Sunday, March 15, 2015

Flying Downhill 13th-15th March

March 13th
In the morning we can really see why this town is so loved. The ancient churches against a backdrop of gigantic volcanos make for some spectacular scenery. We spend a good part of the morning visiting the maze-like, colorful marketplace and mailing thank-you postcards to all our friends in Mexico. I hope they all make it there despite the sluggish and rather incompetent mail services in these countries.
Today since we're starting at 5,029ft and heading to the coast, our road is basically all downhill. It's awesome except for the fact that there are a number of unmarked speed bumps and extremely narrow bridges. We wind our way down between the two enormous volcanos, at one point passing what appears to be the remnants of a previous lava flow.
Big and beautiful volcano!

It's not long before our road turns into a dusty highway that will take us out the the coast. Early afternoon, dripping in sweat, we stop at Dominos for ice cream and lunch. We end up talking to the friendly security guard for a while (yes there is a guy with a shotgun guarding Domino's pizza) and someone gives us free cinnamon sticks. Nice!
In the late afternoon we ride along a quiet road by the coast. All the people we see are very friendly and wave as we pass by. One lady selling fruits by the road side gives us several for free when she learns we've never eaten them before. They look sort of like peppers, but are  extremely watery and rather tasteless. We appreciate the gesture nonetheless and share our cinnamon sticks with her and her kids.
After arriving in Monterrico we go in search of a place to camp on the beach. Without too much effort we find a spot by a restaurant for a small amount of money. The sand is black (volcanic) and the undertow of the ocean waves so vicious even I don't want to go in the ocean. Luckily after we eat dinner there's a huge thunderstorm and we run out in the glorious rain to cool down. Did I mention that it's hot here? It's just so hot.
A delicious licuado (strawberries, milk and ice) that helped quell the heat.

March 14th
Neither of us sleep well due to the heat and a drunken party behind our tent. In the morning we take our bikes to the Tortugario, a center for the protection of the animals who live in the mangroves here. We are sad to see that it is overgrown and filled with mosquitos, the water in the enclosures so murky that you can barely see the creatures inside. Since we can't find anywhere that rents kayaks we hire a guide to take us out into the mangrove forests.
Our guide is named Sergio and the boat he takes us out on is a simple wooden barge, moved with a long pole. It's quiet and perfect for viewing birds. 
In the mangroves.

We see about 25 species, including several new ones. Sergio tries to educate us about birds but we already know more than him. We still appreciate his effort. We are impressed by how much of these mangrove forests are conserved until he takes us out to see where iguanas lay their eggs and we walk into a huge field of just harvested corn.
Us: "we thought this area was conserved?!"
Sergio: "well you can still grow corn, of course"
That's Guatemalan conservation for you.

In the afternoon we learn about another aspect of Guatemalan culture. Monterrico happens to be a hot spot for people from the city to visit on weekends. Basically the rich people in Guatemala all come here to get drunk. This means prices for hotels go sky high, but luckily we're able to find a reasonable rate for a room and a pool! The pool provides a much needed refuge from the heat.
A few things we notice about the Guatemalan elite:
1) They are mostly overweight. I don't see a single person at our hotel, except for young kids, who is not noticeably overweight. Perhaps this is a symbol of status?
2) A lot of them are extremely rude. They honk impatiently and then barely look at the guy who opens the gate, or they are served food and don't even look at the waitress, never mind say thank you. It seems that there is a big gap between the social classes here, and the people with more money like to make that clear.
3) All things American seem to be good. One guy tells us he was raised in the US, although based on his English I would say that his story is highly unlikely. Another guy sports American flag swim shorts with matching towel.
Of course these are huge generalizations and I in no way mean to imply that every rich person in Guatemala is like this. This is simply what we noticed from the people we saw or met.

March 15th
We wake up early and take a small motorboat through the mangroves to La Avellana. There is no road here, so boat is the only option. It's kind of nice to begin our morning in this way.
Bikes in the boat

In La Avellana we are greeted by a bunch of surly men on the dock. It's Sunday, so I'm pretty sure some of them are already drunk. We bike out quickly. The pavement on our road is in horrible disrepair but there is next to no traffic and the people we pass are friendly. It's quite a nice ride. Around 11 it starts to get unbearably hot. When we can't take the heat anymore we stop for lunch at a small place blasting cheerful music. Not long after lunch we reach the border town and find a small hotel for the night. Heading into El Salvador tomorrow!

Our current location
We're going to spend the next few days following highway 2 along the El Salvador coast.

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