Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Wonderful Weekend in Monterrico

My older sister came to visit me in Panajachel this past week and we decided that we would do a weekend trip to the beach at Monterrico. The planning was a nightmare but in the end, it all worked out so well and we had a blast!
We were joined by Cheryl, our new friend from San Pedro, who had previously joined us on our adventure to Iximché.

Originally we had planned for a private shuttle with 6 to 8 people. We were quoted a price of Q2,200 total round trip. Unfortunately, life got in the way for many folks and it came down to just 3 of us. So we booked a variety of shared shuttles for our trip.

Price of a shared shuttle from Panajachel to Monterrico (brief stop in Antigua to change shuttles) = Q175 per person one way

We stayed at the lovely Hotel El Delfin, located right on the beach in Monterrico. We shared a room that had 2 full beds and air conditioning, with private bathroom and shower.

Hotel El Delfin, 1 private room, 3 people, A/C = Q750 total for 2 nights

I always do reviews on TripAdvisor, so pop over there and check out ratings and comments about the hotel. I never go anywhere without checking TripAdvisor first!

Ahhh, this is the life! The beach at El Delfin, Monterrico, Guatemala
At the hotel, we were given a wristband and all food and drinks were charged to our room. You didn't have to pay until checkout. A risky practice! You could easily rack up a huge bill and have a great time, only to realize you didn't have enough money to pay for it in the end. Some poor girls from Quebec discovered as they were checking out that their credit cards didn't work. They figured out a solution but that's a huge hunk of stress. Even if your bank says your card will work in Guatemala, it's not always guaranteed.

My brain is a bit befuddled and I'm not sure where to start so I think I will just upload the pictures and describe our adventures. Scroll down to the end if you want to know how I got from Monterrico back to Panajachel.

Reaching for the Pacific Ocean!
Black sand beach. Super hot on the feet! If you wanted to go in the ocean, you had to run between the shade and the water super quickly so your feet didn't scorch! 
The sound of the waves crashing was constant throughout the weekend. It was actually kinda soothing. There was always a nice breeze coming in, which helped to cool us off and dry our sweat!

Mmm drinks. Mojito on the left, two frozen margaritas on the right.
View of the hotel bar and lounging area from the beach. This is where we spent most of our time.
My sister and my friend checking out the ocean. It was steamy hot! My camera fogged up.
The pool. So wonderfully cool.
This was the property next door.
It seemed to me that about 50% of the properties along the beach were destroyed and/or closed. It was most noticeable at night when you could see little pockets of light and music and action in between pools of darkness. I guess a bad hurricane hit a few years ago and some properties didn't recover.
Horses for riding along the beach!
We found this board in the hotel AFTER we had booked our tours. 😕
We booked a mangrove tour for Q125 each. The board says Q75 to Q100. My sister and friend also did horseback riding for Q150 each. Board says Q100. Lesson learned. Either check for posted prices or negotiate!

Drink specials at the bar.
Bulletins near the reception. Beach cleanup was a nice touch.
There were tons of adorable dogs hanging around the hotels. They seemed happy and well-fed for the most part.
My footprints in the black sand at sunset.
The beach is soooooo long! Great sunsets every night. The black sand cools down and you can stroll along for miles.
There were mosquitos at night, so bring bug spray. The hotel put out these repellent coils all around the beach bar. There was also a mosquito net over the bed.
The rooms at El Delfin were simple but nice. We were only in them to sleep. The rest of our time was on the beach or out adventuring!
As I mentioned above, we booked a 5am boat tour of the mangrove swamp. We had to walk a bit across town to get to the boats. One lady in our group refused to get in the boat. I think she felt it was unsafe. She and her husband walked off. There were then I think 8 of us in the boat. It was flat-bottomed and pretty stable. No life jackets. The water is shallow in the swamp but still deep enough that you would have to be able to swim if the boat tipped. I couldn't imagine that it would though. The ride was slow and peaceful and our boat guide was good at his job.

Our boat guide, Erick, arriving with our canoe for the mangrove tour. 5am. UGH, so sleepy.
The mangrove tour was fun! Nothing too thrilling but tranquil and lots of scenery and birds.
Sunrise over the swamp.
Lots of Great Egrets all over the mangrove swamp. We got to watch them catch fish for breakfast.

Our guide had "bien ojos" -- good eyes. He spotted this wee crab up in a tree and pointed him out with his pole.
There are families who live in the swamp part-time. They sell fish at the market. Sometimes they have to move away because the waters rise up and flood their homes.
There is a car ferry that takes people from Monterrico to the highway that leads to Taxisco. I guess it's a long drive around. 
The official name of the Mangrove park is Biotopo Monterrico-Hawaii. There is a visitor's center somewhere but we didn't go. The river is called Canal de Chiquimulilla. Sometimes it is fresh water and sometimes salt, depending on the season. Our guide spoke mostly in Spanish but did have some English to explain things if we asked. I was translating as best I could for my sister and friend. I would recommend a tour of the mangroves for sure as it was very nice. There are not a lot of activities in Monterrico so it was nice to get out of the hotel and see stuff.

After the mangrove tour, we strolled back to the hotel for breakfast and relaxing. Monterrico is a small town. The main street is paved and has sidewalks and gardens and lots of shops. It was quite nice. The side roads are all black sand. I will say it again: it is SO HOT there! Do your activities in the morning or late afternoon, and save the midday for relaxing in the shade or in the pool.
My sister posing with the biggest inflatable unicorn I had ever seen!
My sister heading to the ocean for a splash.
Happy sleepy beach doggie.
Happy sleepy hotel kitty.
The road that runs along the beach behind the hotels.
I saw a lot of empty lots and abandoned buildings. Anyone wanna open a beach resort?? 😀
Free beautiful sunset included with every day!
This sad little girl wasn't really feeling like selling her wares.
The little girl and her mom walking thru the hotel.
I think the owner or manager of the hotel had a soft spot for the family selling the seashell items. He said they were not from Monterrico and that there were 7 children in the family. They sat in the shade of a palm tree at the ruined building next door and took turns carrying the baskets to sell their seashell crafts. The hotel allowed them to come and get water from the bar. I didn't have money the first few times they came by, so I made sure to get my purse on the last day so I could buy something from them.
It's an armadillo! So cute and will forever remind me of the fun times at Monterrico.
The stinky fruit! There was a tree growing at the side of the pool that was dropping rotten fruit. They REEKED so bad! I think it is a type of anonna. (Custard apple or soursop or something.)

There were ATV rentals but I think this fancy one was privately-owned. Also... doggies! :D
In the picture above, you can see the slack line just in front of the dune buggy. It was very popular with the younger crowd. Everyone had to try to walk it! If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out this short video on slacklining.
One of the big draws of Monterrico is turtles. They are only around in the winter though, so we missed them.
A great reason to plan a trip back!
The big archway above is the main public beach access. Right beyond it on the sand are ladies selling street food like 3xQ10 tacos, fried chicken, smoothies, etc. If you're trying to save money and want to try authentic Guatemalan food, walk down the beach a bit and eat there. The tacos were delish!

I've put several short videos up on YouTube. I took so many videos of the ocean, my camera ran out of batteries! The video below is of our tour thru the mangroves.

The three of us were all going separate ways at the end of this trip. We all shared a shuttle from Monterrico to Antigua on Sunday at 4pm, price of Q100. We had booked it beforehand with a tour agency. The board at the hotel said their shuttle price was Q70, so you may be able to save a few Q by booking with them instead.

We spend a nice night and half-day in Antigua, and then my sister took a shared shuttle to the airport, Cheryl took a different shuttle to San Pedro, and I got on a chicken bus to get to Panajachel.

Getting from Antigua to Panajachel by chicken bus:
From Antigua, the chicken bus went to Chimaltenango for Q5. It was about an hour. I was supposed to get off at the highway ramp, but I missed it and ended up down the street. I just asked which way for the bus to Los Encuentros and the bus driver pointed me up the road and said it was four blocks. Easy peasy.
From Chimal, I got a bus that was going right to Sololá for Q25. That was two hours, maybe a bit more. From there, the regular chicken bus for Q3 down to Pana. I'm getting rather experienced with this form of transportation!
"What are we doing today, Brain?"
"Same thing we do every day, Pinky. Try to pay the bills." 
Thanks for reading. I hope it was enjoyable and informative! Post any questions below and I'll try to answer as soon as I can.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Another Viewpoint of Living in Guatemala

I am lucky to be friends with a great woman named Iva who is moved here to Panajachel, Guatemala, from Canada almost exactly six months after I did. She is adventurous, optimistic, generous, inspiring, empathetic, and an amazing person to know.
She works online helping others to achieve an authentic and happy life. Her website is called Amazing Me Movement. She also writes for various online publications and recently penned an honest and hilarious review of her life in Guatemala so far.
Please hop over to Medium and read it! ⇨ Living in a Third World Country

Monday, May 21, 2018

Tapachula Torture

As a guest in lovely Guatemala, I only get a 90-day pass to stay here. After that, I have to go on what's called a visa run. That entails leaving Guatemala for 72 hours and then re-entering and getting another 90-day tourist stamp in my passport.

If you've been reading my blog, you will know that have done this over and over and over again. I think I am one of the few expats who actually does visa runs, rather than sending their passport with a service. (Illegal but cheap and easy.)

I also think that 90 days is just enough time for me to forget how AWFUL visa runs can be. I was actually excited when I got on the chicken bus in Pana this past Friday morning. Eight hours later...not so freaking happy.

I do visa runs to Tapachula, Mexico. It is the closest border point. I am also poor, so I do the run by chicken buses, rather than a nice comfy shuttle with a gaggle of other white people.

Let me tell ya, chicken buses can be hellish.
The devil on four wheels.
After a day of riding chicken buses, I am physically sore. There are bruises on my knees from banging against the seat in front of me. My stomach muscles ache from holding myself upright. My arms and hands are stiff from gripping the chrome railing to try to keep from sliding. My head pounds from the diesel fumes and blaring music.

Why do I do it? Price, really. To go from Panajachel to Tapachula by chicken buses and colectivos costs only Q55 plus 20 pesos. A shuttle, if I could find one, costs Q300. (These are one-way prices.) The other option is to go to San Cris, which is even further and costs even more. So I suffer for a day to Mexico and a day back to get 90 days of freedom in Guatemala.

The other reason I do visa runs is because of the cheap medications in Mexico. I've mentioned this before but I must stress that buying prescription meds in Mexico is up to 10 times cheaper than in Guatemala, depending on the drug. I buy generic meds from Farmacias Similares, and I get a 3-month supply to last me until my next visa run.
I know where all the Simi's are near the central park in Tapachula. There are five of them within walking distance.
Another reason to go to Mexico... even with the pain and anguish of the chicken buses, it's actually kinda fun to get away. I eat a lot of junk food, do a lot of shopping, sleep in a quiet hotel room, and enjoy just walking around seeing the sights.

Of course, you've got to plan your day. It's as hot at 9am in Tapachula as it is at high noon in Pana. So you've got get out and do your walking before the sun gets too high. Plus, there are usually rain showers mid-afternoon, so get back to the hotel room before then for a little rest, and then out again at sunset when the rains clears to find a nice place for dinner.
The fountains in the main square were turned on in the morning. So pretty.
I'm not a big fan of shoes but I am a big fan of air-conditioned stores. 😁
There is a huge market up at the north part of Tapachula, near the Chedraui. I got lost and wandered in circles quite happily there for some time.
Tiny super-hot peppers.
When it gets too hot, I head for the huge Chedraui store for some cool shopping.
Chedraui has a huge liquor section. A lot of the bottles had these weird security things on top of them. I was wondering if they would spit ink on you if you tried to take them off. I didn't test my theory. :) 

After almost getting arrested for shoplifting at Chedraui thanks to a tiny metal tab in a package of SuperGlue, I headed back out into the hot sun to stroll back to my hotel. I got a bit lost but asked directions from an old lady, and then confirmed those directions at the next block with a cop, and made it home just before the rains started.

There are sooooo many taxis in Tapachula. 
One of my favourite things about going to Mexico is to eat yummy foods. I didn't have a lot of money to spend this time, so I focused on the most bang for my buck, which included weird snacks, special coffees, Chinese food, and sweets!

Reese's peanut butter coffee? Yes, please! Unfortunately, they were out! Awwww. Next time, I guess.
There are a bunch of Chinese food places scattered around the central square. They all sell 1 item plus rice for Q45 or 2 items for Q55. A very large helping and nice to have some veggies.
One of my snacks while walking. I think it cost 5 pesos. It's corn nibs, not really sweet, but juicy and crunchy. There was hot water in the bottom of the bag that kept it warm. The lady offered me lime and chili for it but I declined. What it really needed was butter and salt!
A Mexican party in a bag! Spicy nuts and beans. 
I nearly squealed out loud when I found these! I ate them all while relaxing in my hotel room as it poured rain outside. Such a flashback to childhood!
My return trip from Tapachula to Panajachel was slightly less irritating and painful than the way there. It is such a wonderful feeling coming down the big hill from Solola to Pana and seeing Lake Atitlan and the volcanoes below! I smile every time and think, "I'm home." 😊