A small bus picked us up at the pier where the cruise ship had docked, obviously
an industrial port. There were a number of tent shelters housing purveyors of all things
Guatemalan that a tourist might need. The entire makeshift market consisted of perhaps a
dozen of these shelters with people wearing their traditional garb and best smiles in hopes
of selling some souvenirs.
We travelled through Puerto Quetzal, a city that appeared to be balanced between
industrial and impoverished, and within half an hour we were driving through what might
have been the most beautiful scenery I have ever experienced—sugar cane fields on both
sides of the road, and on the left a mountain rising up into the clouds and reappearing
above them. It was belching just the right amount of smoke to make you aware that it was
a volcano and obviously active—but far enough away that you did not feel threatened.
We had an hour and a half drive to the coffee plantation with no time to stop and
capture a picture of what I am sure is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen. I
hesitate to give it the # One spot just because I hate to give it an absolute, but I cannot
think of a place anywhere on earth that would beat it.
The road was bad but soon it got worse as we drove through what had been a
village just last year. Since then, the volcano had erupted and people did not have time to
evacuate; excavation was still going on, made more difficult by the fact it had rained
during the flood of lava so it was extremely bad. The road we passed through had become
a highway—but was also a burial place. The mountain was still as attractive but
somehow it had gained more respect from passengers on the bus.
We passed a number of crosses beside the road; we could not determine if they
were there to commemorate people lost in the flood of lava or those who had died earlier
in fatal accidents. It did not really matter; each one marked the loss of a human life and
there were numerous crosses.
The scene outside the bus window kept changing. Next up a field of sugar cane
was being burned before being loaded to the truck and taken to the plant for processing.
(Burning the fields removes the stalks and leaves, making it easier to process the cane. In
some countries the practice has been abandoned because of environmental effects i.e.
releasing thousands of tons of hazardous pollutants.) Guatemala is not wealthy enough to
make those kinds of decisions. My travel has shown me that environmental concerns and
animals rights are something that come with wealth, people who are worried about
getting enough to eat every day are not as concerned about those issues. That is not a
judgment, just an observation from my travels.
Our destination was a coffee plantation and the hour and half journey was worth
every minute of it, not only for the constantly changing view out the bus window, which
could have benefited from some commentary, but the coffee plantation showed us
another aspect of the industry.
The equipment in the Dalton Bros museum was the most modern equipment they
could afford; more modern than what was being used in the plant we had visited in
Mexico. They were not selling their product under the marketing label of ‘traditional
grown and processed’.
I am sure that I am not the only one guilty of thinking that having seen one or two
coffee plantations there is nothing left to learn. For some reason, though I am well past
the point of understanding the brewing process, I keep visiting breweries. I have seen
coffee produced in Nepal, Mexico and now Guatemala, and it is different each time.
There is still something to learn about the process and what goes into that morning cup in
a much-favoured brand that we have come to take for granted.
Coffee is the 8 th most traded commodity in the world, nosing out soybeans and
cocoa that place 9 and 10. It is the highest rating for an agricultural product, and trade in
the US alone topped $18 billion US in 2020.
Our tour guide explained that 60% of the firm’s revenue came from the sale of
coffee and the remaining 40% from tourism. To say they did a good job on selling the
coffee experience would be an understatement. There is a bag from the Dalton Company
that covers a chair in my office today.
Dalton Bros uses the most modern technology; electronic eye sorters selected the
beans for their premium coffee line, which goes to Japan. The company sells 40% of its
production into Japan, and as is so often the case, the lowest quality product finds its way
into the local domestic market.
A late lunch and we headed back into town, again no time to stop for a picture on
the scenic drive. We did have time to stop at a church in Antigua where our guide pointed
out the carvings adorning much of the church. Where traditionally there would have been
grapes there were pineapples; the Mayans doing the carving had no knowledge of grapes
and had substituted them with a fruit they were familiar with.
Another story based on misunderstanding but not quite as humorous said that the
Catholic priest who arrived with the early settlers misunderstood the gesture of the
Mayan cross as being related to the Catholic sign of the cross and so judged the Mayans
as human. They had some respect for god therefore they must have a spirit and so were
spared. In reality the gesture made by the Mayans was to the four directions of the
compass, but it did save their lives and made them worthy to carve pineapples for the
Our guide warned us of the aggressive nature of the women in the market place,
and that may have been the understatement of the day.
They offered lovely hand woven fabrics but there is a limit to how many shawls
and tablecloths one needs, especially when travelling on a cruise boat. I already had my
souvenir coffee bag.