Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas – Go, Go, Go

It seems Christmas day is no big deal here in Antigua; the exception is the firecrackers are still going off, making every one jumpy when taken by surprise. Our shuttle was due at 12:30 to 12:45, so we had time to walk downtown for breakfast. Everything was packed up and ready to go. We walked down to Café Bourbon which we had picked out yesterday as a place to try and asked ahead of time if they would be open Christmas day.

With cool jazz playing in the background, the graphics decorating the wall was a mosaic of jazz artists, which led me to rethink that this place was named for the liquor. My next best guess is that it is named for Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Typical of our meals here, it is so very inexpensive. We each had a variety of a full breakfast with all the trimmings and both of us had specialty coffees, Ron added on orange juice. I chose a second café latte. When we asked for the bill, we thought we were undercharged. It was 100 Q. There was no sign of my second coffee or Ron’s juice. When I tried explaining to the waiter they short-changed themselves, they looked confused. We owe you more than this I insisted, “We had 3 coffees total and an orange juice.” After some contemplation, the waiter called a colleague to look over the bill and bring it back to us with an explanation. Two of our coffees were included in the meal as was Ron’s orange juice. Our two very substantial breakfasts were only 10 Euros total.

As we leisurely walked back to our hotel, we searched out fresh fruit for our trip, but it was not to be had.  We sat around reading and waiting. There was a young couple from Canada who was also leaving for Pana as we were, but they were not on the same shuttle. When ours came, we said good-bye and climbed into a van like a soccer mom would use to cart around kids. Being next to the last, the shuttle was full with every seat taken. Right next to me was a young father with his very young baby boy. It was gratifying to see how well he cared for the baby, including mixing formula while holding the baby in a nurturing manner. By the time, I poked my nose out of my novel, he was beyond needing my help. Our road trip was about 2 hours on some paved roads and highways, but others cobble stone.  

A first impression of Pana was that this was a gigantic strip mall of outdoor booths. Our hotel, Mario’s Rooms is very centrally located. On either side are booths, stores, restaurants, and more of each. From what we saw of the town, this is a major street, one-way traffic, and hundreds of businesses with hundreds of workers begging you to come to their place to spend money. We walked down to the lake, Lake Atitlán and walked the shore line where there are another fifty or so vendors trying their luck interspersed with establishments such as restaurants in secured buildings.

As we walked, we ran into the Canadian couple from our hotel in Antigua and chatted for a bit. They are on an 8 month holiday throughout Central and South America and then Tibet. We found a place for our dinner, where two chicken dinners complete with potatoes, vegetables, and bread cost 3 Euros each. The next most expensive dish was 4.50 Euros. Ron keeps telling me how spoiled we are getting.

Before dinner and on the way back to the hotel, we stopped at three different travel agencies to check on boat ride tickets to the Mayan villages. Around Lake Atitlán, there are ten Mayan village settlements where they supposedly practice the ancient Mayan customs. Each of the agencies had similar offers, but one had 4 villages for the same price as the others had for 3 villages. Choosing the 4 village ‘tour’ set us back 90 Q or 9 Euros for both of us.

 Back at the room, it was chilly, so we did pull out the blankets. Their electric outlets are very convenient. In both hotels thus far, we have found that the outlets will accommodate both US and European plugs without needing a convertor. Ingenious! We will have to see if that is available in Europe also.

One Christmasy side note: My one private student, Janos, generously gives me Christmas presents each year. This year, he overwhelmed me with a pile of them. I had wanted to take them with us and open them on Christmas morning. Ron and I don’t exchange presents; our travels are our presents to each other. With airline limits being what they are, I opened my presents right before we left, but held the memory for Christmas morning. Janos himself is my best present.
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