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.....