Hilary hugged me tightly as we passed Volcano Pacaya. The air was starting to warm on our shoulders and the morning clouds had cleared. We weaved around each country curve, descending rapidly, and Hilary snapped photos of Antigua’s beauty. We passed one more curve and met a clearing in the trees. Towering over us, Volcano Pacaya was gently pushing billows of ash into the air. Hilary got the picture and put her arms firmly back around me.
We weren’t exactly sure where we were going. I had tried my best to memorize a Google Map, but on Guatemala roads, the Internet can only tell you so much. “Take the highway straight through Antigua, follow the big curve around Escuintla. Left by the ocean on the big roundabout and weave your way to the bridge.” That was the extent of our directions to Monterrico, a black sand beach about 4 hours away from our home. Sure enough, we made it without consulting another map, but I did stop once to ask a stoic military patrol if we were on the right highway. The sun was intense and the change in climate took us by surprise, as we found ourselves sweating for the first time in weeks. We pulled into Monterrico at 2 in the afternoon and I barely kept the motorcycle upright as it struggled to maneuver on the sandy roads.
Fatefully, we took the Goldilocks approach to finding a Hotel. Without having made a reservation, we stopped at the most recommended spot in town, but it was too expensive and fully booked for part of our trip. The second joint was a budget deal, probably because it was sketchy and run-down, and I wasn’t planning on putting my wife in Hotel Skeezehole during our vacation to paradise. The third hotel, hotel El Delfin, was just right. The owners were nice, the rooms were comfortable, and there were enough hammocks to serve an army of beach bums, the army in which we had just enlisted. We unstrapped our bags from the motorcycle and settled into our home for the next 4 nights- a relaxed beachside haven on the edge of Guatemala that faced the vast expanse of the Pacific tide.
Our first night was the only regrettable experience. We hadn’t realized how hot it would be, so we laid next to each other until 2 in the morning, covered in sweat, praying for the slightest breeze. I eventually moved to the twin bed that sat in the other corner of the room, which sat more directly under our ceiling fan and put further space between me and Hilary’s furnace of a body. The next day the hotel was nice enough to give us an oscillating fan, which fixed our heat problem and kept us from dreading the night.
We spent the days hammocking and reading, sunbathing, and fighting the waves. Each night, the local nature reserve lets visitors free a sea turtle into the ocean, so we signed up and watched our little fighter make her way towards the sea, finally being swallowed by a giant wave and lifted off to her life as an eternal drifter. I still think about her, we named her La Gringa, and I hope that she’s surviving well in the vast expanse of her home.
The most important part of the trip for me was the community of travelers we found in Monterrico. From Sweden, America, India, and Australia, we found spirited travellers like ourselves to share the beauty of paradise and swap stories of time abroad. We shared views on politics, our favorite spots in France, and the best books to read on the road. Although we have family in Chimaltenango, for the first time, we connected with friends on the beach. I am grateful to have found such an interesting and passionate group of people.
The sun rose on December 23rd and we checked out on time to be home for the holidays. The whole way home, we ignored the roar of the motorcycle and daydreamed of our days spent floating in hammocks with a Cuba Libre on the table. We passed Pacaya again, who was now guarding her billows, and climbed back up the mountain as the cold reentered our bones. We are now like the turtles of Monterrico. We will venture out and we will return, but we will forever dream of the ocean.