Puerto Quetzal is really a working port with only a two or three acre seaside park contained with a dense forest of tropical trees. Outside this little oasis are fields of open land with huge stockpiles of what appears to be coal. So there really isn't much to do immediately outside this pier area, as it is all industrial. In fact, Puerto Quetzal is the largest cargo traffic port in the country.
The main attraction is the colonial city of Antigua, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shore excursions offered four different combination tours that included Antigua , a 90 minute drive out of the port. We have done this tour and saw the Cathedral built in 1542, and the Church and Convent of Our Lady of Mercy, which has the largest fountain in Latin America. We also saw the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo, built in 1542 as well, reportedly the largest and richest monastery in Antigua. The hotels, shops, and galleries are located in restored colonial buildings too. Also not to miss, is their jade factory where you can watch the stone cutters work on the delicate stone. Of course, you can purchase some pretty nice treasures of jade there, like we did.
One other tour we took in the past was to a coffee plantation located high above Antigua, where we learned all about the cultivation and handling of the coffee beans. Also enjoyed a nice lunch at the plantation.
The longer tours of 9 plus hours included a flight to Tikal, the Mayan ruins, and another involved Mayan cosmology and ancient ruins.
We stayed in the immediate area, leaving the ship well after 10:30am. The weather was going to be sticky and hot once again. It was humid with little or no air. It did improve a little by 1pm, when the overcast cleared and we saw some blue sky. So despite the warning of rain, it did stay away until much later.
The biggest job of the day was to find a pair of beaded earrings to match an existing necklace that we bought three years ago. This time, we thought to bring the necklace in a baggie in order to match the colors exactly. It was not an expensive item, but different from most of their necklaces. Every table we checked had nothing close. But one of us did find the special wooden horse that comes apart for easy packing. The vendor discounted deeply since this is the end of the season. Now the giraffes we have at home will have company.
We were also on the hunt for our friends we had met on the 2009 world cruise. The Maasdam came into the port shortly after we did. They began in San Diego, and were heading through the Panama Canal and will end up in Boston. Sandy and Frank had emailed us, and said they would look for us when they got back from their tour to Antigua. The only problem was that they were docked in the container port, and not next to us. Shuttles were bringing the Maasdam guests to this palapa and the souvenir area. But it would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Despite coming back to shore twice, our paths never crossed.
What we did not plan on was being "discovered" by other Maasdam guests who had followed our blog the last couple of years. One fellow approached us, and asked if we were looking for a margarita pizza and beers. Then they admitted they had read our blog for a long time now, and felt they knew us well. As the saying goes, it really is a small world, especially with the internet these days.
While looking for those elusive earrings, we took notice of a different style of beaded necklaces. The prices were all over the place, starting from $45 to $35. Same design, different colors. And every vendor said his grandmother made them. Hmmm, seems we have heard that before.
Something we did not know, was that the Regent's Mariner had pulled into the port. Now there were three cruise ships here, making it impossible to bargain for the treasures today. Once the folks that were on tours would come back this afternoon, there would be hundreds of customers. Perhaps later in the day would be a better time to shop.
We were in dire need of something cold to drink, so we headed for the restaurant we always frequent. It's called Pez Vela Restaurant and is located directly across from where the ship is docked, near the small boat marina. An open-air venue, it was already filling up with many crew members, many from the Amsterdam, but also several of their comrades from the Maasdam. Nice to see them having so much fun, even if they only had a few hours off from their duties.
We ordered two cold Gallo beers, the local brew, along with a combined chicken and beef plate of cheese nachos. Expecting hamburger for the beef, it was really fajita-quality grilled steak, cut in strips. So delicious. A good sign that the nacho appetizer is the best, we noticed that most all of the crew members ordered the generous plate, but not to share. Each person had their own heaping plate.
They also serve seafood dishes, something Peter, the purser, has every time we stop here. He wandered into the restaurant about ½ hour after we sat down. Inviting him to join us, he indicated by sign language that he had lost his voice, and although he felt OK, he felt it best to dine alone. OMG, we cannot believe this virus is still onboard, and spreading through the staff members. This is a repeat of what happened last fall after the South Pacific 53 day cruise. Hope he gets better soon, because he is due to go home in San Francisco, of which he is most happy.
After enjoying our long lunch, we stopped for a little more shopping before we went back to the coolness of the ship. That included a last chance finding of matching earrings for the old necklace. The very last cardboard display had a perfect match, discovered by "eagle-eye" Bill. There was a big problem, however…..there was only one earring. The vendor went to his counter, and took out a big plastic bag full of beaded earrings. When he dumped them out, Bill instantly located the match. Just lucky. All this for a mere $5. Early on, Denise had showed us a wall hanging decoration, that would be suitable to use as a pin cushion. There was only one store that had honest-to-goodness handmade souvenirs, and we found a similar one there.
We had a couple of hours to work on photos, before going back for one more hunt for our buddies. We never did find them, but we did locate a smart vendor who was willing to sell us one of the new necklaces along with a matching pair of earrings for far less than the other vendors. We do know that the wet season is right around the corner, and these vendors will be gone for the season.
Speaking of rain, it held off during the sail away at 5pm, which we enjoyed with Howie and Denise, who are also outdoor folks like us. They never miss a sail away or a good sunset. That's how we met last fall while on the Tales of the South Pacific cruise. With lots of horn tooting, the Amsterdam headed into the Pacific Ocean, with the Maasdam following. They veered off to the south and the Panama Canal, while we went northwest. We expect that the Mariner will be overnighting in Puerto Quetzal.
Dinner was in the Pinnacle Grill with longtime friends Leslie and Handler, who have also stayed on for this re-positioning cruise. Over two hours passed by as we caught up on home and ship news. They will be coming back on the Asia/Pacific cruise, then regrouping for the 2018 world cruise. They are so organized, they will be able to spend the holidays with family, and be ready to go again for another four months. As with many of us, one of the hardest tasks is getting your prescription meds for longer trips. And when you are restricted to less than two weeks to do this, it can be stressful. That is something that has to be right on, as you cannot always buy what you need while out of the country. And in some countries, we doubt the medications are really authentic.
All of us had planned on going to the show of the singers and dancers, but half of it was over by the time we finished dinner. And besides that, the clocks had to be set ahead one hour tonight. It has not happened often on this westbound trip, but when it does, we don't like it. If memory serves us right, the clocks will be put back this hour after leaving Huatulco. The final hour back will occur after leaving Cabo San Lucas.
Once again, we were treated with lightning all night, but heavy rains as well. There would be no walk for us on the promenade deck tonight, as when we attempted it, we may have been blown overboard. Yes, it was that windy and wet. Our room was illuminated all through the evening, and the swells became quite pronounced by midnight.
Bill & Mary Ann