Sometimes in life, we make a wrong turn. Other times, we follow a map for 4 hours in the wrong direction.
Yesterday afternoon, Juan, Joaquin and I decided to jump in the car and go exploring. I have been dying to get out to the ocean and check out the Pacific beaches of Guatemala. I’ve been working a lot lately and was beginning to feel a little cooped-up here in the [beautiful] mountains of Antigua. I was just craving the sand and the sun and wanted to watch Joaquin run free along the shore, with me chasing close behind. Coming from Panama where we were at the beach every weekend, it felt time to dip my toes in the water and get to know Guatemala a little better.
So we asked around and got a bunch of recommendations which all happened to be for the same beach – Monterrico. It was past noon on Saturday and every place we called was booked, but finally we found availability, booked the room, glanced at a map, pinpointed Champerico, threw our stuff into a bag and headed out. Everyone told us it was a two hour drive. After two hours we stopped at a gas station, filled up, and made sure we were en route towards Champerico, verifying with a few different people that we were on the right track. A gas attendant told us, an old lady told us, and an officer told us that, yes indeed, we were headed in the right direction, only about another 1.5 hours to go. We double checked the map, found Champerico on it once again, and kept going, chalking the time delay up to traffic and busy roads as we passed through village after village. Eventually, the road turned to a dirt road ridden with pot holes and [semi]domesticated animals strolling along bored and lazy in the late afternoon sun. We were confused but determined, sure that suddenly the horizon would open up to the long-awaited Pacific, right in time for a gorgeous sunset. I mean, come on, after all this we had to have some kind of Hollywood ending, right? Even Joaquin, at this hot, dusty point in the ride was still chatting in the back seat about the beach.
And then, there it was, we had made it as far west as we could, to the tiny, run-down old town of Champerico. We asked a few perplexed locals where the hotel where we’d booked our stay was, all of whom looked around like they’d never even heard of a hotel in their parts before. They sized up our car, our sweaty, desperate faces, and shrugged. We called the hotel where we’d made the reservation and that’s when the guy said to us “I’ve been wondering where you were! Where are you now? What? You’re where? In Champerico?! You were supposed to go to MONTErrico” And that’s when it hit us, hit us like a Mack Truck. Somehow, somewhere in our frantic hurry to get out the door Juan and I both mysteriously disregarded Monterrico on the map, and instead focused our destination about 150 miles northwest of there. For literally NO apparent reason, except for maybe the moronic mistake that both towns ended at the coast and also in the letters R-I-C-O. Here we were, in pretty much the most random Guatemalan fishing village you could imagine, at 6pm, starving, exhausted, with a cabin-fever baby who was looking for the beach, and no where to stay.
So we drove around a bit, lost and depressed, until we saw what looked like a hotel. It looked like a suspect hotel, but it had a pool, and at that hour we were afraid to try to head back down that dirt road in the dark. We pulled in and were quickly attended by two nice ladies who sauntered up to the car window. If you’re starting to think that we were at a brothel, I’ll cut the suspense. We weren’t. But lord it was a dive. We asked for their best room, and that is what we got. Two beds, a curtain rod hanging off the window, an AC, a 20 year old television chained to the wall, one framed poster of white people playing golf, and well, at least the sheets were clean. They told us the restaurant opened for dinner at 7:15. Juan and I gave each other a side-long glance, then I’m pretty sure I turned away to avoid some big old alligator tears from streaming down my face. I was feeling sorry for myself – had we really just driven over 4 hours for this?
But you know, I have to say that when we walked out to the pool (with a high-dive shaped like a Sea Horse and a giant psychedelic mushroom sculpture coming out of the shallow end) I caved a little bit. Joaquin was swimming and jumping and shrieking as if he really WAS at the beach. Our entire day had accumulated to that moment, and in spite of myself, I couldn’t help but smile and then just laugh. He was so happy, holding on to Juan’s shoulders as they swam around that incredibly weird mushroom sculpture. It made me feel like a jaded old lady to think I was sitting there bitter about my lack of a beach day, when my son genuinely believed we’d stuffed him in a car seat for 4 hours, to swim, eat dinner, and sleep at this place. The innocence of his pure joy, and unsuspecting acceptance, was pretty much entirely worth the whole drive. Well not totally, but it was close enough.
After some fried fish and beers, showers in the 70’s style shower (without a shower head so it was more like a hose down), and a bit of 80’s television dubbed in Spanish, the three of us snuggled up together in bed and fell asleep. And I’ve got to say, I slept pretty damn well. We woke up to a gorgeous sunny morning, packed up the car, and drove 4 hours home again. That was our weekend. It definitely wasn’t perfect, but it is certainly one of those memories that we will always remember, and when we do, we’ll laugh and shake our heads, and it will somehow have a soft spot in our hearts.
So, if you ever find yourself in the quaint town of Champerico, Guatemala, please, be sure to stay at Posada Del Mar [you’ll have no other option] and tell them Molly sent you. I’m sure it will be a memory you’ll never forget either.