A few days into our Panama Canal cruise we stopped at Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala. We decided to go on an excursion for the day. We hopped on board an air conditioned bus that took us on a two-and-a-half hour ride into the Mayan highlands. During the bus ride we were treated to a lecture on Guatemala.
The economy is very poor and relies on agriculture, mainly sugar cane and pineapple. The Guatemalan people are very badly educated as the children work the harvests with their parents rather than go to school. The government is trying to change that by offer families $40 a child a month for them to attend school. School is held around harvesting times to assure maximum attendance.
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Other ways of earning incoming during non-harvest season are traditional handicrafts. After our 2-plus hour bus ride we arrived at San Lucas Toliman, one of the many small villages surrounding the Lake Atitlan, where we were greeted by a hoard on the most persistent ladies selling these goods that I have seen in a long time. They don’t know English except the words or phrases that will help them get a sale.
As my husband and I navigate these ladies we walked down to the lake with our tour guide who we engaged in conversation. It turns out he spoke nearly fluent French. Fidencio has a mechanical engineering degree and spent a year in Paris working for Airbus. He didn’t stay because it was too cold compared to his native Guatemalan weather! Coming back there weren’t many jobs for mechanical engineers, but speaking fluent English (and French) he was able to get a job as a tour guide.
We walked down to a dock where we boarded a ferry for a cruise across the Lake Atitlan The lake area is surrounded by volcanoes, some active and the sky was riddled with smoke clouds between gorgeous blue skies. After close to an hour on the boat landed at the town of Panajachel where we were greeted by more industrious saleswoman who followed us from the dock to the local luxury hotel where we were to enjoy a catered lunch.
To me, the lunch was a dream. Beans, rice, grilled beef (heavenly) and chicken, amazingly tasty guacamole, fresh corn tortillas. Yum-um-mie! But we literally had thirty minutes to eat and we were back on the boat for an hour back to the bus for the two and a half hour drive back to the port. We watched mile after mile of sugar cane fields surrounded by volcanoes as we watched a beautiful sunset on the way back to the boat.
When we reached the boat and I reflected on the day, it was lovely to see the country and lake and volcanoes, but a seven-hour voyage for beef fajitas was a bit much. It’s not that my husband and I don’t mind going long distances for food, heck we did a trip just as long in France to buy pastis. It’s just that I live in California and we are lucky enough to have wonderful Mexican and South American food nearly on every corner, so it’s just not as “special.”
Ultimately, I wished we had done a shorter tour and had explored more on our own. That is the thing about cruise excursions, you really, really need to investigate everything about the tour. There are plenty of cruise forums that discuss individual excursions and I suggest that if you are going to unknown locations you take the time to review all the excursions ahead of time. We have found that when we have not done this we have been sorry.