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We're on Our Way!
Guatemala

(Betsy Parker)
This is it! The day we leave for Guatemala is finally here. This is a day I have dreamed about and planned for since the day I went home from my first trip here, two years ago. People look at me strangely when I tell them about how I fell in love with Guatemala on that first trip - but that was my inspiration for organizing this trip - I just had to get my friends here to see what a fascinating country this is. My husband Gerry and I left with our friend Joanne from San Juan, Puerto Rico, this morning. Our flight to Miami was delayed because of birds (egrets) feeding in the grass next to the runway. The pilot was not willing to risk their being sucked into the engines so we had to pull off the runway and wait for some unfortunate person to come and try to scare them off...believe me it was hilarious to watch him driving around in the mud and water trying to get those birds to go elsewhere (they just circled around him and landed again!) It was not hilarious to watch the minutes tick by on our watches: We had a 35 minute connection in Miami, and minute by minute as we waited for the birds to move, that layover was being eaten up! The birds did eventually tire of playing with the guy in the truck and we took off for Miami - flying "low" according to the pilot so we could fly faster and make up the lost time...which we did! The highlight of the flight was the pilot instructing us to look out the right side of the plane as there were blue whales breaching down below us. Of course, we couldn't see that - but it certainly helped keep up the "nature" theme we had established for the flight! We arrived in Miami with just barely 20 minutes until the flight to Guatemala City was scheduled to take off! Unfortunately our route through the airport took us through all of that infernal construction, so we arrived at the gate exhausted from walking as fast as we could and with literally a minute to spare. The boarding area was already closed, but apparently they were waiting for us...whew! Our flight was uneventful, and Gerry was really impressed with the food! We landed at the (new to me) airport in Guatemala City. Another long walk to get to immigration and customs, but other than having to fill out a yet another form because of the swine flu scare, it all went smoothly. Upon leaving customs we easily found Joanne's friends Mike and Anita, with whom she was spending the night in Guatemala City and our driver from Viaventure to take us to Antigua. The weather was lovely, cool but not at all cold and though it was cloudy and we saw rain drops from time to time, it was just so great to be here that nothing was going to dampen our enthusiasm. Our driver, Ricardo, was great! We mostly spoke Spanish (although his English was perfect) and we had an enjoyable ride getting to know each other and learning all kinds of interesting things about Guatemala during the 45 minute ride. At one point, as we were coming down out of the mountains, the road was very steep and curvy. My husband was a white as a sheet and Ricardo was deftly driving at what seemed to be a pretty high speed. Poor Gerry! He thought we were on a two way road - and since we were hurtling down the mountain in the left-hand lane - he was sure that his life was about to end! I was oblivious because I knew we were on a four lane highway and the lanes going in the opposite direction were just obscured behind the trees! We arrived here in Antigua at about 2:30 in the afternoon (two hour time change from Puerto Rico) - and checked into the hotel, tired and ready for a nap. But you know how hard it is to stay in a hotel room when a new place beckons right outside the door - so in less than 10 minutes we were up and on our way to the bank to change money and get an initial look-see. Our hotel, La Aurora, is just 2 blocks from the Parque Central (Central Park or main square) - making us extremely well located for getting around the city. We took a two hour stroll around the area - going up to La Merced Church and past the hotel where Jill F. and I stayed two years ago. We walked under the Santa Catalina arch and visited a couple of craft stores - getting an idea of what is available and what the prices are (I am waiting to shop until we get to Chichicastenango). The weather is cloudy and again there were rain drops intermittently so we could get only the barest suggestion of the volcanoes. We did then go back to the hotel and finally get in a nap. About 7:00 we were out again and on our way to dinner. We decided to go to La Posada de Don Rodrigo - a restaurant in a tourist hotel, and touristy or not, the food was good. There was a group playing the marimba during dinner and a dance performance. It was a lovely evening and all our fellow dinners were cheerful and relaxed, too. The service was excellent! We tried some new things - Cerveza Gallo - the local favorite, and a michelada (beer and something akin to a Bloody Mary mix) which was quite good and refreshing. Our steak and sausages were served with rice, black beans (pureed), white cheese and tortillas. I also got amarillos (fried ripe plantains). A very good meal. We were asleep by 9:30pm.

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