking stick and drinking gourd
The angel telling Mary she has been chosen

There’s also a life size Nativity tableau.

Then we walked over to the Mercado Central, where everything you can imagine is on offer. The market, formerly three stories tall, was also devastated by earthquake, and is now mostly underground.

A big part of the market is selling fresh hot food, and we picked the busiest booth, on the theory that the best food was there. Don’t know what we ate, but it was delicious!

A great first day. Tomorrow, we’re off to Antigua!