Friday, March 6, 2009

Monterrico, Guatemala

One beautiful place in Guatemala is Monterrico. Monterrico is on the Pacific coast about 30 miles north of the El Salvador border. Rivers from the highlands flow out and create a huge region of swampy mangroves. The town itself is a laid back vacation town. It's small and caters to visitors who are mostly from Europe and Canada. There are small hotels and bungalows for rent along the black sand beach.

One thing about Guatemala is that there is very little English spoken. You really need to have at least beginner's Spanish. Our cab driver took us to a place called Johnny's Place which seemed to be a haven for gringo tourists. Here is where we met Sender, above. Sender spoke perfect English! The reason? He had grown up in Los Angeles. He and his mom had crossed into the U.S. when he was 3. He lived there til about 18 and then returned to Guatemala. After starting a family he crossed back again to look for work. He had some interesting stories about coyotes - the illegal immigrant smugglers.

Anyway, one of the things you can do in Monterrico is go on a boat tour of the mangroves. We weren't going to do it for fear of mosquitoes, but because Sender spoke English and guaranteed there would be no mosquitoes, we went. Cost - $8 each. BTW, he was right - no mosquitoes during the middle of the day.

Sender guided us gondola style through the swamps. Dean just had to give it a try. Luckily he did not end up in the water. But he did find out just how hard it is to pilot the boat.

Here is a car ferry. Because of the swamps it can be a long way around to drive to the next town south on the coast. Many people opt for the water taxi and these ferries to get across.

This fisherman was fishing for shrimp, but wasn't really having much success.

The mangrove roots grown down from the above. In the dry season the water is primarily brackish. In the wet season all the fresh water from the rivers raises the level of the swamps up several feet and these roots would be under water.

If you read Lonely Planet it will tell you about the nature preserves to visit in Monterrico. Well, let's just say they aren't anything like what you are used to.

First you should know that any of the parks in the country will charge Q10 for locals and then Q40-50 for tourists. Then be aware that you will get no information in English. Everything is in Spanish. Now this makes sense for a Spanish speaking country, but if you are going to charge more money for foreigners the least you could do is provide a paper brochure with some basic information in English (the most universal of travel languages).

Here are some baby sea turtles. This southern area of the Pacific coast still has sea turtle breeding grounds. Hopefully they will survive. The locals eat the eggs and the government cannot enforce laws to stop them. So there seems to be some sort of agreement that they can take so many eggs as long as so many are also saved and given to preservation. The turtles come primarily during the wet season.

The preserve also had some displays of caimans (above) and different kinds of iguanas.

We also got to see some beach front property that was available. You can own property there. A small property, big enough for a small vacation home just a block or so off the main drag, was $60k. A property big enough for a small hotel or restaurant was $100k. If I had it, I would have bought the small property. It would cost about $20k to build a really nice house on it. After all, Guatemala will soon be discovered by other Americans and then it will escalate crazily just like Costa Rica did.

If you visit Monterrico and wish to engage Sender as a guide, he can be found at Johnny's Place or at
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