We docked at Puerto Quetzal as the sun rose and it was already close to eighty degrees.  We we were definitely in the tropics here.  The sun in this part of the world is intense in away that is unfamiliar to those of us from temperate climes.  It is so completely, directly overhead with a power that is unflinching.  Only the traditional afternoon rainshower offers any relief.  We made our way down the pier to the marketplace set up at the water’s edge.  Tony bought some souvenirs right away, so we could return them to the ship and not be saddled with carrying them on our tour.

We had booked a do-it-yourself style excursion, offering us only passage on a motorcoach to the interior city of La Antigua.  Given that we were in port on a Sunday, we were concerned that many businesses would be closed.  To the contrary, La Antigua is a tourist destination for people from all over Guatemala, as well as foreigners.  Families travel here for the weekend to take advantage of the sights, restaurants and shopping that this bustling town offers.  We alighted from the bus and made our way to the Parque Central in the middle of town, flanked by the Catedral de San Jose.  This lush park was studded with cool fountains and filled with musicians, families and lots of we gringos.

This church sits on the Parque Central in La Antigua, Guatemala.

We strolled through the streets, visiting the Arco de Santa Catalina and shopping in a multitude of markets.  The variety of local handicrafts was amazing.  The most stunning work is the weaving.  There were all kinds of examples of this, from placemats to backpacks to wall hangings.  I purchased a notebook with a beautiful, multi-hued cover.  We also stopped in a local shop selling sweets.  The proprietress spoke very little English and my limited Spanish was not helping with the names of the wide array of goodies offered in beautiful glass and wood cases.  I made some choices out of thin air…some of them delicious, others, not so much.  There were almond tarts, dulce de leche candies and tiny doughnuts, heavily glazed and stacked together in pyramids.

Our ride back to the ship was probably the most impactful part of the day.  As our luxury bus (complete with air conditioning, reclining velour seats, tinted windows and restroom)  squeezed through the narrow city streets, we were afforded views directly into the homes of local residents…and I do mean directly.  These were adobe structures without windows, with just a curtain for a door.  There was little or no furniture in some of them.  Children ran through the streets shoeless.  It was an awakening moment.  This was not the first time we had seen such conditions.  Each of our ports allowed such views.  Arriving on our luxury cruise ship, planning to return by plane to our homes filled with clothing, furniture, computers and appliances, we were truly humbled by our travel in this part of the world.  Now, when I complain about the heat, or the washer not working right, or my car being dirty, I am reminded of this view into a different world.