Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ticket to Paradise

It came down to Monterrico with its famed black sand beach or Tikal with the largest archeological site in the Americas.  So I had to choose between soaking in the rays and assorted bebidas or unearthing the mysteries of the Maya.  Ever the student I opted for the beach.
The alleged 2-1/2 hour trip to Monterrico was just shy of 3-1/2.  That’s what happens when you live on Guatemalan time.  After a slight climb out of Antigua we descended from about 6,000 feet to sea level and saw the mountains fade in the distance as the countryside became farmland then jungle. The cool Antigua breezes changed to hot, humid and still at the coast.

The web and my Moon guide identified Pez de Oro as the best hotel choice in Monterrico. Situated right on the pencil lead beach Pez de Oro was built palapa style and decorated in a colorful style much like that of Mexico. There was no hot water, a condition shared by all Monterrico hotels, but hey, the surroundings were tropical and the nearly deserted beach called my name.
I figure Monterrico to be around 2,000 people with a main drag of small stores and restaurants leading to the beach. Most of the hotels line the beach while others are slightly inland. The town was quiet during my two day visit. What action there was happened at Johnnie’s Place which served Ceviche Peruano which was simply incredible.  The dish, photo included, was succulent chunks of sweet white fish “cooked” in citrus with onions, sliced chiles, kernel corn, pieces of what seemed to be a squash of some kind, avocado and cilantro. It was so good I had it twice. My Monterrico scorecard shows three ceviches, two filetes de pescado. That means that every non-breakfast was seafood just the way I planned it.

At dark o’clock, that’s 5am amigos, Saturday I took a launch into the mangrove and reed lagoon behind Monterrico with my personal boatman, Eleazar. We slipped beneath a leafy canopy in Apocalypse Now darkness and watched the sun rise over a flotilla of water lilies and sea grasses that are home to 350 species of birds. Egrets darted across the lightening sky as Eleazar poled our flat bottomed lancha through the placid waters. From time to time we stood still in a mood Guatemaltecas would call muy tranquilo.

After yogurt, fruit and granola at Johnnie’s and a brief nap, I decided to take a barefoot run down the beach toward Hawaii. Hawaii was the next village south and I’ve got signs to prove it.  That black sand, arena negra, needed a warning sign.  I limped back to the hotel with blisters the size of quarters.  Running along the water line where the surf cooled the sand was a total blast but the last 50 yards across the embers to the hotel was absolute agony.  My feet haven’t hurt like that since I ran from lawn to lawn to the public pool during the summer in Phoenix.  I don’t think my pain receptors know the difference between rare and well done so I repaired to the local farmacia for anti-biotic cream, gauze and tape. Happily, by Tuesday I could run with little discomfort.

But for the poverty Guatemala could be paradise.  The cost of living is among the lowest in the western hemisphere, the produce is outstanding, the coffee sublime and the temperatures blissfully mild.  A beachfront house in Monterrico lists for under $200,000.  Alas, poverty and crime are realities so there’s a semi-automatic in the hands of a rent-a-cop in every other doorway.  But still.....


Jim Rogers Photography said...

Aside from rent-a-cops packing heat, no hot water, blistered feet and rampant crime, it sounded like you were describing The Garden of Eden. Now I'm looking to find a "South of the Border" seafood place here in Dallas after seeing your photos. Great shots in a setting that had to be a photo-op at every turn. Even though it's hovering at 32 degrees this morning here in Dallas, I'm digging bermuda shorts out of the closet, along with a ragged t-shirt and I refuse to wear shoes for the rest of this November day in your honor, Steve. Great post!!!!

Steve Immel said...

Yeah, I don't give up my shorts till January either. And it actually was the Garden of Eden in many regards. Here it was a high of 20 something with 6" of fresh on the ground. Shoes? We don't need no stinking shoes. Thanks Jim.

Daryl A. Black said...

Polartec is the garment of choice in this solar house after four days of overcast. This afternoon, after the sun has baked the adobe walls for a few hours, we can return to t-shirts and shorts.

The 5 a.m. venture into the mangrove swamps was worth every penny. The shots of Eleazar, the sea grasses, and water lillies are stunning, plus the delicate colors of dawn around the boat melt the soul.

Of course, your writing "It came down to Monterrico with its famed black sand beach or Tikal with the largest archeological site in the Americas. So I had to choose between soaking in the rays and assorted bebidas or unearthing the mysteries of the Maya. Ever the student I opted for the beach." will have us roaring for the remainder of the day. Thanks for a stellar blog.

Steve Immel said...

Thanks Daryl. Worldly pleasures once again win the day.