by Kevin Revolinski

"Would you look at that?"  Judith pointed down the beach--the sun was rising at the exact point on the horizon where the waves met the sand.  Great salty mists burst forth in a prism of sun-soaked colors.  This scene was an added bonus.  We had risen before sunrise in order to meet up with Jaime Antonio Hernández.  A voice called to us from the opposite direction.  It was him and he was right on time.

Jaime, owner of Sapo Tours, is better known as 'Brother.'  When we met him the previous day he had said that our trip to the beach wouldn't be complete until we visited the Monterrico Nature Reserve.

Jaime's nephew was our guide for the trip.  He stood in the back of the canoe and balanced it for us as we stepped on board.  Using a long wooden pole, he propelled our boat out into the main branch of the canal.  We had already taken the local launch that connects Monterrico to the mainland, and initially I thought that we were in for much of the same scenery.  But then a hundred meters into the main channel, our guide turned the nose of the canoe directly into a thick, tangled collection of tree roots and tall grasses.  Like a secret passage right out of a children's book, the dense greenery suddenly opened into a watery finger path that was just wide enough for our canoe to pass through.  The dangling branches, the gnarled roots rising up from the waters and the color of sarsaparilla all made for an airy tunnel that was alive with creatures great and small.  In the hush of the early morning their flutters, splashes and rustlings was a nature symphony so moving that we spoke only in whispers.

Deep within the mangroves we disembarked to feel the rich mud between our toes.  A group of shorebirds scattered before us on their spindly legs, leaving behind their frantic cuneiform.

On the return trip back through the main channel our canoe slipped along the smooth watery surface that mirrored a breathtaking reflection of the tall reed banks, the blue sky, and the mountains.  Egrets stood still, though their brilliant white twins appeared to be flying upside down in the water.  The green herons cried out in surprise as our canoe slowly rounded the bends.

The mangroves are not just a beautiful refuge that supports a wide variety of plant and animal life; they also protect the coastline from erosion and provide a barrier against storms.  It is a complex ecosystem, from the birds in the upper branches to the crabs, fish, and shrimp larvae that thrive among the roots.  The tannins that stain the waters the color of tea are used to tan hides, and one particular sap is a natural remedy for throat ailments.  The reed beds provide shelter to a grand population of animals.

Sapo Tours offer 1-1/2 to 2-hour excursions through the Monterrico Nature Reserve for somewhere in the neighborhood of Q40.  For more information stop by the visitor center at the Tortugario Monterrico located on the beach heading east, where the main street meets the sea.  It is important to find a guide with a paddle canoe--not a gasoline engine.  You can plan your tour for any hour of the day, but I highly recommend going early in the morning.  Most of all, don't miss the opportunity to visit the reserve, it is definitely nature's version of Venice.

--Review, Guatemala's English-language Magazine
February 2002
Year 10. no. 11, pp. 74-75.

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