Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Our last three days have been spent relaxing in the little beach town of Monterrico. Both of our guidebooks agreed, Monterrico is the place in Guatemala if you are in need of relaxation and some time on the beach.

After the shuttle from Antigua dropped us off, we trudged down a sandy beach path in search of our hotel, El Mangle. Our heavy suitcases, combined with the hot sun ensured this was not an easy task. Luckily, for a few Quetzales (the Guatemalan currency) we were able to procure the assistance of one of the locals.

When we arrived at El Mangle, we were told it would be a three hour wait for our room. We decided to spend the delay lying by the pool and grabbing some lunch at what would soon become our favorite restaurant, Las Brisas. When we returned to El Mangle, we were quoted a room rate that was much higher than we agreed to previously on the phone. Dissatisfied by the smelly room and the high price we decided to return to the hotel attached to Las Brisas for a sunnier, cleaner room at a better price.

CECON, a local turtle preservation group was hosting a baby turtle race in order to raise awareness and money. We decided against sponsoring a turtle in the race since our guidebooks mentioned that these races might actually be detrimental to the turtles’ survival. We were surprised at how dark the little turtles were – they were completely black!

After the race, we grudgingly returned to El Mangle to get some pizza cooked over a wood fire. We had seen a man preparing the pizza dough from scratch while working out the room problem and we couldn’t resist sampling it! Luckily, this is one aspect of El Mangle that didn’t disappoint.

The next morning at 5am we met Sender, a local guide, for a tour of the real Monterrico Mangle (Mangrove in English) by boat. The early start time maximized our chances of seeing a variety of fish and birds and also allowed us to catch the sunrise over the swamp.

Mangrove shoots are harvested by hand and used to make roofs for people who want a fancy alternative to the palm-thatched hut. Mangrove roofs are expected to last up to 25 years.

We also saw a bunch of “mud-skipper” fish, that the locals call “cuatros ojos” (four eyes), jumping along the water’s surface. They looked a lot like snakes, however they were much too speedy to be caught on film.

Our boat ride lasted two hours, allowing for ample siesta and beach time for the rest of the day. The beach at Monterrico has beautiful smooth black sand. The only drawback is the vicious riptide that makes swimming too dangerous for many. Luckily our guide, Sender, met up with us and went for a swim with me while Eva looked on. I use the term “swim” loosely as it was more a vigorous exercise in wave dodging and being thrashed about in the sandy waters. It was exhilarating all the same and the water temperature was perfect.

We also checked out the turtle hatchery museum but were discouraged by the dirty, small appearance and the 40 Quetzal ($5) price tag, especially compared to the $1.25 price for locals. Our guidebook did tell us that the hatchery has an unwritten deal with local poachers - they don’t turn in the poachers as long as the poachers donate 12 turtle egg nests for every one they sell.

One night we caught the sunset over the beach and were quite amused by the creatures that come out at night at Johnny’s, a local bar:

This character is actually from Chicago, and he claimed to be a writer who has a play that is in production in London starring Joan Rivers. Seriously!?

I also tried one of the local dishes, ceviche. Ceviche is marinated in a citrus-based mixture, usually with lemons and limes. In addition to adding flavor, the citric acid causes the proteins in the seafood to become denatured which pickles or "cooks" the fish without heat. It was interesting and delicious, a little like pico de gallo.

All-in-all, Monterrico was just as beautiful as we had hoped and we really enjoyed our time there. Now we are back in Antigua for two days, a change in plans due to missing out on our first opportunity to climb the volcano Pacaya (more on that later). After that it’s off to Lake Atitlán for the last leg of our journey.

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