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12th February, 2017

Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

Quetzal in Guatemala, a new port for me and well received by passengers it would seem, particularly for those who went on tour. Those that didn’t had a charming craft market just a stone’s throw away, and one that had attractive ‘stuff’ that the folks might actually use.

Mrs R and I took the long tour to the UNESCO heritage town of Antigua, about an hour and a half away and great fun in a minibus. Our drive took us past tall active volcanoes that could be seen clearly even from the port.

We stopped first at a carefully restored colonial house originally built in 1636 and packed with antiques that had been collected by William Popenoe, an American botanist who bought the house in the early part of the 20th century. He did such a good job that the house became the ‘benchmark’ for all future restorations in the town that has become a Mecca for all tourists that visit the country.

The black stone cobbled streets, were lined with painted buildings and laid in a grid system that led to the impressive historic central plaza. On one side of this large square stands a magnificent cathedral which, like many of the other old buildings, had been damaged by one or more of the various earthquakes that have occurred over the last 500 years. Even so, it remains quite grand and we took a peek inside as the Sunday service was in full swing.

The other sides of the square also had architecture dating from the Spanish period and the galleried Palace of the Captains-General is now only accessible to the front because of damage within. The plaza, very pretty with flowering trees and the elegant ‘Fountain of the Sirens’, was busy with local ladies in national dress attempting to sell their handmade beaded jewellery.

A few blocks away we came across the Santa Catalina Arch, connecting both sides of the street, an inner corridor without windows allowed nuns to go from their convent without being seen, but part of the cathedral nearby was just a shell of heavy thick walls, all that remains from an earthquake in 1773. There was just not enough time on our walk to take it all in and we felt this was a town to which we should return.

There was, however, time to take a ‘pit stop’in the ‘Casa Santo Domingo’, a magnificent hotel situated in the grounds of yet another half ruined cathedral, this one complete with a crypt and medieval skeleton on display (within a glass case of course).

Finally we stopped off for lunch at what can only be described as a Guatemalan style garden centre. A garden that apparently had more than 600 species of Mesoamerican plants growing, several different shaded areas in which to eat, and a relatively small plant sales area. The Rentell household now has three very modestly priced terracotta planters, yet another addition to the conservatory (assuming they remain intact for the remainder of the journey).

Captain Philip Rentell

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