Early to rise Pilgrims had a scrumptious breakfast with a large number of other tourists in this ‘soft tourist’ destination. We walked the few steps to the markets and spent two hours weaving our way from one stall to another – what a magical tapestry of colours and smells! The crowds of early morning locals were clearly of Mayan descent and the tallest reached only to our shoulders. All Pilgrims, no matter how far scattered among the stalls, found their way to the Church which rose above the market-place. The strong smell of incense and the sound of bells were irresistible and some Pilgrims joined the Sunday service with the locals – but no-one lasted the three hour Mass.
Heavily laden with Mayan souvenirs, all Pilgrims made it back to the hotel by 10.00am ready for a visit to our first Guatemalan school. We boarded the coach and attempted to navigate the narrow cobbled streets but gave up at the first corner and made our way by foot for the 15 minute walk to Escuala Marista. This school was built in 2001 and caters for boarding and day students from ages 16 to 21 years. The school offers students internships and qualifies them for both high school and technical school completion. We met several boarders who were washing their clothes and laying them out to dry on the grass (the clothes lines were full!). We were shown their sewing room and automotive workshop as well as Assembly Hall and Library. Our hosts indicated that two upstairs classrooms were used as computer laboratories and our tour concluded with a question and answer session in the Library.
Lunch was hosted by the Brothers at their residence over the road and made our way back to the hotel by ‘tuk-tuk’. A tuk-tuk is a three-wheeled taxi which resembled a motor bike with roof and can hold two passengers – a great adventure for western tourists.
All Pilgrims boarded the coach for the return journey to Guatemala City and we arrived home via the same winding slopes some 2½ hours later. The busy day was rounded off with a visit to the Retreat’s neighbouring Church. We joined an enormous number of Parishioners for the service which boasted a loud and joyful band with choir and a homily that lasted 35 minutes. One to remember although we had very little idea of what was said given that it was all in Spanish.