Cruise log – Santo Tomas, Guatemala.-
Suddenly, the topography of our voyage has changed, significantly. From the more obvious Caribbean look and vibe of the likes of Cozumel and Belize, we are now in the heart of Central America, a region of rainforest, mists and wildlife.
Our gorgeous travelling home has brought us to Guatemala today, sailing into the Bahia de Amatique, the small Caribbean seaboard of this substantial country. And the vista that greeted us at 7am as we made our final approach to the rather industrial port was one of deep, forested hills stretching into a mist-shrouded near distance.
This former Belgian colony is a study in Latin American mystique and geography, where the port needed to be rebuilt in 1976 after a major earthquake. Today, it is one of the busiest harbours on the Caribbean side of Central America, and it has a distinctly modern face to its 1840s European roots.
We had hummed and haahed about what to do here as there is a LOT of fascinating hinterland to explore, with a national archaeological park, a local village community, various rainforest tours and a trip to Las Escobas Springs all on the excursion menu.
We eventually settled on Las Escobas as the best way to experience as much of the region as possible in just a few hours, and we were so glad we did. Not for the first time, Silversea’s ground organisation was impressive, with the tour running like clockwork in comfortable, fully air-conditioned coaches.
The air-conditioning was important because, even at this more temperate time of the year, the jungles of Guatemala are a hot, humid place to be. The half-hour ride to Las Escobas passed with a steady trundle into the hills, quickly demonstrating that the modern façade has only a toe-hold on the overall body of the region, which remains rich in natural panoramas and landscapes, including Lake Izabal and Reserva Protectoral de Manatiales Cerro San Gil, our destination for the morning.
Our first stop en route was a distinctly rural encounter with a small village just inside the Cerro San Gil, a place so small it apparently didn’t have a name. But it did have Paradise House, or Caseta el Paraiso, the smallest of cafes that was busy making tortillas for a fairly busy weekend audience, and we were invited to try our hand at tortilla-shaping, which is definitely not as easy as it seems.
Then it was on to Las Escobas, which is basically a series of small waterfalls, springs and rock-pools set in the protected 117,000-acre rainforest, with various trails and paths through the jungle, that is populated by the most impressive variety of plants and lumber you can imagine, from magnificent mahogany to the towering Ceiba, the national tree of Guatemala that can soar to 200ft in height and reach 500 years in age. Some of the huge cohune palms put out fronds that are 30ft across and are just amazing to see, with a prehistoric feel that has you looking over your shoulder for stray dinosaurs.
The increasingly-threatened forest ecosystem is home to several species of monkeys, coatimundis, armadillos, bats, squirrels, butterflies, some 400 species of birds – including toucans and parrots – and even more of insects. With so many people on the trails today, we saw no sign of any significant animals, but did spy a squirrel, while the bird and butterfly life was plentiful. Our guide was a young man from the FUNDAECO non-government organisation dedicated to protecting the rainforest through education and his dedication was a tribute to the NGO.
We hiked the trail for more than a mile, enjoying numerous overlooks, bridges and waterfalls, all the while being grateful for the backpacks supplied for shore excursions by Silversea, which included bottled water, face wipes, a facial spray and towels. Once again, it highlighted the attention to detail the line puts in to just about everything, which paid big dividends today.
Back on board, we were grateful for the cool, calm interior of Silver Muse, and even longer, cooler shower We’ve toured the likes of Cartagena in Colombia and the Panama Canal in the past, and that cloying, inescapable humidity – on top of 35C temperatures – is a major force to be reckoned with!
Happily, we were soon back in the sway of our ultra-luxury cocoon, enjoying lunch at Spaccanapoli (an ideal day for pizza and a beer), more time in the Observation Library with a good book, and our essential Daily Trivia session in the Dolce Vita lounge, with much hilarity for all concerned.
After five successive different venues for dinner, we opted for a return to main restaurant Atlantide tonight, and a rather more modest repast than last night’s Italian blowout at La Terrazza. As good as the food has been (and it really has been a major highlight for us – as impressive as anything we’ve had at sea), sometimes you just need a cheese sandwich or beans on toast. Not that we had anything quite that prosaic – we eventually settled on lamb chops – but it was easier on our digestion, not to mention our waistlines, to keep things toned down a notch or two.
The evening entertainment was provided by the singing duo of Jade and Stephanie in the Venetian Lounge, performing some of the great musical and pop hits of a variety of stage divas. With all that under our belts, it was two extremely tired cruise writers who retired to their suite at 11pm, with nary a ripple from the sea to disturb our repose.
We will be ready for another day of discovery tomorrow, though, when we call in at Roatan Island, Honduras.