Monday, March 28, 2011

Going on a beach hunt....

Friday, (March 25th) was Parker's 11th birthday. Usually we plan a really fun-filled theme party, with lots of friends and family. This year we knew that wasn't a possibility, so we decided to plan something special. We asked our local family, Rich and Cheryl Buhre if they wanted to join us on a trip to Monterrico - a beach town on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. They quickly agreed and we made reservations. Let me just say - after the "adventure" we had, Rich and Cheryl may never go ANYWHERE with us again.
Birthday Boy! Poolside cupcakes...nothing better!
Happy 11th!

We estimated that our journey from Panajachel to Monterrico should take about 4 - 4.5 hours. It took a bit longer. We were crazy busy before we left town and I didn't do all the things I would normally do in preparation for a trip to a new place. There is a reason I have earned a few nicknames - Julie McCoy, "the cruise director," "wiki" (as in Wikipedia). I have been known to show up for a Disney vacation with typed, color-coded itineraries. Normally, when we take a trip to a new place, I check out restaurants, fun activities for families, print maps, copies of hotel confirmation, etc. I was never a girl scout - but I come prepared! Well, it's Guatemala - everything takes longer in Guatemala - and my ability to research and prepare is somewhat limited by what info is available on the internet (hopefully in English).'s the story! We started on our grand adventure a little after 1:00 on Thursday afternoon. We drove down CA-1 to Antigua and then beyond. We have driven to Antigua many times, but never beyond it. We headed for a city called Esquintla, where we stopped at the McDonald's for relief and refreshments. We immediately noticed the change in climate - much warmer and a little sticky - very beachy. Yeah, we must be closer. We continued on to something like an oblong round-about. There was a LOT of traffic, big trucks and little tuk-tuks. We followed the advice of our GPS and took the second turn on the round about. This was our first mistake.

About 20 or 30 minutes later, Lee mentioned that the GPS said our next turn was going to be a right turn, when he thought it should be a left turn. I got out the map and looked to see where we might be. We discovered that instead of taking CA-9 which heads straight to the coast, we were actually on CA-2 which parallels the coast. I said, this is no problem, because there is another road that we can take that heads straight to the town of Monterrico. We find this small road and turn right, we drive for about 20 minutes.....then the road suddenly dead ends at a swamp. It's about 5:30 or so and according the the map we are only 2 or 3 miles from Monterrico, but we can't get across the swamp. Or can we?

Frankly, this dead end startled all of us, and we just whipped around and started heading back to the main road. We didn't really stop and think about how to proceed or ask for directions - mistake #2.

As we headed back to the main road, I looked for an alternate route. I thought I found one, but when we got there it was a dirt road. We started down this road with farms on either side, we came to another dead end and had to make a decision - turn right, turn left, or turn back to the main road. Rich jumps out and asks for directions. It is decided to turn right and keep going - mistake #3.

Lee was getting a little stressed as he knew it would be dark soon and we are lost in the coastal farms of Guatemala. We were not as prepared as we normally are for such a trip - I had no phone number for the hotel, no one knew where we were, if something happened - no one would know. We had no ability to rescue ourselves. We kept driving, kept having to turn right or left, kept asking for directions. Rich had mentioned that we might need to take a ferry across this river that divided us from the coastal road. So he asked several people for directions to the ferry. We followed a guy on a bike to the ferry landing, where we found a sign with a phone number for the ferry driver. We waited at the edge of the river for a small barge to come pick us up. I sat there thinking, "This can't really be happening, it's pitch black outside, we are less than a mile from the beach, and we are going to put our giant car on a boat that will take us across this river. We have asked no less than 10 people for directions. The whole area knows there is a giant Land Cruiser with lost Gringos in it!" This has to be a mistake.

Lee standing at the edge of the river, looking for the ferry.

The barge approaching...

Riding the ferry down the river...

As we waited for the ferry, Cheryl prayed over us, which helped to calm all of us. Later she said, "this is kinda like the game Going on a Bear Hunt. What should we call this game?" Anna Kate said, "How about the Getting Lost in Guatemala Game? or the Going on a Beach Hunt game?" We cracked up! It was the perfect comic relief for a very tense moment.

15 minutes later, the boat shows up, we drive on, the boat takes us down river and drops us off. We drive another 20 minutes or so to our hotel and we arrived safe and sound. Gracias a Dios! Upon arriving, we discovered that we could have taken a ferry from the first dead end road and been there two hours before. ARRRRGHHH!
The view of the Pacific Ocean from the pool.

Utz Tzaba Hotel - tropical and relaxing.

The kids had a blast in the pool with boogie boards!
The ocean was very rough, so we stayed poolside for most of the day!

So what did I learn from this great adventure?

  1. I learned it pays to be prepared - bring all the necessary phone numbers and information. 
  2. When you get to a dead end, don't panic. Stop to think it through and ask for help. 
  3. NEVER take the dirt road!
  4. Even though all the safety rules of traveling abroad would say - DO NOT get out of your car and ask for directions - if Rich hadn't been persistent, we would NEVER have found the ferry.
  5. The Lord is Trustworthy. Cheryl asked me the next day if I was nervous during that drive. I was tense because it was dark, the driving was a bit reckless and we had little ability to solve this by ourselves. Yet, I was confident that the Lord had 3 options for rescuing us. He could deliver us around the trial so that we avoided it. He could deliver us through it - so that we have a story to share in which he gets the glory. Or he could have delivered us straight into eternity. I was comfortable with each of these methods of delivery. It was a tense experience, but I wasn't scared.
Radfords and Buhres - What a fun adventure! It will not be soon forgotten.

The Lord chose to humble us as we searched in the dark for the right path, yet he delivered us through. He allowed people to give us the right directions so that we could find our way to the light. We had a great adventure, and I'm not sure I would change it. I like that we have a great story to tell. We had a wonderful, relaxing time that followed our adventure. We enjoyed the pool and the beach, the sounds of the surf. Parker had a great birthday with friends and family. Gracias a Dios for your blessing and preservation!

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